Exhibit tracing 125 years of teacher prep to debut Oct. 2 during NIU Homecoming

A new museum exhibit tracing the last 125 years of teacher preparation in the United States and in the NIU College of Education will make its debut during Homecoming.

The exhibit, “A Worthy Calling: 125+ Years of Preparing Teachers,” was among eight projects awarded grant funding in January 2020 as part of NIU’s 125th anniversary celebration, many aspects of which were delayed by COVID.

Projects were chosen for how well they will build awareness of the university’s impressive history and promising future as well as how they support NIU’s mission, vision and values.

Self-guided tours are available from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 2, outside the Milan Township One-Room Schoolhouse on the west campus. Afterward, the exhibit will move to the Blackwell History of Education Museum in Gabel Hall.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper hopes visitors to the exhibit will enjoy tracing the history of teacher preparation throughout more than a century of progress around the country and on campus.

“As an educator myself, and as the daughter of an educator, the preparation of teachers is part of my personal history,” Elish-Piper said.

Susan Mizgalski and Patrick Roberts
Susan Mizgalski and Patrick Roberts

“I am excited to learn more about how schools, teaching and learning have evolved through these 125-plus years, and how NIU has, since its opening, been a leader in addressing those changes as we prepare outstanding teachers and leaders for classrooms and schools everywhere,” she added. “I know that our alumni and guests will find the exhibit informative and interesting as well.”

Susan Mizgalski, the college’s senior director for Communications and Strategy wrote the grant application and has overseen its creation.

Researched and curated by Patrick Roberts, associate professor in the NIU Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations and faculty director of the Blackwell, the exhibit explores several topics:

• Schools, Teachers and Classroom Management
• Teaching Learners with Exceptional Needs
• Student Health
• Student Well-being
• Curriculum and Instruction
• Educational Technology
• Educational Leadership and School Policy

“As I pulled materials for the panels together, I spent a lot of time going through the university archives reviewing faculty papers, meeting minutes, memos and other official documents going back decades. I was struck by the fact that many of the issues important to the College of Education today were just as important 125 years ago,” Roberts said.

John Williston Cook, Northern’s first president, at his desk in Altgeld Hall, circa 1905.
John Williston Cook at his desk in Altgeld Hall, circa 1905.

“Of course, contexts have changed, but not the underlying concern for finding the best ways to prepare teachers and school leaders to meet democratic society’s educational need,” he added. “When I came across that quote from President Cook in the 1901 Norther yearbook – ‘May we be worthy of our great calling’ – I thought how wonderfully it expresses the importance of the work we do in the College of Education.”

Those words, written 120 years ago, made Roberts wonder how Cook would judge the university’s progress over the last 125 years.

“Have we been worthy? Have we risen to the occasion?” Robert said. “Ultimately, I think he would be proud of how far we’ve come as an institution and how committed we remain to our public service mission and to the future of NIU.”

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