Bradley Duo Teams Up to Teach Peoria Students

Students at Richwoods High School in Peoria welcomed a new face this semester in English class as English major Drew Wenger took on his first classroom responsibilities as a student teacher under the guidance of Alysen Newton ’17.

At first, Wenger assisted Newton with various tasks while preparing to take over some of the teaching. One of the important tasks of this early period is to familiarize himself with the 150 or so students in the classes where he will assume some of the teaching.

“I have a better grasp of who I'm teaching and they have a better grasp of who I am, as a student teacher,” said Wenger.

“The one-on-one conversations, establishing relationships is going to go a really long way for when he takes over and has to do content, which isn't always easy,” added Newton. “So, it is better to create relationships during this period right now.”

Newton found it advantageous to have a student teacher who went through much of the same education as she did. Wenger concurred, adding, "most of the courses that she's taken that's prepared her as a teacher are what I'm taking."

Wenger values this opportunity to fortify what he learned up to this point. "The biggest thing for me is to be coachable because I know that right now, I'm in the most developmental part of my experience in becoming a teacher.”

English professor Melinda McBee Orzulak, who coordinates the English education program at Bradley and who taught Newton and Wenger, welcomed this partnership. "The experiential learning provided enables student teachers to put their coursework into action with expert mentorship," she said.

This unique partnership of Bradley-trained educators, one of many student teacher placements arranged by the clinical coordinator in teacher education, Colleen Slane, has reaped immediate benefits for students and teachers alike, creating a pipeline of educators for a school system facing urgent teacher shortages.

In the 2021 Illinois Educator Shortage Study issued by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, 88 percent of school districts reported a teacher shortage; in west-central Illinois, where Peoria is located, the number is a staggering 95 percent.

“Local schools benefit from our stellar graduates,” said McBee Orzulak. “I always get more emails from principals about job openings than I have job candidates.”

Both Newton and Wenger entered into education with the desire to make a difference for future generations. “For me, I always knew I wanted to help people,” said Newton, who gravitated towards English secondary education from a positive high school experience.

Wenger, who is also a Division I athlete, became an English major only after exploring other programs at Bradley. “I just realized right away that I had this love for wanting to share my own love (of English) with other students,” said Wenger. “And I think that's a part of my teaching philosophy.”

So far, the students have been very welcoming to the new face in class. “The students have just been incredible and really amazing. And being able to be here with them is the best part of it all,” added Wenger.

Just weeks into their partnership, both remarked how natural it seems. “Feels like you've been here forever,” Newton said to her teaching partner, then adding: “He's already made my life so much easier.”

- Mel Huang

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