Delaware Jobs: Good teachers, good graduates, good jobs
The News Journal, Written By: Nichole Dobo, March 13, 2011
WILMINGTON -- Teacher Amanda Biggers held up the blue water jug in front of her classroom at Howard High School of Technology.
Students stood six feet away from her as she placed the jug -- with a tiny bit ofethanol inside -- on the ground. Teacher Ronney Bythwood touched a flame to the top of the jug. There was a boom and a foot-tall flame. But this wasn't just a trick.
After the flames, Biggers commanded the attention of the students.
"What is that?" she asked, holding the jug up. "What's left?"
It was a tiny bit of water. Burning ethanol produces water, she explained to the class before they went on into a lesson on alternative energy sources.
Biggers is a first-year teacher in a new masters of education program. The Master of Arts in Teaching program placed math and science experts-- including a senior scientist at AstraZeneca and a former NASA intern --in New Castle County Vocational Technical schools this year. They are partnered with a fully certified teacher for an entire school year and take graduate education classes at UD.
Creating a workforce that's "college and career ready" means that Delaware needs to attract and retain highly qualified teachers to schools. And a focus on science, technology, engineering and math fields, called STEM, is meant to better prepare students for a workforce that requires different skills than what were emphasized years ago in vocational-technical schools.
"It's less of the old industrial model," said Amelia E. Hodges, the state Department of Education's associate secretary for the college and workforce readiness branch.
The teaching residents often bring real world experiences to the classroom that help connect students with the "real world" components, said Brad Glass, program coordinator and an assistant professor in the School of Education at UD. For instance, resident Russ Mauger, a former senior scientist at AstraZeneca, spent years developing drugs, putting to use his undergraduate degree in chemistry. That helps Mauger explain to students how seemingly abstract concepts relate to the real world.
"He is able to talk as someone who is able to tell them about the career," Glass said. "That old question from students is, 'When am I ever going to use it?' He can say, 'I have actually lived it.' "
Planning for the new program at UD began a few years ago, as the university researched ways to create a teaching residency program.
It launched this school year, and the timing and mission meshed with the state's education reform efforts. The state has budgeted about $1.6 million of its $119 million Race to the Top grant to bring more teachers into schools under "alternative pathways," a phrase used to describe educators who come to the classroom in ways other than the traditional model of getting an undergraduate degree in teaching.
This school year UD's teaching residents are in Howard High School and Delcastle Technical High School, both in the New Castle County Vocational-Technical SchoolDistrict. There are hopes to grow the program statewide.
Unlike some of other programs – including the traditional model -- UD's new effort gives aspiring teachers a full year to work in the classroom with a veteran, mentor teacher. And the UD program wants to attract candidates who are likely to stay in Delaware and in teaching, said Nancy Brickhouse, interim dean of UD's College of Education and Human Development.
Several of the teaching residents said they were drawn to pursue a career in the classroom for altruistic reasons. Mike Malaney, who's a teaching resident at Howard High School, said he decided he wanted to leave the business world because he found no personal satisfaction in working in a cubicle "working to make the rich, richer."
"Pretty quickly I grew tired of sitting in a cubicle," said Malaney, who has an undergraduate degree in business management.
Spending a full year in a classroom under the direction of mentor teacher – while taking master's degree classes on off times-- was part of what drew Jeff Gunther to teaching though the UD residency program. Gunther, who has undergraduate degrees in neurobiology and environmental engineering, had already spent time tutoring students, so he knew he liked working with young people. And he's passionate about his field, so it's personally rewarding to share that with his students, he said.
The UD program also contains another component of the state's education reform movement -- an emphasis on STEM education. Those subject areas are bringing new methods of engaging students so they develop soft skills that are important to employers, including working in a group to come up with collaborative solutions to problems, said Brickhouse. This is a change from a time when employers needed factory line workers.
"One of the things that is changing," Brickhouse said, "is the way that a lot of the content that is important in STEM education does not necessarily fit easily into traditional boundaries."
To learn more about the University of Delaware's masters in education, go to www.udel.edu/education/masters/teaching/index.html. This year's class was just science and math teachers, next year the program will also include English teachers. The next group is currently being admitted, and should have 16 residents.