During her 15 years with Oakland schools, Phyllis Goldsmith had the opportunity to improve her teaching skills through the UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project as well as the Bay Area Writing Project and math and science training offered by UC’s Lawrence Hall of Science.
Although many experts cite the skills of the classroom teacher as the most significant factor in the quality of a child’s education, teacher training is feeling the economic pinch. Many districts have instituted furlough days during time previously devoted to teacher training. Bay Area teachers have one ace up their sleeve, though, in having UC Berkeley in the neighborhood.
In 2002, Goldsmith came to work for the UC history project and now serves as co-director. Last week (July 11-15), Goldsmith, led a weeklong institute for fourth- through 12th-grade teachers interested in helping their history students become better readers, writers and critical thinkers. The seminar is one of seven the UC history project is offering this summer. In its 19 years, the project has served more than 10,000 teachers.
Assisting Goldsmith in leading last week’s “Building Academic Literacy Through History” institute was John Muller, a teacher at in Alameda. Muller grew up and lives in Berkeley, so the university has always been there when he needed to take classes to meet various professional needs during his 24 years of teaching.
The History-Social Science Project is one of a family of programs, called the California Subject Matter Projects, aimed at helping teachers improve their skill in a particular subject. Most have a local component operating out of UC Berkeley. The Bay Area Writing Project, developed at Cal in 1974, served as a model for the projects.
UC’s Lawrence Hall of Science has long been a mecca for science and math teachers, offering training as well as developing innovative curriculum like Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) and Full Option Science System (FOSS) and the more recent , a collaboration with the university’s Graduate School of Education.
One opportunity Cal provides for teachers that receives little notice is 100 Scholars, which allows them to take summer courses at a huge discount. Founded in 2000, the name comes from the original goal to attract 100 teachers from each of four Bay Area school districts —Berkeley, West Contra Costa, Oakland and San Francisco.
Even in its early days when it was promoted more heavily, the arrangement never attracted those numbers. Over the years, summer session director Richard Russo has in response to requests from teachers expanded the districts included.
This year, Russo decided it was simpler to open it to all full-time public, charter, and private teachers in the state. Teachers can take up to two classes worth a total of 8 units, paying only the $385 enrollment fee with the up to $2,800 in course fees waived. Russo said the program costs the university little or no money because it is primarily giving away empty seats due to the fact that most of the classes are not at capacity.
Deborah Tatto, summer session program coordinator for on-campus programs, said despite the broader eligibility the program is still most heavily used by Bay Area teachers, who choose a wide range of courses such as math, science, languages, and art.
For teachers interested in taking their careers to another level, such as becoming educators of teachers themselves, administrators or researchers, the Graduate School of Education offers a number of advanced degree programs.
Not only is the university a short commute for Bay Area educators, but its offerings tend to come with a sensitivity to the needs of urban school districts with people like Goldsmith and Muller who have worked in local schools and programs like the graduate school’s and Leadership for Educational Equity Program designed specifically to champion the needs of urban students.
Judith Warren Little, Graduate School of Education dean, said she has seen a trend in schools of education over the past 10 to 20 years toward greater involvement with K-12 education in their communities.
Surrounded by K-12 students underrepresented in measures such as graduation rates and enrollment in higher education, Cal is keenly aware of the needs of urban school districts, Little said. Its location is also an opportunity to partner with those districts.
“We have a real commitment to preparing people to work in urban schools.”
While all of the opportunities offered to teachers across the campus aren’t part of one master plan, Little said the university has “a philosophical and ethnical commitment to urban communities and I think our faculty feels very strongly about it.”
The quality of professional development is as much an issue as the amount, she said. “The highest quality professional development reaches very few people.”
Beth Levine of Albany said last week’s history project institute was the first training she’s had that provided an in-depth focus on social studies. She was at the program with Pat Simon of Berkeley. Both are fourth-grade teachers at Montalvin Manor in the West Contra Costa Unified School District.
Simon said she loves social studies and she and Levine have been looking for ways to integrate it with their language arts instruction. One thing she took away was an understanding that the writing in history books is very different from most writing and students need to the explicitly shown that.
“This program is amazing,” said Simon.
Little said the School of Education would like to do even more for practicing educators who aren’t looking to enroll in a degree program and said some kind of online support is one avenue it is investigating.