Chris Gomes submitted his edTPA Feb. 23, two months before the Illinois State Board of Education decided this spring to waive that requirement for COVID-19.
Passage of the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s competence in planning, instruction and assessment, is usually necessary to obtain licensure in Illinois and several other states.
For that reason, Gomes had prioritized the assignment as soon as he began his student-teaching placement last fall at Kaneland Harter Middle School: He wanted ample time to prepare his science lesson.
“I was heavily involved with my cooperating teacher, asking for a six-month plan of what we would be teaching around then,” says Gomes, a Middle Level Teaching and Learning-Science major, “so that I could have an idea and get a jump on it.”
Leandra Cacciatore, meanwhile, had invested so much time in preparing the myriad of the edTPA’s mandatory elements that she wasn’t about to stop: “I had already spent many, many, many hours working on completing the edTPA by the time it was waived.”
Their commitment – and the commitment of 16 classmates – paid great dividends.
Cacciatore, a Special Education-Visual Impairments major, and Gomes helped the NIU College of Education to post yet another 100% pass rate on the edTPA.
Sixteen submissions came from the Middle Level Teaching and Learning program, housed in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction; the college’s two others were from Cacciatore and another Visual Impairments major in the Department of Special and Early Education.
Candidates must submit video of their actual teaching of between three and five lessons along with follow-up evidence that their students were learning and achieving. Candidates also must supply examples of further support they provided to students and subsequent plans for future teaching based on the earlier assessment.
NIU College of Education licensure students always perform well for a reason, says Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development.
“Our programs are just so good at providing this type of growth in our candidates throughout their programming. We don’t perceive it as, ‘Here’s the edTPA at the end of your gig.’ All the way through, they’re learning what they need to know to be successful in demonstrating their skills,” Johnson says.
“We want to train our candidates to be proficient upon graduation,” she adds, “and then they get the opportunity to demonstrate such through their high performance on the edTPA.”
Gomes, a 43-year-old husband and father of two from Sandwich, focused his edTPA submission on lessons he taught related to the universal principle of gravity regarding the orbit of planets, solar systems and galaxies.
Most of his students, he discovered, “only thought that gravity affected them here on Earth. They had seen photos of the astronauts on the moon, but it was still not true to them.”
He engaged students in several activities, some using PhET Interactive Simulations to show what happens as planets orbit and change in mass and velocity, and what would happen if gravity no longer existed.
Students also participated in tabletop experiments that employed sewing hoops, fabric, clay and marbles to model concepts of gravity and planetary orbits.
Combining this hands-on learning with readings and classrooms discussions and viewing of videos featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson “helped them move beyond their comfort level of what they thought gravity was to what gravity truly is,” Gomes says.
For Cacciatore, the edTPA allowed her to demonstrate her passion for “making education accessible for students with visual impairments.”
“Not only do I modify and adapt assignments and materials to make them accessible for students in the classroom, I also teach students with visual impairments about technology, career education, life skills and so much more,” Cacciatore says.
“I think my edTPA was successful because I used the maximum amount of video footage they would allow, giving myself plenty of opportunities to demonstrate the required elements and my teaching skills,” she adds.
“I also taught a five-lesson sequence instead of the three-lesson sequence minimum requirement. This gave me options when deciding which lessons went the best and demonstrated the most growth.”
The Rockford native is now working for the Northwestern Illinois Association as an itinerant teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, serving 18 students from 11 schools within four districts in the Rockford/Belvidere area.
She’s also still enrolled in the NIU Department of Special and Early Education in pursuit of her master’s degree in Special Education: Visual Disabilities to become a certified Orientation and Mobility specialist.
Remaining a Huskie makes sense.
“I believe the Vision Program did an amazing job preparing me for the edTPA. Laurel Burman and Stacy Kelly were great resources and support during such a stressful time,” Cacciatore says.
“A year prior to submitting the edTPA, Laurel had our program complete a practice edTPA consisting of all the elements of the real assessment,” she adds. “I think that was extremely beneficial.”
Despite the seal of approval Gomes earned, meanwhile, he believes his score “could have been higher.”
“I was working part-time while doing this, and I’m also a father,” he says. “Had I not had all of these other things on my plate, I could’ve had a higher score. I though, ‘I can’t give my ultimate best to the edTPA. It’s got to be good enough – and good enough has to be enough.’ ”
The non-traditional student came to NIU after his longtime job at Caterpillar was outsourced overseas. With an associate degree in business management, Gomes started on the shop floor of the manufacturer of construction machinery and equipment.
His ability to explain to engineers how their designs were – or were not – working in application allowed him to climb the ladder into Engineering Services, where he regularly taught classes on “the Caterpillar way of doing engineering” to new hires.
“I’m not an engineer, nor do I have an engineering degree, but I really fell in love with teaching. I was told I was a natural at it,” Gomes says. “I was asked to teach middle school Sunday School at our church, and I utterly fell in love with that age group. My wife just finished her 20th year of teaching; she said, ‘Why not get your teaching degree?’ ”
Now working as a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Somonauk Middle School, he’s excited to join the “family” business and is dedicating himself to helping students to develop their skills to question, research and reach conclusions.
“You’re always making a difference, and I can see the impact on a daily basis of just showing the kids how to become lifelong learners,” Gomes says. “School is way more than the learning of facts. Einstein said that school is ‘the training of the mind to think,’ and that’s something I hold fast to.”