Mary Beth Henning
Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
July 22, 2009
DeKalb, Ill. — Professionals who are considering changing careers to become teachers will have a specially designed master’s degree of their own beginning this fall at Northern Illinois University.
NIU’s new Master of Arts in Teaching, with specializations in elementary education and health education, is designed for those people who are seeking their initial certification as teachers. The new degree separates them from established teachers who are pursuing professional development at the graduate level.
The new degree resides in the College of Education and in the College of Health and Human Sciences.
“This really allows people who have a background in one of the disciplines to step into the master’s program and come out as a teacher. There is a demand for that, and we see it now more than ever because of the economy,” said Bradley Bond, acting dean of the Graduate School.
“It’s pretty clear that there is a real interest among folks who are being laid off, or who fear being laid off, that teaching is a good option for them,” Bond added. “There are always career-changers out there who want to go into the classroom, but I think we are seeing a few more these days than we normally would.”
Mary Beth Henning, an associate professor of social studies education in the Department of Teaching and Learning who served on the College of Education’s MAT committee, said the college routinely enrolls career-changers.
“We’ve had people who’ve had degrees in journalism, who’ve had degrees in law, who’ve had degrees in business, who’ve had degrees in dentistry. The dream of changing children’s lives is very powerful, and teaching is one of those professions where you get to make a difference in a child’s life every day,” Henning said.
Meanwhile, she said, the demand for bilingual teachers is soaring.
“Many of the students who are currently interested in earning the MAT, and who will be in our MAT program, are citizens of countries from Latin and Central America,” she said. “They come with dual-language experience and skills, and we’re particularly trying to develop a program that will build on those strengths.”
The College of Education’s eight-member group, which began its work in early 2005, focused on a commitment to prepare teachers who will nurture “democratic citizens.” Applicants must write essays that explore that philosophy.
“As elementary teachers, we have a special calling to know what it means to be a democratic citizen – to become participatory citizens,” Henning said. “It’s not just about reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s also about understanding what it means to be a part of a representative democracy where we can participate in the political process. We can make changes in our community.”
The curriculum spans teaching methods for reading, language arts, science, social studies and math but also includes courses on inclusion, technology, psychology, multiculturalism, children’s literature and assessment.
Education students earn 42 credit hours over six semesters and must also write a final essay that ponders the role of the educator in a democratic republic.
“This is a very strong program that builds on the strengths of the NIU College of Education and our strengths in literacy, technology, foundations, content areas and even assessment,” Henning said. “Many teacher education programs don’t even have a course devoted to assessment.”
Sally Conklin, associate professor and public health and health education coordinator in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, said her school has typically recommended its Master of Public Health (MPH) degree to professionals who were seeking initial teacher certification.
However, the program’s objectives claim that the MPH “prepares students for professional positions in public health and health services organizations.”
Meanwhile, a recent accreditation review found that the degree’s generalist focus wasn’t specific enough. Rather than making such a change, Conklin said, the school developed the MAT health education specialization through the curricular process.
“We have high demand from students who have undergraduate degrees – a lot of them in public health – who decide they want to be classroom teachers,” Conklin said. “But our Master of Public Health degree was a different professional degree. They were square pegs in round holes, basically.”
The health education program requires completion of 46 credit hours of coursework, which includes clinical observation in the schools and student-teaching time.
Although anyone can apply, Conklin said the school expects students to have some background in health. Those who do not will need to complete courses including anatomy, nutrition and first aid/CPR in addition to the other requirements.
The MAT closely parallels the school’s accredited undergraduate degree for health educators but adds courses in research, quantitative methods and biostatistics to help students “better understand the literature and to read research more critically.”
Those who have been pursuing initial teacher certification as students-at-large in NIU’s MPH program or at another college can transfer up to 18 credits.
Interest already is strong.
“Many who have been in health care delivery and treatment are saying, ‘I don’t want to be doing this, trying to fix it after the horse is out of the barn, after someone is sick or suffering the ill effects of poor choices. I want to be doing primary prevention,’ ” Conklin said.
“And to a lot of people, primary prevention means health education. Instead of teaching people as adults, we need to teach them as youths to help them build good decision-making skills and to understand what the risks are,” she added. “It’s altruistic. Teacher candidates want to help kids to lead better lives and to reach them at a point in their lives when it will make a difference.”
Health educators teach students how they can avoid harmful choices regarding alcohol, drugs, tobacco and sex. They also teach disease prevention and good consumer health, including how to shop for health care, health products and health insurance. Decision-making, goal-setting and communication skills are practiced as part of mental and emotional health, growth and development, environmental health and nutrition.
Demand for health educators is high, she said, although the state only requires health to be taught in middle schools and high schools. NIU’s health studies faculty would prefer a K-12 mandate, Conklin said, and full-time health educators rather than adding occasional health classes to the schedules of physical education teachers.
“School districts are seeing that healthy students are better learners,” Conklin said. “If you’ve got kids who are not well-nourished, not well-rested and not leading healthy lives, it doesn’t matter how good the teaching is on the three Rs. They’re not going to do as well.”
For more information, call the Graduate School at (815) 753-0395, the College of Education at (815) 753-1948 or the School of Nursing and Health Studies at (815) 753-1384.
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