DePaul Open Windows program gives education students unique teaching experience

DePaul’s College of Education typically requires its students to gain in-person teaching experience in classrooms. But with most schools holding class virtually due to Covid-19, that option went away. 

In response, the COE created the DePaul Open Windows (DePOW) program, which pairs education students with the children of DePaul faculty for a one-on-one online teaching experience with a variety of ages. 

“The children’s grades range from third to seventh, so we have a wide variety of personal interests and academic levels to serve,” said Brenda Kraber, an education professor. “They’re learning how to teach online and how to adapt to different ways of teaching, and going about how to catch the kid’s interest.”

Elizabeth Tsoumas, another professor in the COE, said that DePOW sessions are tailored to children’s individual needs. 

“The parents, when we first started this, filled out an application, and part of the application was letting us know some interests, strengths and weaknesses that the students had,” Tsoumas said. “I asked my students when they first met with the child to also talk with them about their school experience, their likes, dislikes, struggles, challenges and things they excel in.” 

While online learning is considered a setback for students and teachers by some, DePOW aims to give COE students the chance to practice essential teaching skills that they might not experience in a regular student teaching environment. 

“While it’s not the first time that they have worked with children, it is the first time that they are speaking with a parent to learn about a child, because they all needed to reach out and communicate with the parent or email with them before meeting with the child,” Tsoumas said. “That is good practice because as teachers, they are going to have to learn how to communicate professionally with parents and to get parent input regarding any support for the child’s education.” 

Christopher Worthman is a professor of secondary English education in the COE and the parent of a child involved with DePOW. 

“After two meetings… [my daughter] thinks the science enrichment program is great,” Worthman said. “The first two weeks they learned about the phases of the moon… during the second week, they created phases of the moon using Oreos and talked about the relationship of the moon, sun and Earth in all of this.” 

In a fully remote learning environment, students and professors had to consider something past student-teachers never did: Zoom exhaustion. 

“A lot of these children that they are working with are on their laptops or devices all day,” Tsoumas said. “We did not want to add a whole lot more screen time. This whole experience is really students in my course working with a child 30 to 60 minutes once or twice a week. We do not wanna just add homework, we wanna give them an opportunity to explore and expand what they’re learning, not just add on to it.” 

Professors said they’ve been inspired by their students’ creativity.

“I’ve been so impressed with how thorough they’ve been and how creative they’ve been,” Kraber said. “It’s going to serve them well, not only that they have writing lesson plans but also integrating a child’s interests with standards, integrating the interests with social studies, reading or science.”