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New UH Program Targets Shortage of Math, Science Teachers in Public SchoolsGetting Early Experience in Field Key to teachHOUSTON, Encourages Earning Teacher Certification
This new teacher preparation program – teachHOUSTON – is modeled after a nine-year-old successful format at the University of Texas, and UH is the first university where the program is being replicated outside the UT system. It began this spring with 14 students.
“Their exposure to a school setting from the outset is important to the initiative’s success and sets it apart from other teacher certification programs,” said Jeff Morgan, chair of the department of mathematics in UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM). “Getting the field-based experience early and often is really key to this program. We don’t want them to get out there and find out they’re really not where they want to be.”
NSM and the College of Education are collaborating in teachHOUSTON, together with the Spring Branch and Fort Bend independent school districts. This fall the Houston Independent School District is scheduled to come on board, and other districts have indicated they are interested in becoming partners.
“Few colleges of education and science and math at other universities collaborate as much as those at UH,” said Robert Wimpelberg, dean of the College of Education. “The teachHOUSTON program is a natural extension of that ongoing collaboration.”
Ideally beginning in their freshman year, students will take 20 hours of education courses during the next four years and will graduate not only with a degree in a math or science discipline, but also with a teaching certificate. Students who wait until the end of their junior year before deciding to earn a teaching certificate typically have difficulty fitting the 18 required education hours into their schedules, so some potential teachers graduate without certification. However, if students are identified early, they just have to take one or two teacher-prep courses per semester.
Intensive mentoring is another program feature. The would-be teachers receive mentoring from the beginning – at the university from a master teacher and in the school districts from an assigned mentor teacher. They will continue to be mentored after they graduate, Morgan said.
“From the first semester, a student works with mentors in the district and teaches a couple of lesson plans,” he said. “People who want to teach want to teach now. Their passion starts to wane if they have to wait four years.”
Susan Williams, an associate professor holding joint appointments in UH’s education and NSM colleges, is the first master teacher. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics and a doctorate in education in curriculum and instruction, with a specialization in mathematics education. After 10 years teaching math in middle and high school, she joined UH 15 years ago.
“Williams represents the type of mentor we believe will help prepare highly qualified educators,” Morgan said. “We really want to turn out the best teachers possible, not just ones who are certified.”
Williams is tasked with recruiting freshmen and sophomores into the program, and she is teaching the introductory “Teaching Mathematics and Science” course this spring. Next fall, they’ll take another one-hour education course, with an A or B in either course earning a student reimbursement from the university for the course.
“These introductory classes let students try out teaching to come see if they like it,” Williams said. “Where else can you try out a career for free?”
Additionally, Williams has assigned each student a mentor in one of the participating school districts, where the students will complete five assignments during the semester in that teacher’s classroom. These field experiences include two observations and three teaching assignments.
“Research shows the more field experience they have, the more prepared students are to work in a classroom,” she said. “School administrators recognize that when students begin preparing to teach as undergraduates, they receive more thorough preparation and are retained at a higher rate than teachers from alternative certification programs.”
Williams paired Michelle Martinez, a UH freshman among the students recruited for the first teachHOUSTON group, with a fourth-grade teacher at Buffalo Creek Elementary School in Spring Branch I.S.D. Next fall, Martinez and the other students in her group will be assigned a mentor in a middle school and one in high school the following semester. In the fourth semester, students will choose the grade level for their field experience. After graduation they ideally will remain in the school district where they are mentored.
“When I heard of teachHOUSTON, I knew it was the perfect thing for me – a student interested in math and in becoming a teacher at the secondary level,” Martinez said. “I could not think of a better opportunity than to join this program and, eventually, graduate with teacher certification.”
Morgan and Williams set a goal of 20 students for the first teachHOUSTON group, targeting those in computer science, geosciences, engineering and bioengineering, as well as those from traditional K-12 science areas. Morgan plans to add 25 students to the program each semester, eventually expanding it to 200 students participating at one time. UTeach, the UT program, has 400 participants.
UH received $250,000 from the Texas Education Agency through UT and is seeking additional funding from corporations and foundations across Texas that see the correlation between good math and science instruction in public schools and developing high-tech workers for the future.
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