University center looks to solve the equation of recruiting, retaining and supporting math teachers

University center looks to solve the equation of recruiting, retaining and supporting math teachers

By Andy OberUniversity Communications
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More than 1,000 educators attended last year's Mathematics Educator Appreciation Day conference.
More than 1,000 educators attended last year's Mathematics Educator Appreciation Day conference.
The center was founded in 2001 and has been recognized by the Arizona Department of Education as the state's flagship institution for mathematics education.
The center was founded in 2001 and has been recognized by the Arizona Department of Education as the state's flagship institution for mathematics education.
Rodrigo Gutiérrez, co-director, Center for Recruitment and Retention of Mathematics Teachers
Rodrigo Gutiérrez, co-director, Center for Recruitment and Retention of Mathematics Teachers

The need to recruit and retain qualified math teachers is a constant focus, and consistent challenge, for Arizona's middle and high schools. At the same time, new educators just entering the classroom can have trouble connecting with the support they need to find growth, satisfaction and success in the profession.

Meeting those needs is the University of Arizona Center for Recruitment and Retention of Mathematics Teachers, which provides services statewide to help districts address the need for teachers and equip young educators for success, says Rodrigo Gutiérrez, co-director of the center.

Gutiérrez, who began in his position in 2017, says the challenge begins with the way new teachers are trained.

"There are few pathways to becoming highly qualified as a math educator," Gutiérrez said. "You want someone who has knowledge of the field of mathematics, but also knows how to teach children. Content knowledge and expertise in teaching practices need to come together, but a lot of the models out there are focused on one or the other."

Because there aren't enough pipelines that address both crucial parts of teacher education, Gutiérrez said, much of the training must be done on the job, and most districts don't have the capacity to do that. The center, under the leadership of co-directors Gutiérrez and Melissa Hosten, offers training and support programs for free to teachers statewide.

The center was founded in 2001 to cover the Tucson region. Over the years, it expanded to cover Southern Arizona. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Arizona Department of Education recognized it as the state's flagship institution for mathematics education.

"We've partnered with ADE to offer all of our services for free to any teacher in the state, be it public, private or charter school," Gutiérrez said.

Help for teachers and students

Among the center's offerings is the New Teacher Induction Program, which allows first- and second-year middle and high school math teachers to share ideas and concerns and deepen their mathematical and teaching knowledge through monthly Saturday workshops throughout the school year. Each participant works with a coach to plan lessons, collaborate and address classroom concerns. Those who complete the program receive an $800 stipend and classroom materials.

When teachers are able to connect with each other and find success in trying new things in their classrooms, they are more likely to want to stay in the profession, Gutiérrez said.

"Our retention numbers are astronomical," he said. "The people who go through our induction program, 90% of them are still in the profession six years later. There's no other program nationally that has that kind of success rate."

The IMPACTS K-8 Program offers year-round workshops and site-based support for classroom teachers, special education teachers, long-term substitute teachers, coaches and others who directly work with math learners.

The center also provides support for students through the AmeriCorps Student Thinking Enrichment Through Mathematics Mentors grant. The program offers free math mentoring and tutoring to Arizona students, with a specific focus on underrepresented communities. Sessions can be held in person at schools or over Zoom. The tutors – community members, University students, community college students and high school seniors – receive training in mentoring and tutoring math and serve more than 1,000 students each year.

The 'flagship experience' for Arizona math educators

The center's biggest event each year is the Mathematics Educator Appreciation Day conference, which will mark its 20th anniversary in 2024. The event, being held Jan. 27, will offer professional development sessions led by practicing educators and a keynote address from Steve Leinwand, principal research analyst at the American Institutes for Research in Virginia, who has worked in leadership positions in math education for more than 40 years.

"The day is focused on teachers," Gutiérrez said. "So, for at least one out of 365 days in a year, math teachers feel like everyone loves them."

Gutiérrez expects about 1,000 participants for the hybrid event, which is free and open to all Arizona educators. Students in teacher education programs in the College of Education and Department of Mathematics are also invited to attend to jump-start their professional learning and to network with teachers from across the state. The conference sessions will take place at Tucson High Magnet School and the keynote address will be in the Grand Ballroom at the Student Union Memorial Center. Registration will begin later this month on the event website.

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