UH Program Increasing Quality of Science and Math Educators

The University of Houston is working on identifying potential math and science teachers when they first enter college. The goal is to increase the quality of math and science teachers in elementary, middle and high schools. Spring Branch and Fort Bend school districts take part and the Houston Independent School District is considering the teachHouston program. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports

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You may recall HISD billboards in the early 90s that said "Won't you by my teacher" with the picture of a student.

"Now it's not so much the case that they have difficulty finding elementary teachers, sort of generic teachers. But the problems persist in math, science, special education, bilingual education."

Bob Wimpelberg is dean of the University of Houston College of Education. He says the teachHouston program targets freshman college students in math and science programs who may be interested in teaching.

"The normal situation is colleges of education and colleges of sciences or departments of math, biology, have tended to be siloed and isolated, that has been the normal state of affairs."

UH Professor Susan Williams says that standard separation means that a pool of potential teachers is falling through the cracks.

"We don't catch them until they are a senior in college and then it's too late to get certified. And so they exit the university with this great math or science background, strong background, but they're not certified to teach."

The teachHouston program is actively recruiting freshman and sophomore math and science students to expose them to teaching.

"That means experience out in school districts. So the school districts are joining us to become our partners so that our students not only get the theory on campus, the University of Houston campus, but they also get to practice, put the theory into practice out in the schools."

UH Mathematics Department Chair Jeff Morgan says that early exposure to the classroom is crucial for people who have a passion for teaching.

"It typically happens because they had a teacher that was really special at one point and they say I want to be that person. Then they come to college and unfortunately because the way things have been structured, they never get the opportunity to taste teaching on their own until another four years."

There's also the money side. Morgan says the longer a student goes without exposure to the classroom, the more likely they'll be pulled into another profession.

"Folks from industry will come along and scoop people up. People with undergraduate degrees in mathematics and science are incredibly marketable in industry and certainly are paid much better than we pay our high school, middle school and elementary school educators."

Currently, the UH system sees 30 students with teaching certificates in math and science. With the teachHouston program, they hope to grow that number to two to 300 per year. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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