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From Student to Teacher in Two Credits

SED offers crash courses in education for all majors

Schools in the United States are predicted to face an acute shortage of teachers in the near future. In fact, the National Education Association estimates a national shortage of nearly two million teachers within the next decade. At the same time, many BU students nearing graduation are wondering what jobs may be available to them. The answer, in part, is teaching, and new courses through the School of Education aim to expose non-SED students to the profession.

Beginning spring semester, SED is offering 14 two-credit courses designed to broaden teaching skills. Course topics range from ESL tutoring and careers in science education to the promotion of public policy engagement in schools. Many of the courses are specifically targeted toward students planning to apply for Teach for America, and students from every school and college are encouraged to enroll.

“Courses like these are invaluable because they’ll really discuss the achievement gap,” says Patrick O’Donnell, a Teach for America recruiter. “It will give students a taste of whether teaching is something they can see themselves doing.”

Interest in nonprofit programs like Teach for America, which recruits graduates to teach in underserved urban and rural areas, is surging, says Charles Glenn, SED dean ad interim. In 2006, nearly 19,000 graduates nationally applied for 2,500 Teach for America positions, and many of those applicants came from noneducation backgrounds.

Increasingly, college graduates are applying to work in private and charter schools, where teaching degrees are not required. “Students at BU have all of these tremendous opportunities, yet they look next door and see a community in desperate need of educators. It drives them to want to do something about it,” O’Donnell says. “The general trend among today’s seniors is to do something that involves a concrete experience before pursuing a higher degree because it helps shape the direction where they plan on taking their careers.”

Students also recognize the perks that come with teaching, according to Glenn. Although the profession isn’t known for six-figure incomes, the average teaching salary in the Boston public school system is $70,000, and first-year teachers earn about $35,000. “That’s not too shabby,” he says. “Factor in summer break, and teaching is beginning to sound very appealing.”

But two-month vacations aside, students are also drawn to the vocation because of the unique challenges it poses. “In no other profession will you be responsible for 28 other people your first year out of college,” Glenn says.  

About 85 students have registered for SED’s two-credit courses to date. While some courses are less hands-on than others, Glenn hopes that all of them eventually will involve collaboration with Boston public schools through required volunteer opportunities. “The only way to learn is by doing,” he says.

Kathleen McCord (SED’07), who plans to teach mathematics, is enrolled in Contemporary Issues in Education Policy, which will bring together experts from across the University to discuss federal and state education legislation, the minority achievement gap, and educational innovations such as charter schools and vouchers. “I would recommend these two-credit courses because they are valuable to educators and the general public,” McCord says. “It’s important to know how different views on education will affect future generations.”

The courses are also recommended for students who volunteer in local schools, says Glenn. “In working with Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore, I’ve learned that public school volunteers are not always effective — not because they don’t care, but because they don’t have the necessary skill sets,” he says. “These courses are designed to increase students’ competence as they engage in service projects in the Boston community.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.