Teacher education has been an integral part of Savannah State since the university opened its doors 125 years ago. For more than two decades, Savannah State had a successful teacher education program, but in 1979, the University System of Georgia moved the university’s education department to Armstrong State University. The entire education faculty and students in the program left the Savannah State campus and headed across town.
On May 9, 2015, the university made history when Joshua Montgomery walked the stage at SSU’s 186th commencement ceremony, becoming the first student to complete a program of study in SSU’s newly launched School of Teacher Education (SOTE).
Montgomery, a native of Seattle, received a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from SSU’s College of Sciences and Technology (COST) and completed SOTE’s Teacher Education Secondary Certification Program. The innovative program prepared Montgomery to teach mathematics to students in grades 6-12.
“SOTE has prepared me by giving me more than enough tools, resources and strategies to implement in the classroom,” says Montgomery. “By holding me to such a high standard, the professors of SOTE pushed me to perform at a very high level.”
A STEM-Focused Approach
Programs in the School of Teacher Education, which are approved by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, focus on preparing graduates to teach in STEM-related disciplines. STEM — an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — has gained national traction over the past decade, with secondary and post-secondary institutions joining forces to produce more graduates and trained professionals in the four areas of study.
SOTE’s program, which is offered in collaboration with COST, enables students to pursue a four-year degree in biology, civil engineering technology, electronics engineering technology or mathematics, with a program track in teacher education. Upon completion of the program, qualified students in the biology and mathematics programs are prepared to teach students in grades 6-12, while those in the civil engineering technology and electronics engineering technology programs are prepared to teach in preschool-12th grade (P-12).
“There’s a need for STEM educators, and preparation of those pre-service teachers is essential.” says Interim Dean Marshalita Sims Peterson, Ph.D.
A Well-Devised Curriculum
SOTE students take classes in both education and their respective STEM areas. In addition, students must complete field experiences and clinical internships that integrate theory and practice in classroom settings. Placing students directly in P-12 school classrooms is integral to the teacher education program of study.
“When thinking of teacher education, one must think in terms of content and pedagogy. It’s significant for our students (teacher candidates) to know the content, but it is equally essential that as students prepare for the field of education, they are equipped to effectively teach the content,” says Peterson, explaining that SOTE has Memorandums of Understanding with 15 area school districts.
For Montgomery, who completed his clinical experience at Sol C. Johnson High School in Savannah under the direction of mathematics teacher Brian Wilborn, the time spent in the classroom was both enriching and rewarding.
“[Mr. Wilborn] allowed me to make my mistakes and struggle through it. This method was perfect for me, and he kept my confidence high at all times,” Montgomery says.
Plans to Expand
In May 2015, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents approved an initiative that would allow Savannah State to offer a bachelor of science in education (BSED) degree through the School of Teacher Education, and in October, the new programs received approval from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.
“We have made history for Savannah State University and the Savannah community,” says Peterson. “A student will have the opportunity to major in STEM biology education, math education or they can major in engineering and technology education with a bachelor of science in education. We are particularly excited as our commitment to quality educators is expressed through actualizing the SOTE conceptual framework theme — Preparing Global, Reflective, Professional Educators.”
SOTE will also begin offering a post-baccalaureate program for college graduates who want to prepare for their teaching certificate. The program will enable those who have already earned an undergraduate degree an opportunity to take education (teacher certification preparation) courses in the evenings and online in the areas of biology, mathematics and engineering technology. The program also includes an internship component in which the post-baccalaureate teacher candidates will teach in area public schools.
Since opening its doors in 2014, the School of Teacher Education has launched several innovative programs, all with a similar goal: to improve STEM teacher education at the preschool to secondary level by providing rigorous training to students. The SOTE initiatives align with the SSU Strategic Plan (Priority 1: Academic Engagement and Achievement), SSU’s Complete College Georgia plan (Strategy One: Enhanced Partnerships with K-12 Community) and the USG Strategic Imperative 1: (Academic Excellence and Degree Completion – Quality of Learning).
The National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which was launched last fall, includes an undergraduate scholarship for current or rising juniors, a summer internship experience for undergraduates and a post-baccalaureate program for STEM professionals. The scholarship program is designed to help increase the number of high-quality, education-certified STEM teachers in high-needs classrooms.
In spring 2015, the School of Teacher Education launched the SOTE Academy, an advocacy, recruitment and transitioning experience for high school students interested in teacher education in STEM areas. In addition, SOTE developed the STEM Teacher Education Teaching & Learning Lab, which engages students in STEM teacher preparation and integrated processes for effectively teaching students in grades P-12. The lab provides a synergistic environment where future STEM teachers apply their knowledge and skills in preparation to teach biology, mathematics and engineering technology and serves as a “maker-space” for P-12 students in participation with SOTE Academy activities.
Following in Their Footsteps
There are currently 58 students enrolled in courses in the School of Teacher Education, with six teacher education candidates scheduled to graduate in May 2016. The students will follow in the footsteps of numerous Savannah State alumni who have pursued successful careers in the field of education.
“Throughout the years, Savannah State alumni have gone on to serve as teachers, administrators, principals and superintendents at schools and school systems around the globe. These individuals have made a lasting impression on the students whose lives they’ve touched,” says SSU President Cheryl D. Dozier, DSW. “Our students in the School of Teacher Education are tasked with educating the next generation of STEM scholars. There is perhaps no greater charge and no greater challenge for educators in the 21st century. These students are prepared for the challenge and epitomize Savannah State’s motto, ‘Smart, Bold and Proud.’”
— Marshalita Sims Peterson, Ph.D., served as interim dean of the School of Teacher Education since January 2015. In November 2015, Julius Scipio, Ed.D., will assume the position of interim dean. —
This story first appeared in Impressions, Fall 2015