UTeach College of Natural Sciences aims to reduce STEM teacher shortages

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

A UT STEM teaching certificate program aims to reduce STEM teacher shortages in Texas by certifying an average of 60 to 70 students per year, according to UTeach executive director Michael Marder.

UTeach College of Natural Sciences allows students to pursue a teaching certificate in a variety of science, technology, engineering and math fields to teach at a middle or high school level while they are completing their current degree. Created in 1997 at UT, the STEM program has spread to 44 universities across the U.S. Ninety percent of certified students go on to become teachers, according to Marder.

“If you compare this number to the number of people that were coming out of UT-Austin 20 years ago, it’s more than twice as much,” Larry Abraham, co-founder of UTeach College of Natural
Sciences, said.

According to the Texas Education Agency, Texas lacks computer science, math and science teachers for the 2015–2016 school year. Throughout the U.S., most STEM courses in high school are taught by teachers with no degree in their main assignment or no teaching certification, according to the Nationwide Center for Education Statistics.

According to Jill Marshall, associate director of UTeach College of Natural Sciences, the program increases both the quantity and the quality of STEM teachers in Texas.

“UTeach focuses on project-based and problem-based instruction … using mathematics and science to solve problems in the real world,” Marshall said. “Instead of saying that we will teach you to teach physics, at UTeach, we will teach you how to teach your students to solve problems in their lives and the lives of other people using science and math.”

UTeach also remains unique among most other instructor preparatory programs by integrating math and science students into the same teaching classes together, Abraham said.

“A lot of students that are taking a math class in high school don’t really understand it because they don’t really understand what these numbers are for,” Abraham said. “If the teacher can build in science examples and solve problems in science using math, students can figure out what this math is really needed for.”

The program stresses the importance of having the content knowledge behind teaching, Megan Wood, biology junior and UTeach student, said.

“If you’re not an expert in it, then you’re not qualified to teach it,” Wood said. “It’s important to know everything about your subject. And even if you don’t want to be a teacher, I think it’s just good to learn communication, organization and planning skills that are embedded within UTeach.”