In his decades of teacher education, Lee Meadows, now executive director of the Alabama STEM Council, said he’s seen school systems “poach” qualified math and science teachers from one another because there aren’t enough to go around.
“It’s sad to watch, but what are they going to do?” Meadows told Alabama Daily News. “They’re trying to get their chemistry classes covered or they’re trying to get their pre-calc classes covered and they have to find teachers.”
Meadows and other state education leaders are now celebrating the launch next spring of a STEM educator recruitment and preparation program, UTeach, at six Alabama universities: Alabama A&M University, Auburn University, Auburn University at Montgomery, Athens State University, the University of South Alabama and the University of West Alabama.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham will also receive funding to expand its existing UABTeach program.
The UTeach Initiative, developed more than a decade ago at the University of Texas Austin and now in 23 states, identifies science and math majors at universities and introduces them to education opportunities. Meadows previously ran the UAB program.
“Our goal wasn’t to drag people into the teaching profession,” he said. “Our goal was to open that pipeline and that is what UTeach does — reach people who have never thought about teaching and let them explore it and let them find out they can make a difference and really enjoy it.”
Meadows said he knows of young STEM teachers making about $60,000 a year. Not bad for people in their 20s in Alabama.
The UTeach students keep their STEM majors and add an education certificate. While they don’t get direct financial support, UTeach students also aren’t committed to careers in education.
According to the University of Texas, UTeach graduates also stay in teaching for an average of seven years. And about 70% of UTeach graduates are teaching in K-12 schools with a majority low-income population.
According to the STEM Council, the Alabama universities will receive a total of $14 million over five years for the recruitment initiatives. When fully implemented, the UTeach programs are expected to produce 250 STEM educators per year.
“The universities that were selected had to illustrate that they have in the pipeline a lot of students already in math and science,” Jim Purcell, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, told Alabama Daily News. “…We’re giving those people who already have an interest in math and science an alternative certification opportunity in teaching and we hope that many of them will choose to serve their communities and young students with their knowledge.”
Lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey put $4.5 million in this year’s education budget for the initiative.
“We must prepare more qualified stem teachers to meet the needs of the 21st century,” Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, told Alabama Daily News. Orr is chairman on the Senate’s education budget committee. “This program has proved successful elsewhere and will be of positive benefit to our young students. I appreciate the willingness of these universities to step up and meet the challenge of this need in classrooms across the state.”
A report last year showed an increasing number of “out of field” teachers in Alabama classrooms, meaning they’re not certified in the subjects they’re teaching.
More math and science teachers are key to developing more mathematicians and scientists in the state, leaders say. Alabama is projected to need more than 850,000 STEM professionals by 2026, according to Alabama’s Roadmap to STEM Success.
“It is exciting to see the expansion in Alabama of the UTeach program that is centered around a STEM-focused preservice experience for university students,” said Dennis Engle, director of the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative at the Alabama Department of Education. “The intentional connections made between math, science, engineering, and computer science and STEM-specific pedagogy based on the research of how students learn in STEM subjects provided in Teach courses will be extremely beneficial to graduates who go on to teach STEM courses in our Alabama schools.”
The UTeach funding is one of several recent efforts to get and keep more qualified teachers in Alabama classrooms. This year’s $8.3 billion education budget also includes $80 million specifically to boost salaries for math and science teachers. That amount was increased by $30 million over the previous budget year. Lawmakers also increased teachers’ overall pay this year.