Teaching our children well

The first step toward becoming a great teacher is to know your subject, and after earning her credentials at the University of South Carolina, alumna Emily Brown has the material down cold.

A first-year mathematics teacher at Columbia High School this year, Brown has no difficulty with concepts and equations that stop many students in their tracks. Whether it’s quadratic equations, the Pythagorean theorem or integrating under the curve, she learned it inside out in four undergraduate years in Columbia.

“In our program, you first get a bachelor’s degree in your subject area, so I got mine in math,” Brown says. “A friend of mine wanted to teach high school science, so she got a degree in chemistry. I think the way USC does it gives us so much content knowledge at the front end. It’s really beneficial to do it that way — we’re very content-ready.”

Being so grounded in the material lets her easily move beyond the textbook when she thinks it might help.

“With some of my students, negative numbers are a little hard to grasp,” she says. “They just want to know the rules, but I try to help them connect it to the real world when I can. So we talked about how it’s like owing me money. You might pay me five dollars, but you still owe me two — that’s a negative number. A lot of these guys have jobs, and that clicked with them right away.”

Knowing your stuff as a teacher is one thing, but being ready to handle 25 high school students on your own is another. Carolina’s program helps its teachers hit the ground running.

After earning a four-year bachelor’s degree, a teacher-in-training follows with a one-year master of teaching, which Brown finished last May. The graduate degree from the College of Education transitions the student from from being a participant in the classroom to being a leader there, one that helps each student as an individual to direct and control his or her own learning process. The entire year focuses on teaching, and part of that is helping future teachers be ready for the realities of the classroom.

“The actual math teaching is sometimes a very small part of what you do as a teacher, and I feel like the program really prepared us for that,” Brown says. “I knew coming in that the kids were never going to be as excited as I am to be learning math.”

The College of Education’s master’s programs in teaching help undergraduates find a pathway into teaching even if they didn’t set out on that track. An undergraduate major in math, science, English or social sciences can structure coursework to make a teaching career in secondary education possible with just a year of graduate work, which includes student-teaching in the final semester. Alumni who have already earned bachelor’s degrees can return for a two-year master’s in teaching that will provide the necessary credentials for high school teaching.

Brown was a South Carolina Teaching Fellow while she earned her four-year undergraduate degree. And as a teacher training in one of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, there are plenty of other sources support, both financial and otherwise.

For her graduate year of study, she was a Noyce Fellow, part of the University of South Carolina Science and Mathematics Teacher Initiative that over the past five years has placed dozens of teachers in high-needs school districts throughout the state. The fellowship provided $10,000 toward tuition (and does so for up to three years) as well as interaction through professional development activities with a network of teachers passionate about what they do.

It’s a group Brown fits in with perfectly.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says. “You can do a lot of things with a math degree, and I don’t find any of them to be nearly this fun. My pre-calculus kids are really good — they need me, but not for really in-depth help because they’re going to get it on their own. But I have a lot of seniors in algebra II who really struggle with math, and it’s great to be able to help get the light bulb to go off for them.

“With those kids, it’s really rewarding. I like the balance I have going right now.”

Learn more

The College of Education has many ways of helping support future STEM teachers and recently launched a website to help inform those interested about the details. To help support the college in putting teachers like Emily Brown into schools throughout South Carolina, visit Carolina’s Promise.

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