University program designed to address qualified math, science teacher shortage

NevadaTeach offers STEM majors interested in secondary education a dual degree, without added cost or time, ensuring practiced teachers enter the classroom

The University of Nevada, Reno targets the state’s shortage of STEM-educated secondary school teachers with a new program called NevadaTeach.


3/14/2016 | By: Nicole Shearer  |

In an effort to address teacher shortages and to increase teacher retention, students in STEM disciplines at the University of Nevada, Reno are now given the opportunity to earn a secondary teaching certification, along with their degree, through a program called NevadaTeach.

NevadaTeach, which began in fall 2015, has enrolled 73 students, with numbers growing each semester. The program, part of the national UTeach expansion program, is an interdisciplinary effort among the University's College of Education, College of Science and the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources.  Its focus is on developing highly proficient math and science teachers.

As part of the NevadaTeach program, students take two classes within their first two semesters at the University; Step 1 and Step 2. The classes are designed to place University STEM majors in the classroom almost immediately. Students will teach three times and observe the teacher twice, within the Step 1 course. This allows students to gain meaningful context for their coursework and provides them with the opportunity to decide early on in the process if classroom teaching is the right fit for them.

"At the beginning of Step 1, I had never been in a classroom before to actually observe and then eventually teach," Travis Hickox, a University junior majoring in atmospheric science, said. "You have to start somewhere and that is exactly what this class is for. By being in the classroom, I got an idea of the kind of teacher I am and got ideas for the teacher I want to be for my learners one day."

NevadaTeach is supported by two fulltime Master Teachers, Megan Beckam and Glenn Waddell. Both Beckam and Waddell, who describe themselves as "teaching's biggest cheerleaders," are highly qualified, former high school teachers. In their roles, they teach courses, supervise student field experiences and support University students as they progress through the NevadaTeach program. They are also committed to students for two years after they graduate, serving as mentors for those beginning their teaching journey. Beckam and Waddell also actively seek out Washoe County School District teacher partnerships and collaboration.

"The goal of this program is to produce passionate educators who are willing to think different about what it means to teach," Beckam said. "NevadaTeach students will teach a variety of age groups before they graduate, which offers them a realistic understanding for what to expect in the classroom. Just as importantly, as part of this program, they gain a solid foundation in their chosen subject matter."

With NevadaTeach in place, the University has begun phasing out the current undergraduate secondary education programs for STEM subjects.

"We are fully committed to this program's over-arching objective to increase the number of STEM secondary education teachers who have degrees in STEM subjects," Ken Coll, dean of the University's College of Education, said. "This model can not only help address a critical shortage of qualified teachers but it's also proven to retain these teachers in the teaching profession."  

Benefits to the program can already be felt in the community. Currently, NevadaTeach has two student learner groups teaching in Spanish at Mount Rose Elementary School, as well as groups teaching in four other elementary schools and across six middle schools in Washoe County.

"The reception from the students in the school district has been really positive," Beckam said. "They clap when our University learners enter the classroom-they're excited to do science."

Kristen Jackson, a fourth grade teacher at Mount Rose Elementary School and Washoe County School District teacher mentor to NevadaTeach students, emphasized the positive impact University learners were having in her classroom.

"It is very inspiring to see successful native Spanish speaking students interacting with younger children, sharing their academic success and love for science with them," Jackson said. "In my 20 years of teaching, I have never been so impressed with the caliber of students that I have been sent. I can really see the benefit of having such academically focused native Spanish-speaking interns teaching science to my students. I truly can see my students remembering these interns 10 years from now when they think about their own college path."

For Master Teacher Waddell, his past experiences have helped drive his passion for the NevadaTeach program.

"It seems as if most people can tell you a story about a math teacher they had who was incredibly boring," Waddell said. "Math can, in fact, be such an interesting, relevant topic. The problem is finding those teachers with a passion and proficiency in the topic area who can make it interesting for students. That's what this program is aiming to do."

NevadaTeach, when combined with a STEM degree, is a 120-126 credit program. While students are encouraged to begin NevadaTeach in their first semester of their freshman year, having flexible entry points is an important premise of the program. This allows students to enter the program after their first semester in college if they were initially not aware of the program or became interested in the program later in their University career.  

"Right away, students are finding out if they like being a teacher," Waddell said. "They decide if teaching is something they want to pursue or not."

For more information about NevadaTeach, visit unr.edu/nevadateach.

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