UTeach program expands to UT Permian Basin

Molly McIlhinney, News General Reporter

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story attributed a quote to Chris Turner, but has been correctly reattributed to John Turner.

In 1997 the University established UTeach, a certification program preparing college students in STEM to become teachers. Now, there are over 50 UTeach programs nationwide, the most recent opening this semester at the University of Texas Permian Basin.

After announcing the program last September, UTPB started its UTeach program this fall. UTeach gets students ready to teach in a K-12 classroom by focusing on hands-on experience and culturally relevant teaching practices. Among other strategies, the program incorporates technology into the curriculum and utilizes self-reflection, according to UTPB’s website. The new program is helping prepare STEM majors who plan to become teachers after they graduate, said Michael Marder, physics professor and executive director of UTeach.

“Every time a new university joins UTeach, we’re preparing more math and science teachers,” Marder said. “The community of people across the state and the country working together to prepare them grows.” 

The establishment of UTPB’s UTeach program comes during a unique time in Texas’ public education history. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas has undergone a teacher shortage crisis. There are currently 160 teacher vacancies in Austin Independent School District, according to an Aug. 18 AISD Board Information Session. Marder said preparing more students to teach will help Texas’ community. 

“When you talk about the future of Texas, you’re really talking first about education. It’s been a tough several years to be a teacher,” said John Turner, Texas House of Representatives member. “We asked so much of our teachers in Texas before the pandemic,  and now we’ve been through some very difficult times during the pandemic,” 

The program currently has six students enrolled, though co-director David Sparks said he hopes to eventually have between 10-15 students in the first graduating class. 

“I feel like we’re actually learning by going out there and doing. … I’ve learned a lot, and I think we’re about seven weeks into the semester,” said Janet Rayos, a biology junior in UTeach at UTPB.

After working as a nurse for six years, Rayos said she decided to go back to school to become a teacher after realizing her love for educating others.

“There was just something about seeing the look on someone’s face when you taught them something or when they learned something. … It brought a life to me that I feel like I needed to seek out,” Rayos said.

UTeach includes a beginning sequence that all universities in the program must follow, Sparks said. But on top of that, he said that universities develop programs best-suited to their students. For example, because UTPB has a large Hispanic student population, Sparks said they created a steering committee dedicated to representing the Latinx community, with a student organization in the works.

The first graduating class of UTPB UTeach will receive their certificate in spring 2024, Sparks said. 

“It might seem intimidating to teach at first, but honestly, what I’ve gained so far, even in just this first semester of this class, has been fruitful,” Rayos said. “I would just really encourage people to follow their dreams if they want to teach.”