STEM Professionals into Teachers

Concerned about the decline of teachers in the public education, coordinators of an undergraduate teaching program at the University of Texas have created a new course aimed at getting people in science and technology fields into public classrooms.  STEM Professionals into Teachers.

Program creators hope the new condensed course will encourage people who already hold degrees to move into education at a time when school districts around the country are facing teacher hiring and recruitment challenges.

The UTeach program is meant to attract people who hold a degree in a STEM field, which means science, technology, engineering and math, said Carrie Culpepper, program manager of UTeach.

“STEM teacher shortages have been an issue for years,” Culpepper said.

Since the pandemic began, however, districts have been struggling to attract and retain teachers.

Statewide, the attrition rate for teachers has gone from 9.6% in 2007 to 11.6% this year, according to the Texas Education Agency.

The UTeach Program

The UTeach program will seek out people who already have STEM degrees and put them through a condensed, semesterlong program that will grant graduates a teaching license, Culpepper said.

Unlike some other quick certification programs, this course will make sure its students have time in classrooms to observe and teach lessons, she said.

“Teaching is very hard, and learning to teach is very complicated and important,” Culpepper said.

Districts typically prefer to hire teachers who have classroom experience, and giving students the chance to actually teach also improves industry retention, she said.

“If you can give someone preparation before they walk into the classroom as the teacher, then most every school district is going to prefer that over someone that has the will but does not know perhaps what they’re getting into,” Culpepper said.

The UTeach Program isn’t completely new

The course has been putting undergraduate students through teaching degrees since 1997 at UT. Since Texas requires educators to have a degree in the subject they teach, the UTeach program allows students to graduate in four years while getting a degree in their area of focus and obtaining a teaching degree. Other institutions also use the program.

“The profession has been undervalued for so many years. The profession has been so horrifically underfunded by the federal and state government, we have far fewer people who want to become teachers than you did a decade or two ago,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin.

This has created a problem for schools

Zarifis values the rigor and techniques that educators learn in four-year teaching programs, he said. He wants to make sure that new teachers have enough skills to start their careers.

“We want to make sure that we maintain the integrity of the profession by giving the people that want to become teachers or want to move into the profession some training around it,” Zarifis said. “If you prepare them well, there’s better opportunity of retention because they’re going in with eyes wide open.”

That preparation comes largely from time in the classroom, he said.

Ultimately, Zarifis hopes the state and federal government dedicate more money to training and paying teachers so districts have an easier time attracting employees.

The first semester of the UTeach program for degree-holders begins in January. Because the first semester is a pilot program, it will be free to participants, Culpepper said. STEM Professionals into Teachers

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