By Rolando Garcia
Natural Sciences and Mathematics Communications
A pioneering new teacher training program at the University of Houston recently received a $2.4 million grant to expand recruitment efforts and help address the shortage of math and science educators in public schools.
The grant was one of 12 awarded by the National Math and Science Initiative. More than 50 universities applied for funding to implement teacher preparation programs modeled after a program at the University of Texas that has successfully churned out qualified and committed science and math instructors.
UH’s program, called teachHouston, already is in its entering its third semester, and the NMSI funds will help it continue to grow and recruit more math and science students interested in teaching.
U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, a UHgraduate, announced the grant this past December and praised the innovative approach of teachHouston and its parent program at UT. These programs could lead the way in improving science and math education throughout the country, she said.
“This is a great day to be a Cougar alum,” Spellings said. “Texas has incubated so much of the important work in education.”
For America to remain competitive, it must do a better job of teaching kids math and science, Spellings said.
TeachHouston cultivates its students’ interest in teaching by pairing them with master teachers at UH and mentor public school teachers and giving them classroom experience as early as their freshman year.
“People who want to teach want to teach now,” said Jeff Morgan, math department chair and co-director of teachHouston. “It’s a profession of passion, and if you don’t feed that passion, it will turn in another direction.”
Science and math majors interested in teaching are assigned a mentor teacher at a local school. They observe the classroom and then try teaching lessons. Students rotate through elementary, middle school and high school classrooms. The compact degree plan allows the students to work toward their education certification as they complete their science and math degrees.
Michelle Martinez was part of teachHouston’s inaugural class in spring 2007. The sophomore math major’s experiences in a fifth-grade classroom further kindled her enthusiasm for teaching.
Teaching a lesson also gave her newfound confidence that she can keep a room full of 10-year-olds attentive and engaged.
“I’m normally quiet and shy, but when I get in front of the class, I transform and become assertive,” Martinez said.
She was surprised at how well the students responded, Martinez said. Even though many of the students in her class were economically disadvantaged, they showed lots of potential, she said.
There already are more than two dozen students in teachHouston with another 25 expected to enroll each semester.
The grant, which was funded by Exxon Mobil Corp., also will help teachHouston attract additional funding, Morgan said. The NMSI investment gives the program added credibility with potential donors, he said.
About $1 million of the grant will go toward an endowment to provide a permanent source of funding for the program. The university has pledged to match that by chipping in another $1 million for the endowment.