Recruiting and Preparing Science and Math Teachers at the University of North Texas
Mary Harris: TNT Co-Director and Professor, Department of Teacher Education and Administration
Jennifer McDonald: TNT Program Advisor, John Quintanilla: TNT Co-Director and Professor, Department of Mathematics
Cindy Woods: TNT Master Teacher
Science and mathematics are fields from which there is a high rate of teacher attrition. Demand for teachers within these high needs fields is growing, with greatest need in schools with diverse populations of low-income students. Compounding the problem, the landmark Rising Above the Gathering Storm (National Research Council, 2007) reports that "middle and high school mathematics and science teachers are more likely than not to teach outside of their own fields of study" (p. 113). The deficiencies found in teaching science and mathematics at the middle and high school levels can be attributed to three primary causes: lack of science and mathematics educator preparation programs that provide strong subject content and pedagogical knowledge for pre-service teachers, lack of support during the first years of employment, and failure of universities to recruit into science and mathematics teacher education programs (National Research Council, 2010).
In response to the state and national imperative for the United States to reemerge as world leader in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the University of North Texas (UNT) implemented the Teach North Texas (TNT) program, a replication of the pioneering UTeach program at the University of Texas at Austin. Combining classroom teaching experiences throughout the pedagogical course sequence, opportunities for professional development and induction, and financial support for its students, TNT has been increasingly successful in raising the quantity and quality of competent and innovative teachers within these high-need fields.
TNT now boasts almost 300 students, including 16 students seeking Physics or Physics and Mathematics secondary teaching certification. Equally impressive, TNT students are an academically talented group, with higher average GPAs and SAT Math scores than college and university averages. We expect to produce approximately 50 graduates annually in the coming years.
So, how are we doing it? Our success is an intricate interweaving of five key components: collaboration, curriculum, staffing, targeted recruiting and retention practices, and community.
Prior to the inception of TNT, our university of over 28,000 undergraduate students produced an annual average of only 8 secondary mathematics and science teachers combined, and a majority of these graduates considered their generalist education courses to be greatly disconnected from teaching in the STEM fields. Our university leaders saw the need for change and pledged cooperation and support for the creation of a teacher education program specifically geared toward mathematics and science.
The TNT program is firmly rooted in a collaborative vision of excellence. The College of Education (COE) and College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) worked together to implement TNT; and continued support of each college's dean, our provost, and our president have enabled TNT to grow and sustain a remarkably successful mathematics and science teacher education program.
TNT also collaborates with five local school districts, since all field experiences require the cooperation of district officials and human resources departments. We maintain an extensive network of local Mentor Teachers who open up their classrooms to TNT students for observation and teaching practice. Without their cooperation and feedback, the extensive training we provide students would not be possible.
TNT's unique curriculum instantly sets our program apart from others. It begins with an invitation for university students who have a declared interest in science or mathematics to explore teaching through a minimal-investment one-credit-hour course. Enrollment in this introductory course does not automatically require completion of the entire TNT program. However, those students who discover a passion for teaching complete a 21-credit hour minor along with their STEM content majors. These students join an educational community solely dedicated to their growth as future middle school and high school science or mathematics teachers. TNT's dedication does not stop upon graduation; we continue to support our graduates with an induction program throughout the first and second years of their teaching careers.
The TNT minor is a sequence of courses created by COE and CAS that are specifically designed to prepare future science and mathematics teachers for the middle and high school classrooms. Throughout the program, students are trained to use the inquirybased 5E lesson plan model (engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate). Inquiry-based teaching pushes TNT students toward a deeper, more thoughtful understanding of lesson planning and challenges their prior assumptions about how a class "should" be taught. Utilization of the 5E model leads to innovative and creative lessons that ensure student engagement and content understanding.
TNT stresses early and continuous field experiences both to recruit students into the program and to ensure that the teachers we produce are well qualified to teach when they enter the workforce. Few degree programs provide so many opportunities for students to interact with, learn from, and emulate practitioners in the field. TNT requires students to observe and teach at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. As much as possible, TNT students are placed in classrooms comprised of ethnically and linguistically diverse students and in locations where a majority meet the criteria for free and reduced price lunches. This ensures that TNT students recognize and experience the cultural and emotional developmental needs of diverse populations in and out of highneed schools.
Throughout the TNT minor, students develop and practice inquirybased lessons and use results of student assessment to improve teaching. Initially, for their very first field experience, students think through the questioning strategies necessary to deliver a proven lesson effectively using a kit of materials. As TNT students gain teaching expertise, they are increasingly challenged to utilize knowledge acquired by creating original lesson plans. By the second semester of the minor course sequence, our students are developing and teaching their own lesson plans, and by the fourth semester, they are developing and teaching lessons planned for the high school level.
Furthermore, TNT students use their own teaching as the subject of action research or inquiry. They videotape and study their teaching and study the results of student pre- and post-assessments. This enables our pre-service teachers to create probing questions that link student responses directly to their understanding of the material. This type of self-critical practice characterizes excellence and innovation in mathematics and science teaching.
As a joint program of COE and CAS, TNT is led by co-directors from both colleges, both reporting to their respective deans. TNT functions as a small department within CAS but offers a minor comprised of courses from both colleges. Both of the co-directors are released half-time by their departments to lead TNT, and they make requests for funding, development, and research support through both of their colleges.
The co-directors lead a team of seven Master Teachers, who are experienced STEM teachers who possess, at minimum, a master's degree. Master Teachers are readily available as students prepare their lessons, and, as much as possible, they travel to schools to observe and critique TNT students as they teach. Master Teachers hold the rank of Lecturer, teach multiple TNT courses, and obtain approvals for students' field experiences with COE and school district officials. The external relationships developed by Master Teachers help the program navigate such obstacles as processing criminal background checks, facilitating appropriate placements for apprentice (student) teaching, and communicating opportunities for employment.
TNT also employs three staff members. With a dedicated Program Advisor, we try to provide a one-stop shopping model of advising our students. Our advisor works with CAS faculty and staff advisors regarding recruiting, enrollment, and degree requirements. The advisor works with COE staff on procedures for formal admission to the teacher education program, admission into apprentice teaching, and teacher certification by the state. The Program Advisor also assists with financial aid issues and scholarship applications and directs Talon Teach, the TNT student organization. Our administrative services officer ensures our unit's compliance with university protocols with purchasing, payroll, and other similar issues. Finally, our materials manager serves as the program's quartermaster, tracking and maintaining our large inventory of pedagogical materials that TNT students peruse and borrow as they teach their lessons.
TNT highly depends on existing COE faculty specializing in science and mathematics education as well as CAS faculty who have a high interest in educational issues. Course teams made up of tenured/ tenure-track faculty from COE and/or CAS, Master Teachers, and graduate students meet several times each year and as often as once a week. We organize at least one annual meeting of the entire teaching faculty around program evaluation. At these meetings, data documenting student learning and other evidences of program success or need for improvement are considered, and plans are made for changes to the courses and program and for evaluation of the impact of changes.
In Fall 2012, TNT successfully attracted and enrolled 113 new students. TNT utilizes a combination of guerrilla and conventional marketing strategies with a primary focus on the engagement of students, faculty, and staff to increase enrollment and retention. Recruitment tools include marketing materials, electronic marketing, and word of mouth. The combination of direct recruiting efforts and the maintenance of program visibility have yielded success semester after semester.
The recruitment tactic with the greatest return is presence at all University Orientation sessions. At least one student and the Program Advisor attend all Orientation fairs and are present during one-on-one academic major advising sessions prior to new and transfer student registration. They promote TNT with short program highlights as invited by the hosting faculty advisor. TNT is advertised as a "you can do it all" degree plan. Emphasis is placed on earning a full STEM major along with teacher certification in a "two for one" slogan. Co-presentation by the Program Advisor and a current science student has led to a large increase in science (including physics) enrollment. Follow-up via e-mail reminds students of how to enroll and provides contact information in case of additional questions.
Electronic communication and marketing materials ensure program visibility and engage students, faculty, and staff. Powerful recruiting tools include targeted e-mail solicitation to science and mathematics students, strategically placed fliers with student quotes and photos, and student-produced banners outside of the TNT classrooms. Promotional items such as t-shirts, pens and pencils, notepads, key-chains, and bumper stickers, build program recognition. Faculty, staff, and students are active on the website, Facebook, and Twitter.
Word of mouth has created positive TNT program recognition across campus and within surrounding communities. TNT partners with not only campus administrators but also student advisors from other academic areas, teachers and school administrators in surrounding school districts, and UNT faculty. Consistent recognition of the efforts these partners make for TNT and its students garners continued support from these contributors. Enough cannot be said about the importance of partnerships. Numerous students are referred directly to our program not only by faculty and staff advisors, but also by community program affiliates.
Students quickly learn that TNT is much more than a sequence of courses; it is a community of students, instructors, and staff with a common commitment to STEM teaching and learning. Be it through lounging in the student workroom on a beanbag chair, studying at the worktables with peers for an upcoming exam, receiving lesson-planning assistance from a Master Teacher, or cracking jokes with the Program Advisor after an advising session, our students are engulfed in a supportive environment that is dedicated not only to academic success but also to personal fulfillment. TNT has experienced success in retaining the students recruited by creating an environment in which students want to participate. This is done by using the best resource available: human interaction. TNT faculty and staff, administrators, instructors, colleagues, campus advisors, and most importantly, students all facilitate human interaction. Collaboration and communication, appreciation, and a sense of belonging come with membership in TNT. How we work with the many different people who make up TNT directly impacts the program's success.
TNT Physics major Gene Costa performs an experiment illustrating buoyancy with a group of high school students. Gene states: “If students are engaged, their learning process becomes much more authentic. I’m committed to showing students that science is not a sterile subject and that only a willingness to think with a natural, childlike curiosity is required. Teach North Texas has imparted in me the ability to teach through handson experience, and I’m prepared to meet the needs of different students in my classroom.”
TNT Physics major Johnny Long works with a force-motion track during an experiment with local high school students. Johnny states: “I would never have considered the teaching field if I hadn’t found a program like TNT that actually makes great teachers. I’ve learned that playing with science is fun, and that teaching science is both rewarding and fun.
1. National Research Council, (2007). Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
2. National Research Council, (2010). Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Disclaimer–The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.