TeAMS teacher assistant and liberal studies sophomore Emily Harrison in front of lockers at Paulding Middle School in Arroyo Grande.

This post has been paid for by the Center for Engineering, Science and Mathematics Education, and does not reflect the editorial coverage of Mustang News. 

It’s a Friday afternoon and recess has officially commenced at Paulding Middle School in Arroyo Grande. Gaggles of middle-schoolers litter the locker-lined hallways, as Cal Poly liberal studies sophomore Emily Harrison navigates her way through the crowd to Ms. Mejia’s seventh grade math classroom. Here, Harrison is a Teacher Assistants in Mathematics and Science (TeAMS) participant, a paid early field experience for K-12 STEM teachers.

Harrison always knew she wanted to be a teacher. Until now, however, she had only volunteered at elementary schools, focusing solely on teaching grade-school.

“I wanted to dip my toes into other levels of education.” Harrison said, “Then I got involved in TeAMS and I got placed here at Paulding with middle school students this fall. I’ve loved it and have continued the past three quarters.”

TeAMS participants gain first-hand experience running a classroom, working as teacher’s assistants and tutors in seventh through 12th grade classrooms. Students work as far north as Paso Robles and as far south as Guadalupe. With a pay rate of $12 an hour and flexible scheduling, TeAMS can be an idyllic part-time job for college students interested in teaching.

“The schools are so excited and thankful to have you in any way, whether you only come in for three hours or if you work 15 hours a week,” Harrison said.

Harrison works at Paulding on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Harrison tutoring a seventh grade student in math.

“Here when I tutor, I feel so lucky to have so many students asking me questions,” she said. “So many people will be raising their hand at one time, some even come in early to class to request to the teacher to work with me that day. You get that immediate recognition, which makes your relationships with those students that much more special.”

TeAMS participants also enroll in SCM 220, a 1-unit weekly seminar for math and science tutors to discuss teaching, learning and their own individual experiences.

“We go and debrief what’s happening and talk about really good things that happen in the classroom and things that frustrate us that we don’t necessarily understand.” Harrison said, “It’s been a really good community to have those conversations with.” 

Students also write a reflection once a week about their tutoring experiences. The weekly seminar is run by former public school teachers David Buck-Moyer and Terry Elfrink.

“The TeAMS students are great models for what it looks like to be in college.” Buck-Moyer said, “They can talk to students at middle and high schools about what college is like and how you get there, so schools are always excited to have Poly kids in for that reason and many others.” 

While TeAMS is open to Cal Poly students of all majors, participants in the past have almost always been placed in math classrooms. In the future, TeAMS participants will be placed in a wider array of subjects.

“In a public school, the thing that counts to them is usually math, because that’s what kids most often struggle with and what the state tests on,” Buck-Moyer said. 

However, even if math isn’t a TeAMS student’s strongest subject, they can still be a successful tutor by following specific teaching guidelines.

“Sometimes it can be nerve-wracking for kids to teach math, but often they discover that really teaching isn’t about giving answers, teaching is really about getting people to find answers,” Buck-Moyer said.

TeAMS also helps students make decisions about what grade they may want to teach if they chose to pursue a teaching career, which Moyer said most do.

“A lot of kids don’t know if they want to be in a middle school or a high school,” Buck-Moyer said. “Our program is flexible, you can be in a middle school one quarter and in a high school in the next and see all the different levels.”

Working with students at Paulding has also inspired Harrison to declare her math concentration, and to pursue an Introductory Subject Matter Authorization (ISMA) in mathematics, which would certify her to teach math through eighth grade.

TeAMS is open to all Cal Poly students who have a desire to work with middle school and high school students. Furthermore, TeAMS gives practical experience to help students decide if they want to pursue a teaching career. Applications can be found online and are typically considered for the following quarter.

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