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CONTACT: Bruce Smith
Public Information Officer
(310) 434-4209
DATE: Oct. 9, 2006


Community colleges have not traditionally been the training grounds for Kindergarten-through-12th-grade teachers, but rather the exclusive domain of four-year institutions of higher education.

But that is changing – nationally and at Santa Monica College – as the country struggles with a teacher shortage, particularly in the areas of science, math and special education.

“For too long, we’ve forgotten about a population of students – community college students – that we could be educating to become our future teachers,” says Dr. Al Solano, project manager with SMC’s major teacher training initiatives.

Fueled by federal Title V grant money and a passionate and energetic team of professors, counselors and administrators, SMC has become in just two years a fertile training ground for future teachers. In fact, an independent evaluator recently called the joint SMC-El Camino College teacher education programs as “national models for management and organization.”

Since fall 1994, SMC, through its Teacher Academy, has taken several major steps in its campaign to enlist future elementary and high school teachers, get them excited about the field, and give them a jump start in their training before transferring to a four-year university. These moves, according to Dr. Sarita Santos, Teacher Academy project manager and instructor, include:

• The addition of education classes specifically tailored to future K-12 teachers (in the past, SMC had offered only pre-school training courses).

• The establishment of the Education Pathways Information Center in the Library Village, a one-stop shop for students’ teacher-education questions. It is also the place that students meet with education counselor Jose Cue two days a week (he is at the Bundy campus two days also).

• The opening of a Teacher Resource Room at the Bundy campus, available to students, as well as teachers in the community, 18 hours a week. Staffed by student mentors, the facility provides resources and materials to help students conduct research and create lesson plans and classroom materials.

• The establishment of The Copernicus Project, which includes a summer program for prospective math and science teachers held at the University of California at Riverside, where SMC students conduct science experiments and are introduced to teaching skills, presentation techniques and more. The program provides students a $1,000 stipend and free room and board at UC Riverside.

• The offering of several future teacher workshops every semester that cover such issues as credentialing and financial aid.

• The establishment of a Future Educators Club and The Kids at Heart Club that sponsor a wide range of activities, including field trips and movie nights.

The results of these and other moves have been tangible. Of the 417 students in the SMC Teacher Academy, 76 percent want to teach at the elementary and high school levels. This, in a department that just three years ago focused almost exclusively on training pre-school teachers and child-care workers.

In addition, many SMC students majoring in other disciplines are being sought after as future teachers – particularly in science and math, disciplines in which the teacher shortage is notably acute.

“It’s extremely difficult to attract science and math students to the education profession,” Solano says. “SMC students who excel in math and science are typically not looking to become teachers.

“For example,” he says, “there are misconceptions about low salaries in teaching, so we let them know that they can earn, depending on the school district, a starting annual salary of $40,000 to $50,000 with a bachelor’s degree and credential – with summers off!”

The other challenge, he says, is that many science and math majors are focused on getting into medical school. But Solano points out that only a small minority of students – an average of less than 5 percent – is accepted into medical school, and that it’s wise for these students to explore the teaching profession.

Solano says The Copernicus Project has gone a long way in stirring excitement among these students.

“Copernicus was an amazing experience,” said SMC math major Scott Ingwersen. “We thought about how we would incorporate a research-based strategy into our own lesson plans. I was constantly thinking about how each seminar could be related to a math lesson, so the diversity of topics was not only stimulating but also served to remind me that all the sciences are interrelated.”

Interestingly, SMC is not just looking at academic achievers as candidates for future teachers. They are also targeting students whose school performance is not particularly stellar.

“Some people say, ‘Why help these students if they don’t do well academically? How can they teach?,’” Solano says. “The irony is that many students who become great teachers are the ones who struggled in school. They understand firsthand what it means to struggle so they come up with creative lesson plans and approaches to helping students learn.”

Solano says the Teacher Academy provides a number of special services to help these students perform better academically.

Not all the SMC students who are recruited as potential future teachers end up going into the field. But Solano says that is actually a good thing.

“Sometimes students get their bachelor’s degrees and teaching credentials only to discover they do not like teaching,” he says. “The program at SMC allows our students to find out early on whether this is a career they want to pursue.”

The Teacher Academy team continues to build on its early success to foster a growing pool of future educators.

“What we’re really excited about is our interdisciplinary ‘apple courses,’ which we introduced this semester,” Santos says. “In addition to regular content, these apple courses also infuse pedagogy, that is, how to teach the content.”

Apple courses currently being offered are in science, math, geography, speech, psychology and more.
In addition, the college launched this semester a pilot Teacher Assistant program, giving students an opportunity to be assistants in several of the apple courses while being mentored by the professors.

“I think it’s very important for community colleges to define their piece of training our future educators,” Cue says. “We’re all very excited about the future prospects. It’s an exciting program and it can be even more exciting.”


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