One of our favorite quotes at the Waters Foundation, spoken by Gordon Brown, Dean Emeritus of MIT, is “To teach is to prepare students for a future that is yet to be determined.” This is a statement that seems to become more accurate with each passing year as the technologies and needs of a complex society change. That is one reason the Teachers in Industry program at the University of Arizona, Tucson, is so important, as it assists in the professional development of STEM educators in the region.
Teachers in Industry is a mutually beneficial partnership between business and education. STEM-industry employers hire interested teachers to work at their company in the summer. The teachers gain valuable real-world experience that they can bring into their classrooms. Industry benefits from a highly competent, professional employee who can augment their company’s production during the summer months. Teachers in the summer program also enroll in classes at the University of Arizona. There are two tracks; some teachers opt for a three-year Master’s of Arts in Teaching and Teacher Education, while others enroll in a single, summer professional development course.
In addition to the clear benefits for both teachers and industry, there are numerous benefits to the students privileged to learn from these professional educators. Student benefits include a better understanding of STEM careers, increased opportunities for critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving and creativity in their classrooms. Teachers in Industry is recognized as one of the nation’s most effective STEM learning programs.
As well as providing clear benefits to teachers, students and businesses, Teachers in Industry affects a major system-wide issue, teacher retention. Aimed at early and mid-career teachers, the program has an attrition rate of less than 10% over seven years, compared to 17% a year statewide. Keeping highly skilled educators in the system is critical to improving outcomes for students. Teachers in Industry offers a model that increases teacher retention.
The program also tracks teacher development, using the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP). Participating teachers show positive changes in classroom practice. Program teachers move away from traditional teacher-centered approaches toward more learner-centered classroom instruction. Their students develop proficiencies not only in content but also in skills such as problem solving and collaboration with an emphasis on real-world applications.
Teachers In Industry combines internships, training and support to build an innovative program that is working for teachers, businesses, students and the community in Southern Arizona and should serve as a model for systems in other locations as well. These program leaders have considered fully the issue of addressing the need for STEM educators who are well versed in current industry practices and are committed to continuing the important work of preparing today’s students for the future. They are helping make meaningful connections within and between systems and have utilized an understanding of system structure to effect a leverage action.