Supported SiteSupported Site University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Early Teaching Experience


  • The LA program continues to thrive with more students expressing interest in participating in the program. In academic year 2010/11 we received applications from 20 students who wished to become LAs and chose 15 of them. The remaining 5 students were hired in non-contact positions. Of the LAs, 14 students assisted with cooperative group problem solving in recitations, seven students served as Supplemental Instruction Leaders, and one student was a Numerical Methods Lab instructor. Seven students were chosen both spring and fall with six of them holding different positions in the two semesters. Undergraduate students who are involved in the electronics labs and the astronomy labs are not included here as they are chosen by the faculty member teaching the course and are not required to take the New TA Seminar, which also serves as our LA training course.
  • Students in our program are involved in a minimum of 30 hours of classroom experiences as part of the subject specific pedagogy courses. This is usually their first taste of teaching and they enjoy it immensely.
  • When possible, students in the physics pedagogy course are paired one-on-one with a local high school physics teacher. These pairings lead to mentoring possibilities later in the program and after graduation. One-on-one pairing for the biology students is not possible.
  • During the physics pedagogy course, students complete two "micro-teaching" experiences where they are in charge of the high school class. This has proved to be a rewarding experience. One mentor had his UNC student teach the entire class period and was pleased enough to have him do it again the next period.
  • All members of the first graduating cohort were able to obtain teching positions - including the December graduate. The first physics graduate of the UNC-BEST program was gainfully employed as a secondary mathematics teacher.
  • The Learning Assistant program is up and running.
  • Fall semester LAs were able to recruit a few LAs for the spring and likewise spring for next fall.


  • Some "local" high schools are more than 30 miles from campus so placing students at those schools takes careful planning. This process is also hampered by student access to transportation.
  • As the program grows, recruiting sufficient numbers of mentor teachers becomes more challenging.
  • One mentor teacher from 2008/09 was unresponsive to e-mail and telephone contact.
  • We continue to wrestle with conflicts between the meeting times of introductory physics recitation sections (where we use LAs) and of upper-level physics courses (which are taken by most of our potential LAs). This limits our ability to recruit LAs.
  • School district hiring freezes caused several of the graduates to not have positions until after the first 10 days of school had occurred, or even later.

Sustainability/Institutional Buy-In

  • The LA program continues to be supported from instructional funds as part of our overall TA budget. This budget is increasingly under strain due to budget cuts.
  • The teaching internship continues to be revised based on feedback from the students completing the program.
  • The Teacher-in-Residence and Physics Education Specialist were able to recruit a few more mentor teachers for the Teacher Advisory Group.

Lessons Learned

  • Word of mouth is an effective means for recruiting LAs into the program.
  • Continued recruitment of mentor teachers is critical as the program grows.
  • Recuriting for the Learning Assistants Program needs to be accomplished much earlier in the semester with assistance from the current LAs.
  • When recitations meet as compared to when upper-level physics courses meet needs to be reviewed and altered.

Activity Summary

  • Students complete a minimum of 30 hours of field experiences prior to student teaching. In addition to observing and assisting the cooperating teacher, the (physics) students complete two "micro-teaching" experiences which are video-taped, evaluated and discussed with the pedagogy instructor.
  • The students undertake full-time, twelve-week internships (student teaching) under the supervision of the mentor teachers, and University Supervisors. The University Supervisors visit students and schedule weekly student contacts in this intense clinical experience. Mentors provide support with unit and lesson planning, classroom management, and the community of the school. During the internship, university faculty provide evening workshops to assist students with the capstone project (digital portfolio).