Teaching the Teachers
Higher educators in Texas are working to train great teachers and provide support and evaluation for teachers in the field—and the results are encouraging.
Truly great teachers are remembered by their students long after graduation, so Kristi Plummer may be in her students’ thoughts for many years to come. A 2007 Texas A&M University education graduate and math specialist at Passmore Elementary School in Alvin, Texas, Plummer won the prestigious Milken Educator Award in 2012. She was one of only 40 teachers in the nation to receive the annual award, considered the “Oscar” of teaching.
“When I go back and replay the video I still get tears in my eyes,” Plummer recalls of the day last December when Governor Perry called her to the stage to accept the award.
As a math specialist for grades 3-5, Plummer instructs students who need help with their math fundamentals. “I think there’s a mathematician hidden inside every child,” she says.
Unfortunately, because of a nationwide shortage of teachers in the high-need areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), not every student in the education pipeline encounters teachers like Plummer. By 2015, the U.S. will have a shortage of 283,000 secondary math and science teachers, according to the Business-Higher Education Forum (BHES).
And to complicate matters even more, in Texas, where there is a larger and more diverse population of students entering the education pipeline, the state is now spending less money on education.
Amid these challenges, educators at universities such as Texas A&M are working to reverse the shortage of STEM teachers to prepare students to become great teachers like Plummer.
“Texas A&M University is one of the largest producers in the state of teachers in STEM as well as other high-need areas such as bilingual and special education,” says Douglas Palmer, dean of Texas A&M’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD).
Palmer believes that this is because the university has put in place a number of programs that support this type of student and teacher development, and continually evaluate. “AggieTEACH,” for example, is an initiative designed specifically to address the STEM teacher shortage. The program designs a degree plan for aspiring teachers to complete all major courses in science or math, while also outlining the necessary teaching certification courses, all in 120 hours. The plan ensures that aspiring teachers not only have deep content knowledge in their field, but that they also graduate in four years.
Palmer says initiatives like this are paying off. “Greater than 98 percent of Texas A&M teacher preparation program graduates successfully complete the state-mandated competency examinations required for certification,” he notes. “Moreover, the retention rate of our teachers over three- and five-year periods is greater than the national average. Employer evaluation of our teachers is excellent. Because of the quality of our graduates, they are actively recruited by districts across the state and country.”
Accountability and Results
Such efforts to improve the education pipeline are being met with increased demand for institutions to show results and be held accountable for student success.
In response, The Texas A&M University System launched its management and accountability program, “EmpowerU,” last fall, which focuses on transparency for all the System’s institutions. The initiative calls for member institutions to provide metrics for student success and institutional progress.
“The level of transparency we are showing today does not exist in any university in the world,” says John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. “It will be a model for the rest of the nation to produce a truly transparent and effective education system.”
Texas A&M joins a growing list of universities that are opening their books to the public via accountability websites. On the university’s site accountability.tamu.edu, anyone who wants answers about such issues as graduation and retention rates, faculty workloads, demographics, student indebtedness and more, can find the information easily.
In addition to providing transparency for the System’s own institutions, EmpowerU also allows higher educators to reach back through the pipeline to help ensure that students are adequately prepared for university-level education by preparing great PreK-12 teachers, and supporting and evaluating teachers in the field.
Texas A&M’s focus on training educators in STEM fields has created momentum throughout the A&M System. The System stresses to its 10 Colleges of Education that when preparing students to be successful in higher education, great teachers make all the difference. The System has rallied its Colleges of Education around best practices at Texas A&M and has focused on improving STEM student preparation by zeroing in on preparing elementary math and science teachers and supporting in-field teachers with tools to further student success.
As the state’s largest producer of PreK-12 teachers, the Texas A&M System is committed to supporting and measuring the productivity of primary and secondary school teachers, principals and superintendents; to placing emphasis on developing PreK-6 STEM teachers; and to transitioning students from high school or community college to universities seamlessly and monitoring their progress.
The Value of Great Teachers
Educating great teachers at the university level, then supporting and measuring their effectiveness in the field is key to promoting student achievement.
All students should have great teachers like Kristi Plummer, who says she sees teaching as an opportunity to make a lasting difference in the lives of her students. “From the beginning, I’ve said if I can build the relationships, then the academics will just fall into place. I love the thought of leaving a lasting impression on a child’s life,” she says.
The transformative power of great teachers is part of the guiding philosophy in teacher training at Texas A&M, says David Byrd, assistant dean for undergraduate academic affairs at the CEHD.
“At Texas A&M, we say ‘Those who CAN, teach,’” he explains. “We combat the negative narrative that tells students and parents that teachers are undervalued. Our narrative is that good teachers transform lives.”
This article was written by Lesley Henton, communications specialist at Texas A&M, with research assistance provided by Lynn Paris, communications coordinator. No member of the Texas Monthly editorial staff was involved in its production. For more information about sponsor content, see our FAQ.