UTeach program recruits math and science majors and gets them in classrooms early.
By Laura Heinauer
Monday, November 05, 2007
Not being all that far removed from grade school themselves, Stephanie Gorss, 19, and Taylor Bethke, 20, two students in a model University of Texas teacher training program, didn't have a tough time coming up with a list of ways to make first-period math at O. Henry Middle School fun.
Pass out dry erase boards to write on instead of paper.
Give lots of positive reinforcement, including heavy use of the word "awesome."
Make paper airplanes.
"I love math. I think it's fun," said Bethke, a math major. "And for me, what has made it even more enjoyable is sparking that interest in kids."
Such words are music to the ears of many who are concerned about the shortage of math and science teachers in the U.S. In the 10 years since the UTeach program began preparing secondary math and science teachers for the classroom, it is revolutionizing how many new math and science teachers will be taught.
"I think we've solved a couple of the problems that have plagued many attempts to prepare teachers for a long time," said Michael Marder, co-director of the UTeach program.
A 2005 report, called Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, focuses on the need in the U.S. for scientists, engineers and other technically skilled workers to remain competitive in the global marketplace. It specifically mentions UTeach as a model program and recommends that colleges use teaching programs that produce math and science majors with teacher certification — a major departure from how most teachers graduate from college.
In the UTeach program, none of the students are education majors, but rather they major in another field, often in the College of Natural Sciences.
Early recruiting of top natural sciences majors is key. UTeach students have SAT scores that are above the average for the College of Natural Sciences and have higher grade-point averages.
The students are given early and continued field experience. Typical education majors wouldn't visit a classroom until the end of their college career; UTeach students are put in front of a class as freshmen.
"We've come up with a revolutionary idea. And that's that you shouldn't teach if you don't like kids," Marder said.
By comparison, the popular Teach for America program recruits students from all majors and asks participants to commit to two years. But UTeach students leave expecting teaching to be a long-term career.
Since UTeach's inception, the university has doubled the number of math and science teachers that it produces, Marder said.
UTeach teachers also appear to stay in the classroom longer, he said. According to information collected from graduates, about 70 percent of UTeach students are still in the classroom five years after they enter the profession, compared with about 50 percent of teachers nationally.
Because of those numbers, many education experts — particularly those concerned about the country's global competitiveness in math and science — have taken notice.
Already, UTeach-influenced programs have been put in place at Louisiana State University and in California.
And this month, more than 10 unspecified colleges and universities around the country will announce that they are replicating the UTeach program at their campuses, using part of a $125 million grant from Exxon Mobil Corp. They agreed to create programs that basically mirror the UT model.
"It's going to revolutionize things with regards to math and science teacher preparation at these universities," said Tracy LaQuey Parker, director of the UTeach Institute.
O. Henry Principal Peter Price said UTeach teachers stand out because of their deep disciplinary grounding. "They're math and science majors taking very advanced classes, so these students really know the content."
In Bethke and Gorss' class at O. Henry, a chorus of "yessss" and "sweeeet" arose from sixth-graders thrilled with having permission to make paper airplanes.
"Just like there are many ways to fold an airplane," Bethke said, "there are many ways to simplify a fraction."