UTEP Hosts Match Day for Teacher Residency Program
Last Updated on May 27, 2022 at 12:00 AM
Originally published May 27, 2022
By Daniel Perez
UTEP Marketing and Communications
April Luevano was among the 120 students who waited with anticipation to learn where she would teach in the fall during the first Miner Teacher Residency Match Day Ceremony and Celebration on May 25, 2022, at the Starlight Event Center in East-Central El Paso.
After a drumroll and a countdown, Luevano, a senior education major at The University of Texas at El Paso, and her peers ripped open their white envelopes with UTEP logos and got their answers. The El Paso native, whose certification area is early childhood through grade 6, would take her talents to Purple Heart Elementary School in the Socorro Independent School District.
Luevano, the daughter of two public school teachers, said that she had dreamed of this moment since she decided to become a teacher in fifth grade after she experienced the positive influence an instructor could have on students.
Before the announcement, Luevano admitted to being anxious about where she would work, but took solace in the knowledge that the program provides experienced mentor teachers and a UTEP site coordinator to help her regardless of where she taught.
“This is an honor,” Luevano said about being part of the Match Day event. “I think it is amazing that the college is doing this for us. They’re trying to do their best for us, and I know we’ll do our best as well.”
Approximately 250 people, including members of the college’s advisory board, attended the event to promote the importance of the teaching profession, the growth of the residency program, and the collaboration with school districts and community partners. Among those invited were the El Paso Community Foundation, CREEED (Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development), Workforce Solutions Borderplex, the Texas Education Agency and US PREP, a national organization that helps universities build their teacher preparation programs.
The ceremony was the official start of the residency’s largest cohort with the most number of partner campuses (32) from seven school districts in Region 19 to include three that will participate for the first time – Clint, Fabens and Tornillo. The college will continue to work with the El Paso, Ysleta, Socorro and Canutillo school districts.
This highly touted yearlong program gives teacher candidates the opportunity to experience all aspects of teaching at the K-12 level such as lesson plan preparation, classroom instruction, parent conferences and professional peer interaction. Each resident will earn a $20,000 stipend paid by the respective school district.
Residency cohort members participated in a District Information Fair on April 1, 2022, in the Education Building and used those interactions to decide where they would like to work. They submitted their top four preferences for district placements and hoped for the best match. While not guaranteed, the expectation is that the districts would offer a contract to the student teacher who had spent the year with them and learned their practices and processes.
Clifton Tanabe, Ph.D., dean of the College of Education, opened the event. He said he was excited and grateful to host this event to honor everyone involved in the residency program, which started with 19 students and two campuses in 2019.
“It is a celebration of our collaboration with our amazing school district partners and our wonderful students who are now poised to pursue an incredible learning opportunity through the Miner Teacher Residency,” Tanabe said.
One of the cohort’s non-traditional students was U.S. Army Lt. Col. Stefan Bandas, a logistician with the 32nd Army Air Defense and Missile Command stationed at Fort Bliss. He plans to retire after 25 years in the Army and, at 49 years old, wants to teach middle school math in the El Paso area. His letter said that he would work at Jose Alderete Middle School in Canutillo Independent School District.
The New York native, whose mother was a social studies teacher and his father a social work statistician, admitted to being a “troublemaker” in his youth. He used education and the military to turn his life around. Bandas received his associate degree in math from Cayuga Community College in New York, and his bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Oregon before he earned his commission in 1998.
Because of his parents’ influence, Bandas always wanted to be a teacher. He mentored in the military and taught ROTC courses at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. With retirement on the horizon, he said the best use of his time and abilities would be to teach math at the critical middle school age.
“You use math every day,” Bandas said. “It’s a natural way to go.”
One of his Army mentors, the former leader of Fort Bliss’ “Troops to Teachers” program, suggested he contact UTEP’s College of Education. He did and applied for the Alternative Certification Program and the M.A. in Education. He is one of the cohort’s 30 post-baccalaureate candidates who will start in summer 2022.
“I have marketable experience and wanted to pop it back into the community,” he said. “I’ve heard about teacher flight and I’m saying ‘pick me.’ I’m still young and energetic. I like kids. I like to see the light turn on their faces. It’s just the best.”
Bandas shared his story as he got ready for the event. When asked about his level of excitement, he said he was polishing his shoes and steaming his pants prior to a shave and shower. He also was excited to share that his first official day of retirement, Aug. 1, would be the first day of fall classes.
After the students learned their destinations and shared hugs and cheers, the event transitioned into a meet-and-greet session for the students with campus and district leaders. The college has scheduled various training sessions for the residents and the mentor teachers in July to prepare all involved for a successful launch to the academic year in the fall.
One of the more excited participants was Heather Click-Cuellar, Ph.D., assistant professor and UTEP site coordinator with the residency program. She was the one who led the countdown. She said the event was a way to build camaraderie among the campus families.
“I strongly believe in this program where you learn to teach and plan with a safety net underneath,” said Click-Cuellar, an educator and administrator for more than 20 years who also worked for the Kansas Department of Education. She has been a residency site coordinator since 2021. “I see the progression of our students. This residency allows the student teachers to build relationships and understand how to use data to deliver better instruction so more (K-12) students can succeed.”
Erika Mein, Ph.D., College of Education associate dean of undergraduate studies and educator preparation, was the event’s lead organizer. She said the college wanted to celebrate the cohort and to honor the layers of support from district and community partners.
“This kickoff was a way to elevate and celebrate our aspiring teachers prior to their intensive residency year,” Mein said. “This will be both a challenging and rewarding experience.”
Mein said the residency program continues to build a stronger pipeline for well-prepared teachers into the school districts. As it is, UTEP trains approximately 70% of area pre-K-12 educators.
She added that UTEP’s enhanced teacher preparation program is an effort to increase support for aspiring teachers during tough times for the field.
A March 7, 2022, article published in the Texas Tribune included a Charles Butt Foundation poll from 2021 that found 68% of teachers said they felt undervalued, underpaid and contemplated leaving the profession. The same article included another survey from the Texas American Federation of Teachers taken in February 2022 that found 66% of Texas educators recently considered leaving their jobs. There are state and national teacher shortages due to many factors such as retirement, burnout, regulations, political culture wars and the pandemic.
Mein said that enhanced preparation would give future teachers a stronger foundation and support system that would benefit them, their future students and the school districts. The college has said that it is still too early to understand the benefits of the yearlong residency in terms of teacher retention, but they expect to have that data in a few years.