Society & Culture

UGA STEM students get a taste of teaching in service learning class

UGA STEM students get a taste of teaching in service learning class

Athens, Ga. – In the midst of a recession where jobs are vanishing at an alarming rate, some University of Georgia students majoring in science, mathematics, engineering and technology are considering a career teaching in Georgia public schools.

Nicknamed STEM Dawgs for their focus on science, technology, engineering and math, the students taking EDUC 2460L are required to attend a one-hour seminar on campus and work twice a week with local students at Hilsman Middle School in Clarke County and Benton Elementary School in Jackson County through tutoring, projects and academic extension activities.

The course is similar to one first offered in 2007, but focuses more directly on recruiting STEM majors to consider becoming educators, said Marianne Causey, an adjunct lecturer at the college, who designed the course’s objectives in accordance with the Georgia Performance Standards.

“The goal of this course is to give STEM students a first-hand opportunity to see what really goes into effectively preparing, teaching and enriching students in the sciences,” she said. “Because of the service learning nature of the class, students are able to enter and impact the community in a positive way while still learning the required content of the course.”

Causey, who taught in Clarke County public schools for 31 years, serving as both a school counselor and middle school teacher, is on site for every class-leading, modeling, and providing leadership and structure for the UGA students.

Fidel Abgor, a junior from Marietta majoring in finance, said he took the course because he needed an elective and he wanted to get more involved with Athens.

“I always wanted to teach high school after I get done with my business career, whatever it is I decide to do. I always believed that teaching students from solid life experience is really valuable for them. Kids need to learn both standard curriculum and life lessons,” he said.

Abgor, who is currently working with 6th graders, said he wasn’t prepared for that age group but that they’ve grown on him.

“If I decide to teach, I think I’d still do high school,” he said. “This class has certainly taught me to have more respect for what teachers have to handle though! I also learned that the kids really grow to love you a lot. It’s really rewarding.”

And teaching science and math in public schools will soon become even more rewarding. The state legislature recently approved a bill to boost pay for math and science teachers beginning in the 2010 school year.

The measure allows new secondary school teachers with proper math or science certification to start at the salary of a fifth-year teacher. That’s a boost of about $4,561, to $37,985 a year, under the state salary schedule. The teacher’s salary would then continue to rise a step every year for five years. After that, the increase would be tied to student performance.

In 2008, 14.3 percent of all Georgia math teachers were not fully certified, according to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. Another 18.6 percent of physical science teachers and 16.2 percent of life sciences teachers lacked full certification, the commission said. The shortfall in Georgia mirrors what education officials say is a national trend.

The Georgia legislation focuses on high schools but would also reward elementary school teachers who increase their competency in math and science by handing them a $1,000 annual bonus if they earn an endorsement from the Professional Standards Commission.