Training Tomorrow’s Teachers

calteach-noyce-scholarships-ucsb_articleMandi Gascoigne wants to teach science. Cara McNamee dreams of being a math teacher. Both will realize their dreams because of a National Science Foundation grant for teacher training at UC Santa Barbara.

Under the grant, the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program will provide $900,000 over five years (75 scholarships of $10,000 each) to train new teachers in math, science, engineering, and technology. Students who are first in their families to attend college, bilingual, and/or graduates of UCSB’s undergraduate minor in science and mathematics education program, called CalTeach, will receive preference in admission to the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education’s Teacher Education program. Additionally, three of the scholarships will be designated for community college transfer students.

The money, provided through the federal government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will help the graduate school develop a new minor in Science and Mathematics Education and increase the overall number of its teacher candidates by nearly 50 percent through 2014, Gevirtz Graduate School Dean Jane Conoleysays.

“We anticipate that California alone will need more than 30,000 new teachers of math and science in coming years. There’s no way to meet that need without the CalTeach program,” Conoley says.

Mandi and Cara both say they could not have pursued their dreams to teach without the Noyce scholarships.

“The Noyce money has been really helpful,” Mandi says. “I would have had to take out a lot of student loans if it hadn’t been for the scholarship.”

Cara says: “It basically covers all of our tuition. I still have a lot of living expenses and school expenses like books. And I have student loans. But it’s a huge help.”

Both young women entered the UCSB Teacher Education Program immediately after graduating in June 2009. In addition to taking education classes, they were involved in student teaching at Santa Barbara junior and senior high schools from the start.

“We’ve been in the classroom since day one,” says Mandi, who received her undergraduate degree in microbiology. In addition to seventh and eighth grade science, she will be qualified to teach high school biology once she’s completed the program.

Cara has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and German, and had worked with kids over the years as a camp counselor, babysitter and tutor. But it wasn’t until she became a math and science tutor with Girls Inc. that she decided she’d like to become a math teacher.

“I have been good at and interested in math as far back as I can remember, since second grade,” Cara says.

Mandi’s interest in science is also deep-seated: “I guess I’ve just always had a curiosity. I’ve always been that person who wonders about everything. That’s what a scientist is, someone who wants to explain everything.”

Both women said they were especially affected by UCSB’s Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE) courses, where limited-English speakers are taught English through content.

“SDAIE has made us think a lot more about reaching every single student and meeting all of their needs, challenging the more advanced students and working with the students who need more help,” Cara explains.

Mandi agrees: “I have a very school-minded approach to teaching, but this program puts that in perspective, to see that not all students come with that background.”

All the scholarship recipients will complete their student teaching in schools serving substantial numbers of students who are economically disadvantaged and/or are English learners.

They also have to promise to teach at least two years in a high-need school, which describes nearly all California schools, Conoley says, and they have eight years to follow through on that commitment after they receive their master’s degree and teaching credential.

“Our hope is that they enter the classroom with a better understanding of how to teach, and also a deeper understanding of how to teach the subject to a diverse population of kids,” Dean Conoley says. “We will do that by giving the potential teachers a great range of experiences from which to draw and specialized knowledge about second-language learners and learners from a variety of cultural groups.”

Besides scholarships for a master’s degree year of teacher training, the NSF grant will fund opportunities for students to attend conferences; outside support programs, including a summer program; and ongoing in-person and electronic connections for teachers once they are on their own in the classroom.

Nationally, the retention rate of brand-new teachers falls to just 50 percent by the fifth year of teaching. UCSB’s CalTeach and Noyce programs are intended to increase the number who choose to remain in the classroom. Undergraduates in CalTeach get experience in classrooms and are helped by faculty to develop both a deep understanding of their subject matter and how to teach. Noyce Teacher Scholarship funding enhances actions in support of this goal by providing more extensive training and encouragement both in the classroom and once the teachers are in the workplace, Conoley explains.

“What we’re trying to do with the Noyce awards is help them feel like they’re not alone,” Conoley says. “They tell us they feel isolated as new teachers. The grant lets us stay with them for at least two years after graduation, to provide guidance and support.”