Last summer, five teachers across Oklahoma spent two weeks learning about potential careers for their students.
Those teachers were part of the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s teacher externship program, which pairs teachers with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-related businesses during the summer. The Oklahoma City-based engineering firm Terracon offered teachers a two-week paid externship, where they got an up-close look at the engineering industry.
After the externship ended, teachers returned to their classrooms, where they told their students about possible careers in the industry.
OSDE is expanding the “Learning in the Field” program this year and is looking for STEM-related businesses interested in offering paid on-the-job teacher externships.
“Now we’re in a position to think about the summer of 2018,” said Dr. Robyn Miller, deputy superintendent for educator effectiveness and policy research. “Of course, Terracon will again host an externship, but we would love to have other businesses do the same.”
Miller said the program helps teachers make their classrooms come alive, and students benefit because they get a chance to explore various career paths.
Teachers may apply to the program from January through May. The externships take place during the summer break, and OSDE and participating businesses follow up with participating teachers when they return to the classroom in the fall.
Miller said the externship program is a product of the OSDE’s Teacher Shortage Task Force, which includes business and community leaders. Those members asked the task force what they could do to help address the state’s teacher shortage, which led to a discussion about ways to give students a better education.
When business leaders learned that teachers could introduce students to possible career paths, they rallied around the idea, according to the agency. Terracon’s Oklahoma City office hosted the first externship program in 2017 and will participate again this year.
The program is intended for teachers at all grade levels who are interested in growing professionally, Miller said.
“It really is a professional development experience to allow teachers to gain better insight and skills, so they can make their curriculum meaningful and relevant for students,” she said. “There’s really no other criteria.”
Terracon’s regional manager, Phil Wood, said the program helps teachers and students because it encourages them to start thinking about STEM education and careers in related industries. He said companies also benefit because the program promotes STEM education and builds name recognition for participating businesses.
“I think long term, the benefit is the more we can promote STEM education, the more graduates we can have and the easier it will be to find scientists and engineers,” he said. “Because honestly, it can be difficult to find the right ones right now.”
Businesses that want to participate in the program may contact Robyn Miller, OSDE’s deputy superintendent for educator effectiveness and policy research, at email@example.com.