Natasha Blanch began her first year at FIU as a finance major, but quickly realized she did not love crunching numbers. Blanch discovered her passion for teaching while working at a math learning center. After consulting with her academic advisor, she decided to give FIUteach a try.
The FIUteach program is part of the National Math and Science Institute’s UTeach program, a nationwide secondary teacher preparation initiative that aims to place more than 9,000 new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers in classrooms across the country by 2020. The program enables STEM students like Blanch to earn both a degree in their major and a teaching certification without adding time or expense to their four-year degree program.
“After taking the first course, I realized I can be the driving force behind a student who hopes to become a neurosurgeon, a rocket scientist, a physicist or a mathematician,” Blanch said.
FIUteach promotes student-centered, inquiry-based teaching and learning. Blanch and other students in the program actively work together to develop new content for lessons while making meaningful connections inside and outside the classroom. Students also rely on master teachers, who are extremely skilled and knowledgeable in their STEM field and have several years of experience teaching in public schools, to provide mentorship and guidance as they navigate through the program and prepare to enter into a teaching career.
As the top producer of STEM degrees for Hispanics and one of the top producers of STEM degrees for all minorities, FIU has taken on the challenge of enhancing the recruitment and preparation of math and science teachers for communities that are as diverse as ours. Working together with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, FIUteach serves as a pipeline of highly-skilled and diverse teachers to the fourth-largest school district in the country.
“To those who believe teachers are overworked and underpaid, I would say: Underpaid? Definitely. Overworked? That’s relative,” Blanch said. “At the end of the day, it is not about how much money I will make. It’s about the students. It’s about making a meaningful difference, even if it’s just one classroom at a time.”
Blanch just completed her 12-week student teaching internship at Cooper City High School where for 10 weeks she took the lead in teaching pre-calculus and algebra 2 classes with the supervision of a mentor teacher. She is set to graduate with a B.A. in mathematics and a teaching certification in May as the first FIUteach graduate. She looks forward to inspiring her future students to ask questions, to look beyond their textbooks and beyond the classroom to find their passion.