U.S. Education Representative Visits North Park University

Mark Meyer, seated, a North Park University history and secondary education major, was among those who met with Aaron Brendenkamp, center, Department of Education representative, and Dr. John Laukaitis, right, assistant professor, School of Education.

Engages education students in dialogue on future of teaching profession

CHICAGO (November 29, 2012) — A secondary school teacher from Nebraska, representing the U.S. Department of Education, met with a group of North Park University School of Education students this month. Aaron Brendenkamp's purpose was to engage the students, preparing to be teachers, in a national project aimed at informing future education policy and programs for the betterment of the teaching profession in the 21st century.

The meeting was part of a "National Conversation about Teaching," a recent initiative of the Department of Education. The goal is "to identify and ultimately implement strategies to strengthen the profession by dramatically changing how teachers are recruited, selected, supported, compensated, promoted, and retained in the profession," according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. To start the conversation,  teachers created a vision statement, "The RESPECT Project: Envisioning a Teaching Profession for the 21st Century."

Brendenkamp accepted an invitation from Dr. John Laukaitis, assistant professor of education, to visit the University and meet with "pre-service teachers," students who will soon begin student teaching. Laukaitis made the connection at a recent professional conference, knowing it would be good to have the students meet an exemplary classroom teacher. Brendenkamp holds a one-year teaching fellow appointment with the Department of Education and is an experienced classroom teacher.

"What I was hoping for was that as our students listened to the discussion, they would think about how they can become highly effective teachers, and see some of the challenges of working with students in both urban and rural communities," Laukaitis said. "What we want to do is bring in experienced teachers who have some unique experiences to share, and have our students be engaged in those conversations as much as possible, especially before their clinical experience."

For more than 40 years, the School of Education has provided academic programs for students from diverse academic and professional backgrounds who share a passion for teaching. Undergraduate programs prepare teachers for early childhood, elementary, and secondary teaching careers, as well as specialized certification to teach specific subjects. Graduate programs offer opportunities to advance teaching careers, including a new master's degree program in language, literacy, and culture. The University also offers non-degree programs for teacher certification and endorsements. 

Brendenkamp teaches mathematics at an alternative high school in Omaha, and once taught at Chicago's Paul Robeson High School through the Teach for America program. His role with the Department for Education is to meet with teachers and prospective teachers, listen to their comments and concerns about the teaching profession, and report findings to the department. "One of the things I hear a lot of officials say is 'the answers aren't in D.C. — the answers are in the classroom.' Our goal is to make sure we go get the answers and bring them back," he said.

The conversation with the North Park education students included subjects such as possible changes in traditional school grade levels, possible changes in traditional school days to ensure program effectiveness, how the RESPECT vision will be implemented, and reasons why some teachers shift their careers. 

"Education, in my opinion, has always been very locally driven," Brendenkamp said. "At the same time, we all need to get together and work together to make sure we're all moving forward. That's something I'm very passionate about in this role."

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