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Tigers Teach program readies potential teachers for ‘real world’

By Laura Fenton

Tigers Teach

"Step aside after writing on the board. Provide more than one example problem. Use the same terminology as the textbook."

These classroom management and teaching tips didn’t come from an education class lecture. Students like Eudarius Jones, sophomore mathematics major, learned them on the job.

Jones is a participant in the University of Memphis Tigers Teach program, which allows students to pursue a four-year undergraduate degree while also receiving the training to be a licensed teacher following graduation.

"It makes me feel like I’m doing my job already, even before I start my job teaching," Jones said.

Created in 2009, Tigers Teach is a replication of a University of Texas - Austin program started 10 years ago. It’s funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission by way of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top initiative.

The program is unique in that Tigers Teach participants can begin their first semester of college or any semester after that. It differs from the Teacher Education Program, which prohibits students from entering until their sophomore year or until they have reached 45 credit hours.

All participants in Tigers Teach must also be in the College of Arts and Sciences majoring in science, technology, engineering or math (referred to as STEM), but none have to commit to teaching following graduation.

"If you decide not to go to pharmacy school or medical school, for example, there is a need for you in education," said Andrea Reeder, master teacher and clinical assistant professor for Tigers Teach. "We definitely need math and science teachers. It’s a good plan B."

Understanding classroom instruction provides students with better communication skills.

"The skills that you’re going to learn here are going to carry you through your entire life," Reeder said. "You’re really bettering yourself by knowing about how you learn, how other people learn, how to effectively present and communicate information."

Tigers Teach

Getting in a classroom to observe and lead lessons is vital.

"I mean, how else can you get a chance to learn about what it means to be a teacher?" said Ernie Shaw, fourth-grade teacher at the Campus School.

Shaw, a mentor teacher who allows Tigers Teach students to participate in his classroom, finds the University students greatly improve in classroom management and become more comfortable with teaching his students as the semester progresses.

Allison Neubert, junior mathematical sciences major, learned how to accommodate different learning styles and uses that to adapt lessons as she teaches honors geometry at Southwind High School this semester.

Freshman Danielle Wooten was anxious about teaching, but found the students to be respectful.

"I thought I was going to be really nervous and I thought I would mess up, but they said, ‘Ms. Wooten, thank you.’ That really made my day," Wooten said.

Participants go to elementary, middle and high schools in pairs and complete two visits of observation and three teaching the lesson.

Phyllis Adams, third-grade teacher at Shady Grove Elementary, has mentored with the program for three semesters and is very impressed with it.

"I certainly wish it had been around before," Adams said. "My first experiences were not hands-on teaching. I think it is very important to get them started doing the real thing. Theory is OK, but practice is best."

Once a student begins Tigers Teach, there is not a commitment to remain in the program. Plus, students receive reimbursement for the first two classes if they pass with a C or higher in the course.

"If you hate it and know you hate it, then finish the course and get your credit and then go and do something else. No hard feelings," said Dr. Kristina Whicker, clinical assistant professor for Tigers Teach. "We’re still going to be your friend. We still have a couple students that stop by every now and then who dropped out their very first semester."

Participants also encourage each other through involvement in the Tiger Learning Community (TLC) and Tigers Teach Student Society (T2S2). TLC pairs an upperclassman with a new student to be an assistant coach that helps with lessons or general advisory. T2S2 is more a social group that allows Tigers Teach participants to meet one another.

"It’s very helpful if I need help in Calculus II because I can go ask an older student that I know through T2S2," said Alexandria Camp, freshman mathematics major. "If they’re in Calculus III they can help you out. Obviously they’re going to know how to help you out because we’re all trying to be teachers, so we all know how to tutor."

Becoming a teacher is not for everyone, but Tigers Teach allows students to test the field.

"If you’re going to be a science or a math teacher, that’s a special quality," said Dr. Donald Franceschetti, co-director of Tigers Teach. "That’s not just something anybody can do, even somebody with an engineering degree. You need to be able to think through the learning process. It takes dedication and long hours, but the rewards are there."

For more information, visit www.memphis.edu/tigersteach.

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