AUSTIN, Texas—Chara Harris, a middle-school math teacher, had struggled to find a reasonable way to obtain a master’s degree. Then she learned about a unique program for science and mathematics teachers that began on campus in June.
With traditional degrees, she would have had to take one class at a time by rushing in the afternoons directly from her teacher’s desk at Porter Middle School in Austin. She also considered obtaining a degree online, but discovered only business or technology offerings.
“This is the first program I know of that’s tailored to helping a practicing teacher get a higher degree outside the school year,” she said.
Harris and 25 other public school teachers in mathematics or biology are receiving a Master of Arts in Science and Mathematics Education over the course of three summers.
The degree program is an offshoot of the College of Natural Sciences’ UTeach program, which gives college students early classroom exposure and other experiences to become certified to teach grades K-12. Recognizing that UTeach graduates and other teachers have few opportunities to learn new teaching and scientific concepts, UTeach coordinators and colleagues in the College of Education created the master’s degree program.
Participating teachers take nine hours of courses each summer designed by the cross-college Science and Mathematics Education Graduate Program. Harris, who has been teaching for three years, said courses this summer about instructional aspects of teaching have already been useful.
“They have kind of given me ideas that I can take back to the classroom and have a little bit of confidence to try,” Harris said.
Next summer’s courses will delve more into teaching complex math concepts for the 12 participants who specialize in that subject, with similar courses provided for the 14 biology teachers. During the final summer, teachers will focus more on developing a research project under faculty guidance.
To apply what’s learned in the courses taught by UTeach master teachers and university faculty, the participants will test-drive new lesson plans in their classes and those of colleagues between summer sessions. That helps achieve the program’s overarching goal of having participants share what they learn with colleagues who often lack strong math or science backgrounds.
Recent reports from the State Board for Educator Certification reveal that almost one-third of Texas public school instructors in science and other areas taught outside their area of expertise. In addition, nearly half of Texas’ novice teachers have left teaching within five years.
Master’s degree participant Brian Byrwa is well aware of these statistics as head of the science department at Elgin High School.
“There are a lot of factors impacting the quality of education, and the ability to keep teachers in the classroom is definitely one of them,” he said.
In addition to bringing ideas back for his classroom, he’s keen on sharing them with department members.
“If I can give young teachers some sort of tools to hold onto, I think that will increase the chance that they’ll stay in the profession,” Byrwa said.
For more information contact: Barbra Rodriguez, College of Natural Sciences, 512-232-0675.