Published November 20, 2018
UB undergraduate Sana Zubairi remembers ranting to a close friend about how she had gone from being a driven, focused, intelligent high school student to an uninspired college student.
“I had gone through the list of majors a number of times and decided that there wasn't a single one that I liked,” says Zubairi, now a sophomore. “None of them gave me a secure academic goal that I could feel excited, ready or prepared for. I felt confused about my future here at UB, and envied my friends and peers who were excited about their academic and career goals.”
A few days after expressing her exasperation, she came across the UB Teach program, an innovation between the Graduate School of Education (GSE) and College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) that started this semester to identify and support future teachers by providing a way they can earn a teaching certificate in five years while becoming an expert in their preferred disciplines.
Teaching was something Zubairi had never thought about. But the more she researched the UB Teach program, the more certain she was that this is what she wanted to do, particularly the UB Teach program for math.
“It utilized my love for math,” Zubairi wrote in an email to UBNow explaining what appealed to her so much about UB Teach. “I am not a fan of doing the same thing every day, or sitting at a cubicle all day. Teaching is very active, and I love that!”
There are other reasons why Zubairi found UB Teach so compelling.
“I am a female Muslim, and I feel that there aren’t many of us who are teachers,” she wrote. “I will get to work with young people, and hopefully influence them positively during their prime growing years. And education is something I have always been passionate about.”
Zubairi’s words are music to the ears of the GSE and CAS administrators and faculty members who have set their sights on starting a program that not only encourages students to become quality teachers at UB, but saves them time and money doing it.
“UB Teach is the fruition of several years of effort to make it widely known that you can become a teacher at UB,” says Elisabeth Etopio, GSE clinical assistant professor and assistant dean of teacher education.
“UB is a great place to become a teacher. This message seems to be resonating with students.”
Under UB Teach, students can major in one of seven academic areas — biology, chemistry, classics (Latin), English, geology, history — and complete the key curriculum requirements for their bachelor’s degree in three years.
Students then pursue their graduate work in years four and five, and as part of that curriculum, complete a residency in which they co-teach alongside a mentor teacher. Upon completion of the combined degree program, students are eligible for New York State initial and professional teaching certifications.
Not only does UB Teach reduce the time students can earn their graduate teaching degree by one year, it also produces higher-quality teachers because they study and become experts in their disciplines, learning how to teach alongside an experienced, proven mentor
And the interest continues to grow, UB educators say.
“I get multiple inquiries about this program on a daily basis,” says Louise Lalli, academic adviser for UB Teach. “We are working with sophomores, current freshmen and some transfer students. These students came to UB as one major and now are excited to have the opportunity to become UB Teach majors.
“The program is meeting the needs of the students,” Lalli says. “In the back of their minds, they always wanted to be teachers. Each student has given me a little bit different of a story, but broadly speaking, when they found out UB offered an education program, they decided they wanted to do something near and dear to their hearts.”
James Zielinski is another student in the inaugural UB Teach class. He changed his major from biomedicine to UB Teach chemistry because he wanted to pursue a career where he can educate others about a subject he feels passionate about.
“The idea of being able to make a positive impact on students in the way that several of my teachers have done for me is very appealing,” Zielinski says. “I’ve had a very positive impression of the UB Teach program. Being able to earn two degrees (a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in education) in a five-year program sounded like the best path for me.”
And that path to teaching included a family element.
“My father was the one who gave me the flyer for the program, and we had an in-depth discussion with some of the staff who were involved in the development of UB Teach,” says Zielinski. “Also, my father (James Zielinski, now associate director of housing operations for UB’s Campus Living) was once a teacher, so I guess you could say I was partly inspired by him.”
Etopio and Lalli point out other advantages of the UB Teach program. Consistent advisement is essential to completing both the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a five-year period. The cohorts are small, which allows students within each program to develop relationships with other classmates and professors to support their learning.
“UB is doing it differently and arguably better,” says Amber M. Winters, GSE assistant dean for communications and marketing. “And this program in essence will get our better-prepared, high-quality teachers into the classroom sooner, filling an increasing need for teachers. In the end, it saves the student time and money, and better prepares them for the real world of teaching.”
As UB administrators are quick to point out, the students currently in the program offer the best testimony of the program’s appeal.
“I love that the program streamlines the bachelor’s and master’s degrees into a five-year program,” Zubairi wrote. “That way, I don’t have to worry about GREs, the application process — it can be so stressful! — and an extra year’s worth of tuition. The UB Teach program simplifies the entire process for students so they can stay focused on their classes and other responsibilities. I also like that with just a few more credits, you can apply to get certification in other fields — like computer science — as well.”
Zubairi also likes the teacher residency that is built into the final year of the program, calling the curriculum “strategic” and “well put together.”
“I know that with this program, I will be receiving a quality education, as well as useful experiences that I can use to fully dive into my future career,” Zubairi wrote. “Discovering the UB Teach program made me excited for what the future holds for me.”