DECATUR, Ill. – More than 100 Central Illinois high school students who hope to have a career in education came to Millikin University on Oct. 17 to learn more about the field at the Tomorrow’s Teachers Conference. It was the first Tomorrow’s Teacher’s Conference held at Millikin since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The popularity of this event speaks to the value Millikin provides to the community with quality learning opportunities,” Director of the School of Education Dr. Chris Cunnings said. “It is important to share the student perspective to get a good understanding of what education is about.”
The all-day event allowed students to listen to speakers, attend breakout sessions and take in a panel led by current Millikin students looking to get into teaching, explaining their experiences.
Millikin students Bailee Blecker (Elementary Education), Ryan Janssen (Physical Education), Leah Jackson (Biology Education) and Morgen Weir (Music Education) fielded students' questions about what they should do to prepare for their teaching education.
Ryan will begin his student teaching this spring at Mount Zion High School and looks forward to the next steps of his teaching career.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to get into the classroom and start my own curriculum and my own ideas. I’m ready to get out there and start my teaching journey,” Ryan said. “As a teacher, you are in the students’ lives, sometimes more than their parental figures. The impact you can have on students is sometimes unfathomable. The teachers and professors I have had have impacted my life and helped me become the person I am today. As a future educator, you want to form these relationships with your students and help them become the best versions of themselves, and that is something I want to take pride in.
The panel answered several questions, including balancing studies and extracurriculars, such as participating in a sport, when they became interested in teaching and why they picked Millikin.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher since the second grade. I had a little projector, workbooks, and my stuffed animals would be my students,” Bailee said. “I choose Millikin because they put you in the classroom immediately, and you could be that support for students. At Millikin, it’s a smaller school, which in Education is amazing. You have a small teacher-to-student ratio, so you always work one-on-one, and the faculty always reach out.”
Breakout sessions were led by Millikin faculty in a wide range of fields, including one led by Millikin History Professor Dr. Brian Mullgardt on “Tabletop Role-Playing and Video Games in the Classroom” and Associate Professor of Biology Travis Wilcoxen on “Integrating Environmental Justice into a High School Ecology Curriculum.” The keynote speaker was Millikin alum Dan Cox ’98, Superintendent of Rochester School District, who spoke about how teaching is the noblest profession.
“Today is an important early chapter in the story of your educational journey,” Dr. Cunnings told the attendees. “Today, you are surrounded by like-minded students from all over Illinois and you have the opportunity to learn from many talented and dynamic teachers, professors, and school leaders.
“Our goal today was to give an authentic, engaging and valuable glimpse into the teaching profession through conference sessions, speakers and casual conversations with peer and Millikin faculty members. We hope they leave today feeling confident and inspired as future teachers and school leaders.”