Building further on what we do well

The Minnesota Daily editorial board wrote on March 27 that the University of Minnesota should strive to play a role in producing the country’s finest teachers in math and science. Their interest was to promote a program called UTeach — a reputable program of study for future teachers begun at the University of Texas at Austin that now has a lot of federal funding attached to it.

Had the editors called us to talk about the teachers we license at the University, we would have shared with them information about the excellent teacher preparation programs — that are grounded in both rigorous theory and field-based experiences and are contextually and technologically current — that we currently offer. Potential science and mathematics teachers (there is no science, technology, engineering and mathematics license in Minnesota yet) enter our licensure programs offered through the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education and Human Development after they have already earned their bachelor’s degree in mathematics or a scientific discipline. This means that graduates of our teacher education programs have stronger content preparation than would the typical UTeach graduate.

Additionally, through our post-baccalaureate or “post-bac” teacher licensure program, future teachers also learn how to teach effectively in diverse classrooms, support students whose native language is not English, differentiate instruction for students with special needs and integrate technology into the learning experiences they design for their classrooms.

Our teacher licensure programs are designed to ensure that graduates exit with both solid content knowledge and the skills necessary to teach in contexts of diversity in an era marked by rapid technological innovation and globalization.

Unlike our curriculum, the UTeach curriculum does not focus on such skills.

And these are skills that are at the top of Minnesota’s school priorities for improving the educational experience for all students and closing the substantial achievement gap among students from different backgrounds. The teachers we prepare are highly rated by their school employers on our annual employer survey, with more than 90 percent agreement that our teachers know how to support the learning of culturally and ethnically diverse student populations.

Furthermore, for potential teachers who may wish to seek an alternative pathway into teaching after a few years in a STEM career, our programs provide an avenue.

And if the editors had asked us, we would have also told them that high-performing mathematics and science undergraduates at the University need only to apply to our DirecTrack to a teaching program to earn and keep a spot in our post-baccalaureate programs. In this program, the students earn their bachelor’s degree in their field while fulfilling early teaching pre-requisites. Students also complete 100 hours of service learning in schools as part of their course requirements. These students are in our urban centers tutoring and teaching as undergrads before they begin their professional preparation as teachers. We know through our ongoing program evaluations that they love this part of their career exploration before committing to one of the toughest professions in the nation.

Finally, we want to note that our science licensure program has been nationally recognized through the Promising Practices award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities for the ongoing support our post-baccalaureate graduates receive from us after they graduate and begin their teaching careers. Students in both DirecTrack and the post-baccalaureate licensure program also have opportunities to apply for competitive scholarships through a grant we have from the National Science Foundation with lead faculty in both CEHD and the College of Science and Engineering.

Given that our mathematics and science programs have more than 95 percent job-placement rates for our graduates and knowing that their employers value the skills they bring into Minnesota schools, we know that we are already  producing the finest teachers in math and science in the nation.