The University of Texas at Tyler is trying to change education by attacking problems from both sides. Through the UTeach Program and its partnership with the university’s Innovation Academy charter school, they are attempting to improve how educators approach problems and teach students more effective learning techniques.
“They spend a lot of time focusing on the art of teaching and the pedagogy,” UTeach Professor Donna Wise said. “All the content in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t manage a class.”
In her own class, the future educators are drawn from math and science backgrounds and focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) based learning.
Wise’s math teachers already have degrees in mathematics. Her science teachers have taken course work from all the fields they might be teaching. The students also receive hundreds of hours of in-classroom teaching experience at the Innovation Academy and Smith County schools.
Wise said it is important for them to see both types of classrooms in order to prepare them to work anywhere.
“It’s easy to adapt into other programs when you know what to expect,” she said. “We make sure they’ve seen different size schools.”
The students focus on project- and problem-based learning.
“It’s powerful teaching because it’s all about the students finding relevancy,” she said. “They’re learning how to take state standards and break it down. If you teach to the text, the test takes care of itself.”
Elizabeth Morgan, a fourth- to eighth-grade science education student in the UTeach program, said she was attracted to program because it showed her how she could be the type of teacher she wishes she had in grade school.
She said she began looking into UTeach after realizing a career as a nurse was out of the question.
“My grandpa suggested it and I was hesitant because I had some really bad experiences with teachers, but I got into it and loved it.” Morgan said. “It’s made me see what I don’t want to be as a teacher. You can’t make students feel that they’re not worthy.”
She said the UTeach program has helped her learn how to empower students and show them to take charge of their education.
“Most schools want their students just to pass. At the Innovation Academy, they focus on learning,” Morgan said. “When I saw these kids creating their own problems at the IA, I was blown away. I thought I was limiting their ability to learn.”
Bayardo Quintanilla also will be teaching fourth- to eighth-grade science. He said he has compared notes with his sister, who is in a teaching program at Texas A&M University. Quintanilla said he feels like he is learning a better approach to connecting with his students. He also is grateful for the wealth of in-class experience he has received.
“What I’ve loved about UTeach is its very hands-on, they put you in the field and there’s a lot of practice,” he said. “We call it clinicals and observation, however, as you teach students, it’s your duty to talk to students and get to know them.”
Quintanilla said it is a privilege being able to work with students in both charter schools and traditional public schools.
“Having that intention to connect with them, it shows them who we are,” he said. “We teach each other. I would tell prospective teachers, it’s going to be tough and you better love it.”
Jessie English soon will be teaching math to students in seventh through 12th grades.
“The kids are so smart. It creates a different learning environment to their benefit,” English said. “We have a freer environment and encourage intellectual discussion.”
English said she has been working with students to teach them math principles through real world applications -- parabolas, for example, can be taught using the arc of shooting an arrow.
“I knew that teachers had an influence, but I never knew how much,” she said. “I think this is a great program. Honestly I can’t imagine doing anything else.”