October 27, 2014

Revised elementary education program gains approval

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The redesigned Elementary Education program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is among the first 10 university programs in the state to earn approval from the Illinois State Board of Education’s Illinois State Educator Preparation and Licensure Board. 

With a goal to create more qualified and prepared teachers, the state’s education board (ISBE) recently rewrote the standards for future elementary teachers and also changed the grade ranges for teacher licensure. SIU Carbondale faculty quickly went to work recreating the university’s teacher education programs to adhere to these standards and received approval for the elementary education component this fall. 

“In planning the curriculum we incorporated what teachers need to best instruct their students and what enables them to meet state standards. We tried to design the program for cross-purposes. This approval is evidence that ISBE is confident in our new program design,” Christie McIntyre, associate professor and elementary education coordinator/early childhood co-coordinator, said.  

Previous teaching certifications were in early childhood classrooms for birth through third grade, elementary classrooms kindergarten through ninth grade or high school classrooms for grades 9-12. The new standards replace the certification with a license in different grade ranges: early childhood for birth through second grade, elementary education for grades 1-6, middle level for grades 5-8 and high school for grades 9-12.  

McIntyre said a collaborative effort has been underway for about two years involving her and others from the College of Education and Human Services along with faculty from the colleges of science and liberal arts to create the revised program. The group also worked with John A. Logan College and Murphysboro Middle School faculty and staff.   

McIntyre played a vital role in the revisionary process, serving on state’s early childhood advisory committee and as an adviser for the literacy subcommittee. 

The new curriculum includes more development courses, which is important to understanding children’s progress in the classroom and how best to plan for the needs of the children, McIntyre said.  

The redesigned program incorporates carefully selected courses with clinical placements, technology and service-learning opportunities so students learn in the classroom and then get reinforcement through hands-on work. 

“Where we can make those connections, we do. This intentional programming is a strength of our design. We connect what they learn in the classrooms to clinical assignments and real-life applications,” McIntyre said. 

For instance, during the second semester of a student’s junior year, the focus is on language, culture and learning. Classroom studies will center on those themes and students will participate in an eight-week service-learning project in the community, within an appropriate setting such as the Illinois Migrant Council program, the Masonic Children’s Home, or the Boys and Girls Club in Carbondale. Students will also spend one day each week in a local district that has a diverse student population. 

“We have sequenced this to correlate classroom study with clinical placements and service-learning. Being a well-rounded teacher means you understand the needs of the children and the community you’re involved in. I’m very excited about this new model,” McIntyre said.  

Another key component in SIU’s new program is it is designed so elementary education students can gain additional endorsements by taking approved coursework, thus adding extra value to their degrees, McIntyre said.  

The revised schedule and curriculum are being phased in for current students. Those already enrolled in elementary education for the fall 2014 semester can complete their schooling under the old plan and licensure ranges or select the new plan. Students entering the program beginning with the spring 2015 semester in January are under the new guidelines.  

Work is underway to finalize the revised curriculum and course sequences and gain approval for the other grade levels within SIU’s teacher education program. 

Universities must have state approval of their elementary education programs by Feb. 1, 2017, in order for graduates to test for a professional educator license.