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DISCOVERY MAGAZINE

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Linda Ferreira-Buckley and Rae Nadler-Olenick

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UTeach Liberal Arts


We've all heard about teacher shortages in secondary school science and mathematics. But what of the equally vital liberal arts, home to the humane disciplines of language, literature, and social science?

The statistics are sobering. In Texas, 30 percent of middle school and 25 percent of high school social studies teachers are uncertified in the field they teach. Spanish, a language highly important to the appreciation of our state's heritage and culture, fares scarcely better, with 28 percent of middle school and 22 percent of high school teachers uncertified in Spanish. A different situation prevails with respect to English, where teachers are available, but frequently unprepared to teach reading and writing. In all areas, an alarmingly large number of certified graduates are leaving the profession, citing as a major factor their unpreparedness for life in the classroom.

To address this complex of problems, the College of Liberal Arts at UT Austin has mounted a major College-wide initiative to transform its secondary school teacher preparation from the ground up.

UTeach Liberal Arts substantially expands and restructures the program while retaining time-tested core values. Students complete the traditional coursework requirements for their major, along with specially designed pedagogy courses applicable to their fields of specialization. But what most sets UTeach Liberal Arts apart is its emphasis on early and intensive exposure to the "real life" public school classroom.

In September 2000, two dozen freshmen--diverse in background but united in their eagerness to explore the possibilities of teaching as a career--were the first to enter this special training program which melds book learning with supervised hands-on field experience starting in their second semester. The pilot program began with English and Spanish but will eventually accommodate all Liberal Arts students seeking secondary certification.

Doing the field course sequence in the spring semester, each student will be assigned to a high-needs elementary school during the freshman year, a middle school during the sophomore year, and a high school during the junior year--all within the same school system. Once assigned, they will work several hours a week in their schools, preparing and presenting lessons, and recording their classroom observations. They will maintain a portfolio documenting their experience through journal entries, lesson plans, pupil work, and teacher evaluations. And they will meet weekly with a seasoned public school teacher and a university professor in a seminar that examines the field experiences, both academic and social.

The benefits of such continuity are obvious. Because the field work takes place and is supervised by teachers on the same vertical team (a high school and its feeder schools), UT students explore their career choice in realistic settings under the tutelage of expert teachers whose teaching practices they observe. By the time they "student teach" and are certified, they have worked with children of all ability levels from remedial to advanced placement and in general education, special education, and bilingual settings. They have gained exposure to youngsters of varied races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. And they are in a real position to know whether a teaching career is for them.

The practicing teachers involved in the program are exceptionally accomplished professionals: devoted individuals with specialized education and years of experience. Most are recipients of numerous awards. They have been chosen not only for their outstanding instructional skills, but also for their willingness to mentor and train a new generation.

The College of Liberal Arts has hired Mary Diehl, an award-winning Spanish teacher with twenty-four years of public school experience, as its first "master teacher." Ms. Diehl, who has led professional development seminars across the country, will help to redesign curriculum, teach methodology courses, and guide field practice.

Contacts are further fostered by organizations and clubs within the college and across colleges. For example, during the last five years the English Educators Project has sponsored discussions, workshops, and speakers from within UT Austin and from across the country on such subjects as bilingualism, Black English, teaching usage, and film studies. The organization has brought together lively panels of alumni teaching in the Austin area; they offer encouragement, advice, and support to future teachers. While acknowledging the genuine difficulties that teachers face, graduates like Leticia Gonzalez, Jason Farr, and Ruth Carter offer moving accounts of the rewards of serving others.

UTeach Liberal Arts is designed, as well, to foster support among small cohorts of students as they share four years of classes and field experiences. These students will, we hope, remain close colleagues as full-time teachers. Liberal Arts graduates will participate in the College of Education's mentor program during their first teaching years, and they will reunite at conferences specially designed for beginning teachers. The years ahead will see UT Austin offer more professional development programs for both beginning and experienced teachers. Such programs offer UT faculty and public school faculty opportunities to learn from one another.

The program did not arise overnight or in a vacuum. Indeed, there is a splendid antecedent in the College of Natural Science's own highly successful UTeach, launched in 1997. As the College of Liberal Arts associate dean spearheading this effort, Dr. Ferreira-Buckley works with colleagues in the Colleges of Education and Natural Sciences, with teachers from the Austin Independent School District and across Texas, and with members of the business community.

A dedicated group of Liberal Arts Texas Excellence Outstanding Teachers (the Texas Exes' annual award honoring the state's best secondary school teachers) have served as the advisory board in developing the curriculum. Substantial input has also come from the Austin teachers, UT faculty, students, and administrators who participated in the College of Education's AISD/UT Initiative charged with reforming teacher education. Dr. Larry Carver, associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts, through his work with the Academy of Future Teachers, a program that recruits honors students, was part of the team that developed UTeach Liberal Arts.

UTeach Liberal Arts enjoys as well the support of College faculty who developed "domain" courses in key subject areas. Among those actively involved in this effort are Dr. Dale Koike and Dr. Madeline Sutherland-Meier (Spanish), Dr. Carlota Smith and Dr. Lisa Green (Linguistics), Dr. Brian Bremen and Dr. Sara Kimball (English), Dr. John Ruszkiewicz and Tom Buckley (Rhetoric), and John Slatin (Institute for Technology and Learning).

The domain courses include a core of required liberal arts courses to ensure that secondary education teachers graduating from UT Austin are prepared to meet the educational challenges of today's world. Undergraduate students not only take one or more methodology courses (such as The Teaching of Literature) specific to their major area, but they also take broader domain courses that serve the needs of all liberal arts teachers. These courses include Introduction to Linguistics, Writing Across the Curriculum, and Information Technology for Teachers of the Liberal Arts.

Elective courses such a the computer-assisted Advanced Writing and Usage and Style for Writers and Teachers of Writing reflect the expectation that UT graduates will be expert communicators whose writing and speaking skills are exemplary and who understand the role of language in acquiring disciplinary knowledge. They will be individuals who, moreover, make use of cutting-edge technologies to teach effectively in diverse cultural and linguistic settings.

Domain courses, both those common to all liberal arts majors and those specific to a particular major, are designed and sequenced to further students' understanding of the relationship of courses in their major to their future teaching--an understanding reinforced by their fieldwork.

Returning now to the special dilemma posed by English: there is no shortage of college English majors seeking secondary certification. But many become disillusioned soon after launching their careers. Why is that?

Over a period of several years, Advisory Board members and recent graduates across all liberal arts disciplines were asked this question: "What would you have liked to have known before you became a teacher?" Predictably, most said they wished they had known what day-to-day classroom teaching was really like. This is a problem the field sequence can rectify. Prospective teachers will have ample opportunity to find out whether the classroom is for them.

In the case of English teachers, however, many had been drawn to the major by their own love of reading. They envisioned themselves sharing literature with youth. The challenge of teaching the basics--reading and writing--much less in the complex milieu of today's classroom, was not one for which they were prepared. Most had had no sustained training in teaching English to non-native speakers. UT graduates deserve better. So do the children of Texas.

Reading and writing is the very foundation for dealing with the world around us. If a child doesn't succeed in mastering the workings of the spoken and written language, he or she will struggle in all subjects. It is the belief of UTeach Liberal Arts that every teacher must become an adept linguist, capable of dealing with the needs of today's multicultural classroom, which may include speakers of Spanish, Black English Vernacular, Asian, and other languages or regional dialects.

The domain course Introduction to Linguistics for Educators L 306, introduces the fundamentals not merely of formal linguistics (structural linguistics, grammar, semantics), but of sociolinguistics with its emphasis on language variation and cultural diversity. To be effective, teachers must understand and respect the broad range language traditions.

Similarly, the computer-assisted Rhetoric and Composition for Teachers of High School English RHE 360M, introduces the English major to necessary theories of writing, reading, and learning relevant to the language arts classroom. It examines the goal of all literacy instruction: to help young citizens to become more critical readers, writers, and thinkers. It covers the writing process (invention, arrangement, style, revision), the rhetorical situation, and developing and evaluating student assignments that enhance disciplinary learning (journals, essays, logs, proposals). RHE 360M (like its counterpart Writing Across the Curriculum RHE 360M for non-English majors) is premised on the assumption that writing, coupled with reading, is a powerful means to understanding all subjects.

Such emphasis on fundamentals by no means implies a slighting of literature. Literary studies are embraced; indeed, the curriculum is broadened through the introduction of more ethnic literature. The domain course, The Teaching of Literature, is designed with both in mind and gives special attention to Mexican-American and African-American literature.

What's more, future teachers are encouraged to take advantage of the many advanced courses the College offers in these and other literatures and cultures. Doing so will help to shape the teachers Texas so desperately needs.

As the largest liberal arts college in the country, we are blessed with many talented students eager to devote their lives to public service. The College of Liberal Arts is committed to working with the College of Education to graduate career teachers who are expert in their subject area and who are prepared to make their own students successful learners. In short, its mission is to train knowledgeable, confident, and enthusiastic teachers to staff the state's secondary school classrooms, across all the liberal arts disciplines. The University of Texas can do the youth of Texas no better service than that.

 

Dr. Linda Ferreira-Buckley is Director of UTeach Liberal Arts and Associate Professor of English and of Rhetoric and Composition at The University of Texas at Austin. She enjoys teaching a range of undergraduate courses, including freshman writing and Victorian literature, and graduate seminars in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century rhetoric, in literacy, and in the history of English studies. Dr. Ferreira-Buckley has received both the President's Teaching Award and the Dad's Association Teaching Fellowship. She is the author of the forthcoming On the History of English Studies: The Influence of Rhetoric in Victorian England and the co-editor of a criticial edition of Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. She joined the UT Austin faculty in 1990 after receiving her doctoral degree in English from Penn State University. She can be reached at 512-232-7288 or at linda-fb@uts.cc.utexas.edu

 

Ms. Rae Nadler-Olenick, staff writer for the UT College of Liberal Arts, joined the UT Austin staff in 1986, and, since 1994, has handled a variety of journalistic duties in connection with the College of Liberal Arts. Ms. Nadler-Olenick is the principal writer for the College's prizewinning newsletter, Inside Liberal Arts and a frequent contributor to On Campus and Texas Alcalde. She earned a B.S. degree from Florida State University. She can be reach at 512-232-2145 or at mrnadler@mail.utexas.edu

 


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February 05, 2001
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