Three program robots meet as they navigate through a course laid out with tape

Caption: Students at the Northern State University Learning Expo in October 2022 work in teams to program robots through a course on stage at the Johnson Fine Arts Center.

ABERDEEN, S.D. – Future educators will get to see what it’s like at the front of the classroom at the Learning Expo on Oct. 18 at Northern State University.  

“We want to bridge that gap between their world as K-12 students and what their potential profession could be like,” said Nicole Schutter, assistant professor of education.

Any high school students interested in becoming teachers can sign up for the free event by registering online. Registration ends Oct. 11. The learning expo is from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Barnett Center. Lunch will be provided.

This is the third year Northern has held the expo. The goal is for students to learn more about the profession in general, the rewards, the challenges and what to expect in terms of actual classes they might take through an educator prep program. Northern partnered with Educators Rising for the event.

Alyssa Cassels is the keynote speaker. Cassels currently teaches at Deuel high School as the band director. She graduated from Northern in 2015 with a Bachelor of Music Education.

Cassels was named 2023 South Dakota Teacher of the Year. Her keynote speech will center on choosing G.R.A.C.E., which stands for Growth mindset, Relationships, Authenticity, Celebrate and Elevate.

“I share my journey in education so far and how the mentality of grace, both literally and as an acronym has helped me find joy in my career,” Cassels said.

An array of Northen education faculty and staff will be available for students to talk to, as well as current Northern education students. There will be several breakout sessions with hands on learning opportunities that the students can participate in, Schutter said.

“It’s important to look for practical and personal applications that can be put into use immediately after attending events like this, even if you’re not in the classroom yet,” said Cassels.

Cassel also recommends using events like this to create a network of support.

“Trials and tribulations that pop up early in your career are ten times easier to face when you have people in your corner to help you through them,” Cassels said. “I think the most valuable thing that came out of my time at NSU was the connections that I was able to make. As I struggled with different things in the first few years of teaching, it was invaluable to have people to be able to contact and connect with questions I had.”

In addition to giving insight into their prospective career, the expo will also highlight the support provided by the faculty and staff.

“Being at Northern, we hope they see the personal connections that we build with our students,” Schutter said.

Northern has prepared future educators to make a difference in students’ lives for over a century. The faculty and staff understand the difficulties of transitioning from student to teacher and have created a curriculum that gives students as much experience teaching as possible.

“Our teacher education program has a high level of experiential learning opportunities,” said Schutter. “We get our teacher candidates into the field right away.”

Within their introduction to education classes, students are sent into K-12 classrooms, and it builds from there, Schutter said. Students also complete pre-student teaching, or junior field opportunities, as well as working with students one-on-one through reading and math clinics. Their education culminates with student teaching.

All that work is worth it, though.

“It’s exciting to be able to be part of a student’s journey, or a family’s journey. And teaching is the most noble profession. It’s really rewarding,” Schutter said.

“I think the actual process of applying for region one teacher of the year and state teacher of the year helped me find all of the good that has come from being an educator,” said Cassels. “It forced to me step back and reflect on the past eight years of teaching and recognize the great things that had been happening and the way that my students had been impacting my life.”