UTeach Expansion Program Testimonials

Catherine Eckert

Chemistry Major, The University of Texas at Dallas

One of the many things that Catherine Eckert likes about the UTeach program is that it gives her more options in life.

“I know I want to teach right now and I’ve had such a great experience the last four years in the UTeach program.  I’m ready.  So a teaching career is a good option, especially someday when I may need to balance my career and family life.  But because my degree will be in chemistry, I’ll also have the chance to take a break from teaching if I want and do lab work.  It’s great to have that flexibility.”

Thanks to her experience in the UTeach program at The University of Texas at Dallas, Catherine is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry as well as her teaching certificate.  One of the hallmarks of the UTeach program is that it is structured to allow college students who are majoring in math and science fields to add specialized education courses so they can earn their teaching certificate as they complete their degree.  That gives them more career options when they graduate — and 92 percent of the students who enter the UTeach program become public school teachers.

“This program has shown me that even though I am a kind of shy person, I am ready to get up in front of students and present the material in a way that is effective,” Eckert said.

One of the techniques she has learned to help students relate to her is to lighten the science information with a joke.  She introduced one chemistry lesson to her class by asking about an ionic species used in chemical engineering and physics: “How do you remember the charge in a Cation?”   And the answering pun is “It’s always paws-ative.”

“It’s so corny, but it works,” she says.  She’s learned, sometimes by trial and error, how to use such things as Styrofoam balls and gum drops to show students how to measure molecular structures and how to use rainbow colored lab experiments to measure chemical density.

Math and science came easily for her growing up in Austin, Texas — her parents are engineers and she started building her own computers when she was in middle school.  Taking AP physics and chemistry classes in high school convinced her, “This is what I am supposed to be — this is where I am going.”

Her SAT scores were so high she earned a full scholarship to UTD.  In between her classes at UTeach, she works as a substitute teacher’s aide in the Garland ISD and also works two days a week in an elementary afterschool program called “Club Scientific.”

“You learn from teaching to work with people with different levels of ability and treat them all as if they are special. You know it’s working when people start coming to class early and say, ‘Can I help set up?’” she said.

She has recommended the UTeach option to many of her friends and says, “What’s really great about teaching is when you walk out and feel, ‘Today, I made a difference.’'"

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Alex Brown

Alex Brown

Physics Major, Louisiana State University

Alex Brown had tutored his friends to help them get through math at Garland High School in Texas and realized he had a knack for explaining math concepts.   He had enrolled as an engineering major at Louisiana State University when he first heard about the GeauxTeach program to prepare math and science teachers.  “It sounded like something that would be very fulfilling and that I would enjoy,” he remembers.

Along the way he switched his major to physics and he graduated from LSU in May 2012 with a degree in physics and a teaching certificate. “I learned physics and how to teach at the same time,” he says.  “It helps you to explain concepts better.  If you really know what’s going on, you can explain it much better to people.  You also know things you shouldn’t say because it might contradict what is true.”

His inspiration was an exceptional high school physics teacher who made learning “enjoyable.”

Alex applied to teach in the Baton Rouge area and says his goal is to be a “lifelong teacher.”  He’s eager to have his own classes and feels prepared because of the GeauxTeach coaching.

“The way GeauxTeach is set up, you get classroom experience from the very start.  You get a toe in the water very early so you know if it is a good fit for you and you start getting critiques on how to improve right away.”

The reward, he said, is that “ah ha” moment when a student comprehends a scientific concept and starts getting excited about learning more.  “That’s a very good feeling — and that’s my goal every day,” he said.

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Elizabeth Pierson

Molecular Environmental Biology Major, University of California, Berkeley

For Elizabeth Pierson, the CalTeach program at the University of California, Berkeley, became a "community with a community." The seniors in the program formed a bond during their four years together as they compared notes about their teaching classes.  “Berkeley can be so massive and impersonal, to have a good, solid group to see regularly is pretty nice,” she said.“Most of our conversations start off about people sharing their failures in the classroom, what they tried and didn’t work.  People who have experienced a similar situation offer advice.

"Mostly we talk about classroom management, which is one thing that everybody struggles with.  It’s a challenge to figure out how to get students to do more inquiry lessons, how to facilitate independent learning and not just be the teacher at the front of the classroom."It has been invaluable, she said, to have peers to talk about “how to motivate students and get them excited about school and class.”  She had intended to earn a degree in molecular environmental biology and go on to an advanced degree and research, but she gave CalTeach a try and discovered it was fun.  “I looked forward to class.  Lesson plans were exciting to me, an outlet for creativity, where I could use my science knowledge in a different way and make it fun and interesting.  I also worked in a lab and in contrast, the lab lifestyle felt too isolating to me.  I was surprised how social teaching is with the fellow teachers and interacting with the students.” 

Elizabeth also gained valuable experience tutoring in the county jail to help prepare inmates to earn a GED.  She says she was attracted to CalTeach because of the social justice opportunities to help students in lower income areas.  “I recognize that not everyone has had the same opportunity to get a good education that I have had and this is one way I can give back.”

In particular, Elizabeth is keenly interested in how education can enable marginalized communities to combat racism.  She already has extensive plans for developing classroom curricula and/or after-school science clubs to tackle the issue of how atrazine, a chemical combatant in many sources of drinking water, affects exposed animals and humans.  While she has been working as a student teacher at Green Academy, a small school within Berkeley High School, she has been regularly working with students to help them develop experimental skills in environmental sciences.  She is considering teaching in New Orleans in a marginalized area particularly affected by atrazine.She finds it frustrating, she says, when she tells people she’s going into teaching and they jump to the conclusion that she “must have had a bad GPA and can’t go on to grad school.”  Once she tells them about CalTeach and how passionate she is about teaching, they want to learn more.

"I talk so highly about the CalTeach program because they have done an amazing job of preparing me in a short amount of time.  I feel ready.  CalTeach has given me a realistic idea of the challenges I will face — but I know where to seek out resources for those challenges.  I feel ready to start.”

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Fransciso Banchon

Francisco Banchon

Math Major, University of California, Berkeley

As a youngster growing up in Southern California, math came easily to Francisco Banchon and became his favorite subject.  Statistics and geometry were no sweat.  He mastered honors and AP math courses in high school and when he was admitted to UC Berkeley, didn’t consider any other major.

“I always thought I would end up working in the corporate world,” he remembers.

But when he heard about the CalTeach program to train math and science teachers, he thought he’d try it out because he had always enjoyed helping others with their math work.  He was assigned to work with a middle school teacher in the field “who was really, really great.”  He says, “I learned a lot from her and she has been my main inspiration to become a teacher.”

When he graduates with a degree in math and teaching credentials, he wants to go back to his high school in Fontana.  “That’s been my dream to go back to my high school and teach there.”

“One of the things I have valued a lot from the CalTeach program is making the content more hands on for the students.  I loved that idea.  It really brings out what you want your students to learn.  You don’t want them to go through rote memorization where they are not really learning anything.  I want them to learn the art of math and you get that through hands-on work.  I like trying to apply that in the classroom.”

Francisco considers himself somewhat shy, so he has had to work at asserting himself as head of the class.  “I have tried a couple of strategies like making sure my voice level is high enough for them to hear me because I am usually soft-spoken.  Establishing a presence is one of the main things that I have been working on.  I have to show them right away that I am competent and organized, then take it to the next level.”

Because of his positive experience with CalTeach, Francisco became a peer advisor for Berkeley undergraduates who are beginning to think about teaching and joining the program.  “I suggest they give the CalTeach program a try since they can still do the coursework for their major and the teaching is a bonus.”

Francisco even applies his passion for math into his favorite pastime, playing video games, whether it’s the “Legend of Zelda” series or classics like the Mario games.  “I like how they create a story.  It’s amazing the ideas that come from the imagination of the game creators.  I get into the math of the games if they involve statistics and probability.  I can calculate the all the stats and put the equations to use.”

That kind of connection — making the math formulas come alive — is also what he enjoys about teaching.  “It’s amazing.  At least for the moment, they are experiencing the same math that you are experiencing.  It is really gratifying.”

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