Stories

New Secondary Certification Program in Mathematics and Science Focuses on Classroom Experience, Urban Context and Strong Supports

November 1, 2009

In the fall of 2009, individuals of diverse backgrounds joined together to become the first cohort of students trained by the University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program (UChicago UTEP) to teach high school math and science. Participants in UChicago UTEP's new Secondary Mathematics and Science Certification Program share three things in common: a commitment to rigorous teaching and learning, a passion for deep content knowledge in mathematics or science, and the desire to teach underserved secondary students in an urban context.

The new UChicago UTEP secondary program builds upon six years of experience preparing teacher-leaders for urban schools through its elementary program. Upon successful completion of the program, candidates are awarded an Illinois Type 09 Secondary (6-12) Certification with an endorsement in mathematics or an endorsement in science with biology designation, and a middle grades teaching endorsement. The program marries two years of training with an exceptional level (three years) of induction support for its graduates.

Secondary Director Doug O' Roark is exhilarated to be a part of this next chapter in UChicago UTEP's evolution, particularly because he didn't have access to such a program when he attended University of Chicago. At the time, the university had an education school, which, O'Roark says lacked some of the key elements that make the UChicago UTEP model so powerful.

"The program today is what I wanted the education program to be when I was a student. It's committed to social justice and working together towards a common goal," said O'Roark. "When I was a student, there was no urban context or special preparation. In contrast, UChicago UTEP, in its first year, offers each cohort the opportunity to observe teaching at 10 or more Chicago schools. In the second year, the residential year, candidates have four separate student teaching experiences in University of Chicago Charter School campuses and other Chicago Public Schools. Students will have had far more meaningful experience in urban schools when they start their careers than I did."

O'Roark's students agree. Justin Huang, a senior at the University, is majored in sociology and then picked up a mathematics minor through his participation in the UChicago UTEP program. He has spent a number of years tutoring in Chicago Public Schools and has always been interested in education. He says the UChicago UTEP program has taught him the importance of getting real-life experience in an urban context.

"I am glad that UChicago UTEP values practice so greatly," Huang said. "Throughout the program, we are applying what we are learning from classes and discussions to actual situations - challenging ourselves and learning from these real-world instances of teaching. In addition, as an educator, I am beginning to acknowledge serious areas that deserve attention - such as the importance of race and culturally-sensitive materials."

Attention to context—specifically the special demands of urban areas—underlies every aspect of the UChicago UTEP design. The program is tailored to train teachers for underserved urban communities, addressing one of the most pressing unmet needs in the American public school system. The need for more well-trained teachers is especially acute in Chicago, where only eight of every 100 ninth grade CPS students will earn a college degree from a four-year college by the time they turn 25. For African American and Latino males, that figure drops to 3 out of every 100, according to a 1995 study from the Consortium on Chicago School Research. In addition, a rigorous education in mathematics and science is a key factor in increasing equity of opportunity among students, but unfortunately, urban public schools have some of the greatest mathematics and science teacher shortages in the nation. Therefore, there is a clear and compelling imperative for programs like UChicago UTEP and its secondary mathematics and science certification program to bring about the transformation of urban schools through exceptional teachers.

"There are talented people in CPS, but there is certainly no argument that we need more," says O'Roark. "What makes our UChicago UTEP students special is that they have a love for their subject matter and they connect it meaningfully with the pedagogy and the community. And, the bottom line is that the children that we serve deserve teachers like this."

UChicago UTEP Secondary student Jenny Sarna adds, "I knew that UTEP would prepare me to do great work in schools that are most in need of effective teachers. That is why I chose this program" 

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