Written by Glenn Waddell and Megan Beckam for the Reno Gazette Journal. Article first appeared Feb 11, 2016.
In the Jan. 18 One View column, Brent Husson of Nevada Succeeds said, “If Nevada is to continue to progress in reforming our education system we must, as a community, address the teacher shortage and the overall deficit of leadership in the industry.”
Providing comprehensive teacher preparation is a first step towards improving our education system. Research shows the strongest teachers are those who have degrees in their core subjects. It is no secret that stellar teacher preparation pairs content knowledge with equally strong teaching skills.
This is why the University of Nevada, Reno launched NevadaTeach to address science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) needs. NevadaTeach is a joint initiative between the Colleges of Education and Science with the Colleges of Engineering and Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources joining this semester. We kicked off its first semester in fall 2015 and are already showing outstanding growth.
This program encourages STEM majors to seek teaching as a career path. It is structured so learners can finish two degrees — one in their STEM content area and one in secondary education — in four years. Upon graduating, they will have the content knowledge and teaching courses necessary to apply for teacher licensure. In addition, NevadaTeach shakes up the typical education course progression.
In traditional teacher education programs, students may not get classroom experience until their senior year. In NevadaTeach, classroom experience is a part of their first class as freshmen, so they are given an opportunity to “try out teaching” to see if it is a viable career option. Many students don’t know they are interested in teaching until later in life; we offer them the chance to discover this joy early. Does it work? The initial comments of the students say yes. One said, “When I joined NevadaTeach, I wasn’t too interested in being a teacher. With all the ‘teach days,’ though, I am a lot more interested in teaching.” NevadaTeach also increases field experiences from three to five courses and focuses on inquiry-based learning. The program encourages critical thinking, the interrelationship of content, and positive learning outcomes.
NevadaTeach is geared towards addressing the teacher shortage by focusing on producing high quality graduates that love teaching and will choose to stay in the classroom long-term. Our first cohort, those who began their first class last fall, totaled 42 students. As of this writing, 67 percent of those students have moved forward, and another 33 have started the program this semester.
UTeach, which NevadaTeach is modeled after, has been successfully producing high quality secondary math and science teachers since 1997. The UTeach Institute was established in 2006 to support replication of the program at universities across the United States, and to lead efforts toward continuous improvement of the UTeach model. The UTeach Institute partners with 44 universities to implement programs in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Approximately 80 percent of graduates at UTeach programs are still in schools five years later.
Nevada’s education solutions start with strong teacher preparation, and UNR is answering the call in STEM education with NevadaTeach.
Glenn Waddell and Megan Beckam are master teachers with NevadaTeach at the University of Nevada, Reno.