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Future educator shines with the hands-on job of becoming a teacher

Aza Braner’s true classroom is in area schools where she’ll make her career

Tuesday Nov 25, 2014

Aza Braner still has a few semesters to go before she earns her Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from Indiana University Northwest, but judging from how often she is learning in the field, traveling to area classrooms to practice what she’s learning, you’d think she is wrapping up her college experience.

The 20-year-old from Valparaiso is enrolled in the School of Education’s “Teaching All Learners” Program, which is a general and special education degree. Braner appreciates that the program’s professors work to get students into the elementary classrooms right away.

“I’ve been in the classroom every semester since I started here in some way,” Braner said. “Now that I’m further into the program, I am in a classroom once a week all day long.”

Braner, a high achiever from a supportive family, graduated from Portage High School with an above-perfect GPA thanks to her Advanced Placement classes. She walked into IU Northwest with an SAT score of 1160 which earned her a full scholarship.

Aza (pronounced like the continent Asia) has siblings named Cor and Tae, consistent with the three-letter naming tradition upheld by her parents, who both came from families with only three-letter names.

She might have a short name, but she is long on dreams.

“I knew from a really early age that I wanted to work with children,” Braner said.

Originally, Braner wanted to go overseas to work with orphans, until she discovered there is plenty of need and opportunity to make a difference in children’s lives, right here in the United States.

Upon earning her degree in 2016, Braner aims to teach for several years before starting her own family. Once she does, she plans to stay at home with her children and teach art privately in her home. Then, once her children are in school, she’ll return to being a teacher and/or coach.

She plans to leave plenty of time in her life for volunteering, something she finds extraordinarily rewarding and necessary. In fact, she jokes that she wishes she could be a “professional volunteer.”

Volunteering at Calvary Church in Valparaiso is among her top priorities, as is directing childcare for her church’s “Mothers of Preschoolers” group. She also manages to work 15 hours a week as a cashier at a Hobart hardware store, while acing her hands-on education as a future educator.

The opportunity to present an economics lesson to 40 kindergartners at Meister Elementary School in Hobart is a recent example of the depth of experiential learning the School of Education provides its students and one in which Braner participated. IU Northwest sent about 20 of its education students to two elementary schools in Hobart and Lake Station recently to teach for Junior Achievement (JA), a program intended to teach youth basic economic ideas, personal financial literacy, and business decision-making.

The JA program provides all the structure and educational materials, while college students go into the schools and implement it, giving them a valuable hands-on learning opportunity early in their college education.

“Forty kindergartners on a rug in front of you is a little intimidating,” Braner admitted.

Still, she couldn’t wait to get started.

“I was super excited to open the bag. It was like Christmas,” Braner said. “I opened the bag and spread the materials over the table to look them over.”

Braner’s mentor at Meister school later praised her for remaining calm and positive despite having to quickly adapt her plan from 28 kindergartners to 40.

Calling her “a natural at teaching,” the mentor was impressed at the way she managed the classroom and gave specific directions and had smooth transitions from one activity to the next.

Braner recently took on the role of president of the Indiana Student Education Association, a new affiliation that IU Northwest is offering to students in education. Together with her friend Sidney Algozine, the two classmates will work to bring ISEA opportunities to students, such as professional conferences and community service opportunities.

Braner said she is learning from professors who draw on their own real-life experiences in the classroom, while also guiding students as they devise their own methods.

“Everyone’s class is going to be different,” she said. “The way that each professor brings in their own opinion and their own information but helps you to develop your own teaching style is really great.”

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