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This program is trying to lure Science and Math majors into becoming teachers.


Across the country, teacher shortages have become the new normal. STEM instructors are in high demand, and qualified math teachers are the most sought after according to the U.S. Department of Education. WLRN's Yvonne zum Tobel reports on one program trying to lure science and math majors into becoming teachers.

YVONNE ZUM TOBEL, BYLINE: Miami Senior High School's arched entryway is reminiscent of a gothic cathedral. It's the oldest high school in Miami-Dade County and was built here in Little Havana almost 100 years ago.

CYNTHIA GARZA: My mom actually went to this school, my aunt went to this school, my uncle went to this school, and my brother went to this school.

ZUM TOBEL: That's Cynthia Garza. She, too, graduated from this high school in 2019, and now she's back. But this time, she's the teacher.

GARZA: My mom is a teacher. My aunt's a teacher. My grandma was a teacher in Cuba.

ZUM TOBEL: But Garza didn't study education. She majored in math at Florida International University and added a teaching certificate to her bachelor's degree. She did it through UTeach, a program that recruits STEM majors to become teachers.

KIMBERLY HUGHES: We actually intentionally designed the program for STEM majors, and then we very intentionally recruit STEM majors.

ZUM TOBEL: Kimberly Hughes is the director of the UTeach Institute, headquartered in Texas. The program is offered at 55 colleges and universities across 23 states.

HUGHES: We also design it in a way where they can easily add the teaching credential to their undergraduate STEM major, so they don't have to change their major, and they don't have to add any more time or cost to their degree.

ZUM TOBEL: Projections show that for this upcoming school year, Florida alone will need over 1,000 math and science teachers. Jose Pavon didn't always know he wanted to be a teacher. While studying chemistry at Florida International University, recruiters went to his class and pitched a free introductory course that put him in the classroom, and he was hooked.

JOSE PAVON: That first class, I knew, like, I loved it. And it was even in, like, middle school. I forget the name of the school, but it was a middle school, younger kids, like, a demographic I didn't even think I would want to work with. I knew I wanted to do high school, but I just knew, like, if I like this so much already, and I thought I wouldn't, like, I just know this is for me.

ZUM TOBEL: Pavon has been teaching at Miami Senior High for four years and couldn't imagine doing anything else, and that's what Geoff Potvin is hoping for.

GEOFF POTVIN: We're often recruiting people that didn't actually go to college thinking they would be teachers.

ZUM TOBEL: Potvin is one of the recruiters for the FIUTeach program.

POTVIN: So that early field experience, we think, is really meaningful and helps get, you know, potential teachers, like, really hooked.

ZUM TOBEL: UTeach has been around for over two decades, and data shows that 80% of program graduates stick with the profession longer than five years. That's higher than Florida's average of 60%. Data also shows students taught by UTeach instructors have higher test scores in math and science. Kimberly Hughes from UTeach.

HUGHES: We are increasing the numbers. However, overall, the numbers are still very, very low. So much more needs to be done. We're barely moving the needle in terms of meeting the needs across the country.

ZUM TOBEL: She says that in the U.S. today, we prepare half the STEM teachers we did a decade ago. That's due in part to higher-paying jobs in industry. But for Pavon, money wasn't the deciding factor.

PAVON: I realized I wanted a job that was more social, a lot more communication - wanted to be around people. And while I love labs and stuff and experiments, it was very lonely.

ZUM TOBEL: Luring scientists into teaching may not be enough to fill the current teacher shortage, and projections show the U.S needs a lot more STEM teachers in the next decade to stay globally competitive. For NPR News, I'm Yvonne zum Tobel in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF NAS SONG, "I CAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Yvonne zum Tobel