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CalTeach Program Helps Fill Teacher Shortage Gap

March 24, 2020
CalTeach helps address the shortage of math and science teachers through innovative programming.
CalTeach helps address the shortage of math and science teachers through innovative programming.

When you add UC Merced students majoring in math and science with a mentor teacher it equals real-life experience teaching in local schools.

That’s one of the many goals of UC Merced’s CalTeach program, which aims to address the shortage of math and science teachers throughout the Central Valley and beyond. This innovative program provides undergraduate students with specific coursework and field experiences in K-12 schools along with the option to earn their teaching credential.

CalTeach is not only one of the biggest outreach programs at UC Merced, but it also helps solve a critical need by putting math and science teachers in local classrooms, said CalTeach Faculty Director Mayya Tokman.

“We’re really making a big difference in the community,” said Tokman, a UC Merced professor who also serves as the chair of the Department of Applied Mathematics.

The CalTeach program gives students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, as well as other subjects, the ability to explore teaching as a career option. Students who enroll in the program attend Natural Sciences Education (NSED) classes that equip them with knowledge of best teaching practices and innovative learning strategies. These students also are paired with mentor teachers in area school districts. Each year, UC Merced students spend a combined 6,000 hours observing and teaching lessons in local schools.

Students who want to pursue teaching as a career complete the NSED minor, which provides undergraduates a variety of pathways to earn their teaching credentials faster and at a significantly reduced cost. A joint teaching credential program with UC Berkeley allows participating students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from UC Merced and a teaching credential from UC Berkeley at the same time. A joint program with Fresno Pacific University guarantees automatic admission to both a credential program and Master’s in Teaching program. Finally, the newest pathway to a credential is a partnership with a homegrown Teacher Preparation Program offered through UC Merced Extension.

More than 150 UC Merced CalTeach students have received their teaching credentials since the program started in 2006 and are now teaching in California schools, many of them in the Central Valley.

“UC Merced CalTeach is special in that it enables local students to give back to the community as teachers and it brings in transplants from elsewhere in California who fall in the love with the Valley and stay,” said CalTeach Program Director Chelsea Arnold.

Undergraduate students can obtain additional real-life education experience through CalTeach internships. Those include a partnership with the Merced County Office of Education that lets undergrads design and teach science and math lessons geared toward preschool-aged children, or intern at the Merced City Schools STEAM center. Meanwhile, an externship program with NatureBridge in nearby Yosemite National Park pairs UC Merced students with mentor instructors to experience teaching in the outdoors.

UC Merced’s ever-evolving CalTeach program has grown to include several outreach initiatives such as the:

  • Summer Institute Workshops offering teachers free professional development training funded by the Educational Employees Federal Credit Union. Last summer’s workshops focused on innovations in STEM education and included LEGO robotics, nature journaling, solar car engineering and more.
  • Bobcat Summer STEM Academy, a series of weeklong summer day camps for middle and high schoolers taught by UC Merced students. Last summer, nearly 200 students from local schools enrolled in the Academy.
  • Solar Car Challenge, which enables local teachers to educate students about solar energy and mentor teams of students through designing and building solar cars. All registered teams test their solar cars in a race organized on campus.

The latest exciting addition to the program is the newly opened CalTeach Learning Lab, a fully equipped research lab in the Sustainability Research and Engineering Building. The Learning Lab not only provides another place for UC Merced undergrads to gain experience teaching STEM subjects but also brings to campus students and teachers from elementary, middle and high schools in the region. At the Learning Lab, kids from local schools get to portray the role of scientist and use latest research equipment and methods to learn science and math through inquiry and exploration.

CalTeach has grown significantly since its inception, every new addition to the program has helped it advance its mission of bringing highest quality education to the next generation, Arnold said.