A University of Maryland program is helping D.C.-area school systems grapple with a teacher shortage in STEM fields.
Since 2014, Terrapin Teachers has provided students majoring in a STEM field with a pathway to pursue a career in K-12 education. The program’s efforts have become increasingly valuable, as school systems work through staffing challenges worsened by the pandemic.
Anisha Campbell, the program’s associate director, said that interest in has remained steady in recent years.
“We get tons of students who take those first two courses,” Campbell said. “Based on that model, not all of them are going to choose to go into teaching. What we’ve seen in the past few years is that our numbers have not decreased.”
Students in the program can choose to double major in a STEM field and secondary education, which would enable them to secure teaching certification in four years. It also affords them the opportunity to exclusively major in a STEM field and finish a master’s degree program to earn certification in five years.
In the program’s first two courses, students get classroom experience, teaching a math or science lesson at a local school. That’s different from some programs, Campbell said, where “students may not experience the classroom until their junior year, and then they decide, ‘Oh, this wasn’t really what I wanted to do.'”
The Maryland students get three field experience courses before they start student-teaching, Campbell said. During student-teaching, students work in a school in either Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery or Prince George’s counties.
About 350 to 400 students take all of the program’s courses, Campbell said. Any student on campus is able to take the first two courses within the program.
In those first two courses, Campbell said, faculty works to inform students about “myths” surrounding teaching, such as the premise that teachers are underpaid and are not satisfied with their jobs.
UMD senior Joanna Hung, who is pursuing a degree in math, said she’s been taking courses with Terrapin Teachers since her freshman year, with the goal of becoming a math teacher.
Hung started tutoring in middle school and has aspired to work with kids ever since.
“Just being able to work with the students and teach and build a relationship with the students,” Hung said, “that’s been really meaningful and fulfilling for me.”
The school’s efforts are benefiting school systems across the state, Campbell said. About 75% of program graduates are teaching in the state.
“They are teaching, they are being retained in the classroom,” she said. “That speaks to our program, the College of Education, the support that they get, the rigorous preparation that they receive. And we also give them support after they graduate.”