Public Affairs

Educating Future Teachers

Nov. 29, 2012
By Elizabeth Chapin

Arturo Avila helps teach a hands-on physics lesson at a local school. Avila is earning his teaching credential at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Arturo Avila helps teach a hands-on physics lesson at a local school.
Avila is currently earning his teaching credential at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Arturo Avila is a first-generation college grad with a degree in civil engineering. Kyla BradyLong earned her bachelor’s in chemistry. Although from very different backgrounds, both share the love of science. So much, in fact, they have both decided to become science teachers.

Thanks to initiatives launched by Chancellor Reed, more of California’s brightest scientists like Cal Poly San Luis Obispo teacher credential students Avila and BradyLong are pursuing careers in teaching.

California is projected to need upwards of 33,000 new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers in the next ten years. The demand for credentialed teachers in these fields is significantly higher than the supply of fully qualified candidates. Reed’s emphasis on improving teacher education led to a systemwide Math and Science Teacher Initiative, and met his goal of doubling the annual production of math and science teachers.

Cal Poly teaching credential student Kyla BradyLongA high school science teacher inspired Kyla BradyLong to pursue science, but the “Learn by Doing” lab at Cal Poly is what inspired her to teach it.

While she is pursuing a teaching credential, she is also spending time in the lab with professors and grad students at UC Davis' Center for Biophotonics Science & Technology. She is placed there as part of her internship with the STAR program and says it’s an innovative setting to examine best practices for teaching STEM.

“We’re focused on giving students more freedom during lab time,” said BradyLong. “It’s a more realistic approach that works with students of all grades and ages. They come up with their own experimental designs and end up learning more.”

As part of the internship, BradyLong is also helping a research team working to develop a more effective form of chemotherapy for cancer patients. She says the fact that she has contributed to cancer research may be inspiring for her future students.

“Many kids may think chemistry is too hard, or it’s boring,” BradyLong said. “But when you add the human element, it becomes something else—something that they can relate to. What if that inspires a kid to want to create the cure for cancer when she or he grows up? We can’t afford to lose out on that.”

Avila is sure to inspire his future students in a different way. Twenty years ago, he moved to California from Mexico, and after high school went on to a community college and eventually transferred to Cal Poly where he earned his degree in civil engineering.

Avila is now teaching part-time as he works on his credential. The first in his family to go to college, he wants to give back and teach physics in high-need schools.

“Being bilingual is definitely a plus in California’s diverse communities,” said Avila. “I’m better able to connect with students who may grow up thinking science is not a career choice. But if they see that I was able to do it, it becomes a very real option.”

BradyLong and Avila both agree that the most rewarding part about teaching science to K-12 students is the moment when they “get it.”

“At the point when a student connects curriculum with experience, things finally click,” Avila said. “Seeing those light bulbs go off makes it all worthwhile.”

Thanks to the efforts and vision of Chancellor Reed, future teachers like Avila and BradyLong will have the opportunity to pursue their career goals and become the teachers so critical to California’s future.