- Year 2023
- NSF Noyce Award # 1852629
- First Name Jessica
- Last Name de la Cruz
- Discipline Mathematics, STEM Education (general)
Jessica A. de la Cruz
The United States has been facing critical teacher shortages in nearly every state (Yarrell, 2022). Those shortages are more pronounced in specific fields, such as mathematics, science, and special education (Feng & Sass, 2017). Despite high demand for teachers, the Learning Policy Institute (2016) reported that enrollments in teacher preparation programs, the main pipeline for producing new teachers and a key attributing factor to the teacher shortage (Will, 2022), decreased by 35% from 2009 to 2014.
Two approaches to alleviating the teacher shortages are clear: the teacher pipeline must be increased, and teacher attrition needs to be decreased. The project described herein is focused on the former and aims to increase enrollments in a mathematics education teacher preparation program at a small liberal arts university by recruiting incoming undergraduates to participate in an early teaching experience. The existing literature on recruitment and retention within both teacher preparation programs and the teaching career motivated the design of this early teaching intervention.
The project team investigated changes in the undergraduates’ planned majors and changes in their perceptions of mathematics and mathematics education after the year-long experiential learning teaching program. We also explored the social validity/acceptability of the year-long experiential learning teaching program for participants.
Utilizing the existing research on prospective teacher recruitment initiatives involving early teaching experiences, the researchers aimed to provide a teaching experience in an educational summer camp (i.e., a school-like setting) for first-year undergraduate students. To address teacher shortages in mathematics, the Teaching Leadership Program was established to increase the University’s capacity to recruit, retain, and graduate mathematics education students. The project recruited incoming STEM, education, and undeclared undergraduates to participate in a year-long experiential learning program, including cohort-based course work, training, planning, and teaching practice. The program culminated with the participants, herein referred to as mathematics camp facilitators, leading mathematics educational activities for high school students during a summer camp, providing early exposure to a teaching experience for the undergraduates in their first year of college. Facilitators worked together to develop camp content through coursework leading up to the summer camp and then delivered instruction during the week-long summer program. Through this year-long experience, the undergraduates established a cohort that functioned as a learning community to support their retention and success.
There was a significant increase in the mean facilitator response to the statement, “I am considering becoming a math teacher following graduation” from pre- to post- camp leadership experience. Moreover, the Teaching Leadership Program, inclusive of the preparatory coursework and the early teaching experience showed a significant increase in agreement with the statement, “Teaching math is appealing to me.”
Most students did not change their major from the beginning to the end of the academic year, but two did switch from Education majors with undecided content areas to Mathematics Education majors. Additionally, three students switched from undecided or non-STEM majors to STEM majors other than Mathematics. Thus, out of 14 who changed their major from the pre-survey to the post-survey, five changed to STEM majors. Though a small group, positive experiences in the project courses may have contributed to this decision. Several students wrote of the direct impact of Camp AIM on making them more certain of or excited about their career path, helping them decide they want to be a math teacher, or making them reconsider a teaching career that they had previously discounted. All strongly agreed they were glad they had served as facilitators at Camp AIM. In open ended responses, facilitators’ recommendations for improving Camp AIM included: making camp longer, having more campers, knowing campers’ math abilities, and having more opportunities to practice before camp.
Even though not all the participants may choose to further pursue mathematics education or teaching in general, this early teaching experience enabled them to make more informed decisions based their classroom-like experiences. Overall, facilitator results showed positive outcomes from Camp AIM. In terms of providing a hands-on teaching experience for undergraduate students, it was a success. Facilitators were all glad they had participated and most indicated they would be willing to be a facilitator again.
We are in the process of using this pilot to inform the next iteration of the Teaching Leadership Program, which will be a component of our future Track 1 Proposal. Further, a longitudinal study is necessary to determine if the program leads to gains in recruitment to the teaching career. The Teaching Leadership Program successfully opened participants’ eyes to the possibilities and rewards of the teaching profession. Similarly, it would be interesting to see if the early teaching experience or the cohort relationships with likeminded peers and faculty impacts programmatic or institutional retention of the participants. Further studies, of longitudinal nature and with a larger sample size, are necessary to make generalizable claims about the program’s long-term effects on undergraduates’ decisions to enter the mathematics teaching career or a teaching career in general. Nonetheless, the program was successful at capturing interest in mathematics teaching and allowing the undergraduates to authentically experience teaching with high school students in a positive manner that encouraged them to see themselves as a mathematics teacher after graduation. The findings support the literature that early teaching experiences enable individuals to better reflect on a career in teaching. Furthermore, allowing the students the autonomy in a third-space, such as a summer camp, to make instructional decisions as they see fit, without the constrictions of evaluation or existing classroom structures and norms may be a large contributing factor to the success of this program at changing attitudes towards teaching mathematics, as consistent with previous studies.