SAN DIEGO — A little-known but highly respected UC San Diego program is on the cutting edge of preparing teachers to handle multi-ethnic classroom settings and to boost the level of science and math instruction.
From San Ysidro to Oceanside, graduates of the UCSD Teacher Education Program, or TEP, expound the philosophies of cooperative learning, of hands-on teaching, of cross-curriculum instruction and other strategies only now catching on with educational reform efforts nationwide.
Although small in numbers when compared to traditional university schools of education such as San Diego State University--the UCSD program graduates only about 50 new teachers a year--TEP has carved a niche for itself in having a sharper focus more attuned to the changing nature of American urban education.
The rigorous requirements for completion of TEP, which include a year of volunteer work in a school before acceptance into the yearlong program, have led school district administrators to place a high value on UCSD students who apply subsequently for permanent positions.
"I interviewed eight or so of their science-math folks last week, and I'd like to hire every one of them," said George E. Flanigan, who oversees hiring of new teachers for the San Diego Unified School District, the nation's eighth largest.
Harry Weinberg, superintendent of the highly ranked Valley Center School District in North County, acknowledged surprise at learning of the UCSD program when he first met some of its student teachers a few years ago.
"We've subsequently hired several for our (elementary) bilingual program, and what really impresses us is the academic background of these students. . . . The fact that they have degrees in something other than education is a real plus in bringing more diversity to our students."
The interdisciplinary program began in 1972 as a way to emphasize educational equality across ethnic and economic groupings. Its underlying philosophy is that all students can learn, and it draws on professors from various academic disciplines as instructors.
While TEP originally trained students to teach at the elementary level, with an emphasis on bilingual education, for the last two years it has included a math-science specialty internship for would-be secondary-level teachers.
"We actually thought to begin the program so that science and math majors would have a career alternative to research," said Hugh (Bud) Mehan, professor of sociology and TEP director. "However, we realized that in many ways, the quickest and best way to change schools around was to start with elementary."
But, despite its stature within the county's educational community, TEP has existed for years on the periphery of UCSD's consciousness, suffering as many liberal arts programs have in the shadow of the university's world-renowned math and science accomplishments.
"For years, virtually none of the freshmen who enter UCSD even knew that there was a TEP," said Randall J. Souviney, associate program coordinator. "Now we are being invited to come to various activities, to present the options for undergraduates and to raise the general campus awareness."
The program accepts a few students with undergraduate degrees from other institutions or graduates who have decided to switch careers.
Mehan stressed the program's selectivity, noting that potential students must not only have a degree in a specific academic field but also must volunteer for 120 hours of unpaid work in a school--where they tutor or work as aides--and must take prerequisite courses in educational sociology.
"This is deliberate so that students have a good experience, a clear idea of whether they think teaching is for them before going through the rigor of TEP," Souviney said.
Many Latino Applicants
The self-selection process apparently works well. Mehan had 175 students take his introductory courses this past year, but only about 70 applied to the training program.
About 30% of the students are nonwhite, Mehan said, and a large number of applicants are Latino. Teacher training programs nationwide are under pressure to attract more minority applicants as the number of minority students in the nation's schools grows.
"I think we attract many Hispanics because of our bilingual emphasis and emphasis on multicultural perspectives in classroom management," Mehan said. But he said that many black students qualified for teaching are instead attracted to jobs opportunities in other areas.
"The way to turn this around would be to get more fellowships for education, having businesses pay a student to go to UCSD for five years on the condition that he or she then teach for five years," Souviney said. "We really need the community to invest more in education."