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ASU rolling out programs to turn students into teachers

Posters encourage Arizona State University physics students to consider teaching careers. (Cronkite News Service Photo/Kirsten Adams)

PHOENIX -- To address a state need for middle and high school teachers, Arizona State University is adding a certificate program and bachelor's degrees offering alternative paths into the profession.

In the past, a bachelor's degree in secondary education with a concentration in a content area was the only direct route. Students who majored in other subjects often had to return for postgraduate work to become certified teachers.

But starting this fall, an undergraduate certificate for secondary education can grant students eligibility for state teaching certification of grades seven through 12.

Four new bachelor's degrees with concentrations in secondary education have also been designed to appeal to potential teachers of physics, mathematics, history and English.

Elizabeth Hinde, director of teacher preparation at ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, said the options were designed to appeal to students who want to teach but don't want to major in education.

"We are trying to improve schools in Arizona," Hinde said. "We understand that there are some problems that are out of our control, but there are some we can control. We are trying to provide as many pathways to teaching as possible."

The programs allow students to take more courses in another content area while learning teaching methods and receiving placement in high school classrooms.

"We hope students can leave our new programs with the skills, knowledge, disposition and potential to do great things in schools," Hinde said.

A state shortage of teachers in some fields forces some secondary education teachers to work outside their areas of strength, teaching subjects in which they have little background.

Robert Culbertson, an associate professor of physics who has helped develop the new physics degree, said two-thirds of high school physics teachers lack a major or a minor in physics.

And physics teachers at smaller schools, which rarely have enough physics classes to fill up a day, often have to teach other subjects on the side, he said.

"The physics teaching profession is in a state of crisis," he said. "We want physics students looking more at education as a viable career path. We're trying to turn a lot of these things around."

The physics degree with a concentration in secondary education places an emphasis on the subject with the state minimum requirement of education courses.

Culbertson said ASU produces only one physics teacher every two years, and the university would rank in the top 10 percent of schools nationally if the new program brought six physics teachers into the field each year.

"If we can improve all STEM majors, we can improve physics in high schools, and vice versa," Culbertson said. "If all these schools stepped it up like we're stepping it up, then the issue probably would be solved."

Lauren Harris, assistant professor of history education in both the teachers college and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said some history students want to be certified to teach but don't want to have to become education majors to do so.

Unlike teachers of STEM subjects, those seeking jobs teaching history at middle and high schools face considerable competition, she said.

"This is not taking anything away from education majors," Harris said. "The goal is always higher quality teachers."

The Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College worked with other ASU colleges and the Arizona Department of Education to get state approval and roll out the programs.

Kasey Ohrns, director of teacher certification rules and process development for the Arizona Department of Education, said there was a lot of collaboration to review the programs and ensure they met certification requirements.

She said the major shift taking place at ASU is that the university is providing opportunities through all programs to work directly in the classroom.

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