By Monica Friedlander
Berkeley, March 21, 2011 — Becoming a teacher was just about the last thing on Stephanie Morgado’s mind when she started her studies at Berkeley five years ago. In fact, an early attempt at teaching had turned her against the profession before she even set foot at Cal. But a chance enrollment in a hands-on science teaching class during her freshman year put her back on the career path she now knows she was meant for.
“That class really changed me and got me thinking about science and teaching in a completely different way,” Morgado says. “I was used to all lecture-based instruction. To see how a simple activity can completely address misconceptions and crazy ideas people have about science was amazing. That class encouraged me to pursue education as a means of changing students’ experiences in science and math.”
The course that may have changed Morgado’s life was offered by Cal Teach, a five-year-old Berkeley program that prepares and credentials undergraduates in mathematics, science and engineering to become public school teachers.
In May of 2010 Cal Teach became the first UC program approved by the state of California to offer a four-year undergraduate math and science teacher credential program. Half a year later Morgado became the first student to graduate from UC Berkeley with a teaching credential through Cal Teach.
Instead of graduating in the summer and enrolling in a separate year-long teaching credential program, Morgado stuck with the program for another few months and, in December of 2010, earned her teaching credential simultaneously with her disciplinary degree in astrophysics. By January she was already working as a full-time teacher at the Mare Island Technology Academy in Vallejo, where she teaches science to high school students.
Cal Teach is part of a growing nationwide effort to recruit math and science teachers in large numbers in light of the alarming state of math and science education in national public schools, particularly in underserved urban areas.
"Science, mathematics, engineering — these are the elite core professions. And a large segment of our population has been shut out of them from the day they walk into kindergarten class,” said Mark Richards, dean of the College of Letters and Science and one of Cal Teach’s key supporters. “This is more than a matter of competitiveness for our country. It’s a matter of social justice."
It is also a matter of economics and survival in an increasingly-technological world. The United States currently ranks 48th in the world in the quality of mathematics and science education, according to a report of the World Economic Forum. Another study by the National Assessment of Education Progress reported that less than half of U.S. students are proficient in science, with California ranking shockingly near the bottom of the 50 states.
Cal Teach attempts to address this need with a unique approach to teacher training. Unlike traditional models, in which teaching content is divorced from teaching pedagogical skills, Cal Teach relies on an integrated, holistic approach. The program offers students simultaneous access to developing content knowledge and a teaching credential while also giving them valuable field experience by placing them in local urban school classrooms.
Started in 2006 as part of UC’s systemwide California Teach Science and Math Initiative, Cal Teach was awarded a $1.4 million grant in 2007 from the National Math and Science Initiative. The program now also offers a Science and Mathematics Education Minor and enrolls 250 students. Its goal is to boost that figure to 500 students by the year 2016 and to credential 50 new teachers every year. Since Cal Teach began, more than 800 UC Berkeley undergraduates have been placed in local schools where they have worked with at least 8,000 K-12 students.
At UC Berkeley Cal Teach works in unison with another program, Math for America Berkeley, whose goal is to support math and science teaching and improve teacher retention. Together, the two programs form the Berkeley Science and Math Initiative. An important focus of both programs is to enhance education in urban schools, which are particularly impacted by the lack of qualified staff and other resources for educating students in science and mathematics.
The inequality in education is one of the factors that motivated Stephanie Morgado to pursue a teaching career.
“A lot of the kids that I work with are bilingual, and my first language is Spanish,” said Morgado, the daughter of Cuban immigrants. “Some of these students struggle with language and fall further and further behind because no one modifies any part of the curriculum for them. Seeing them connecting with science during the few weeks I had with them was astounding. I didn’t want them to struggle like I did.”
Morgado is especially thankful to the Cal Teach program for its commitment to her success — not only while being part of the program, but now that she’s a teacher as well.
“They’re still supporting me after graduating, giving me tips and sending me resources when I need them," she says. "That was something that I didn’t expect. Cal Teach is not just an undergraduate program. Still having them support me has been tremendous, and I’m sure my students are benefiting from it.”
In turn, Cal Teach Director Nicci Nunes beams with pride about Morgado’s success and the promise that dedicated young people like her hold for the future of Cal Teach.
“It is really exciting to have Stephanie in the classroom teaching,” Nunes says. "Graduating our first credentialed teacher is a huge accomplishment, but it is just the beginning as we continue to encourage passionate science, math and engineering students to inspire the next generation through teaching.”
For more information, visit the Cal Teach website.