Science teacher enters first year on the job with national recognition

It was an exciting day for then-middle schooler Francisco Barajas as he learned how to use solar power to cook food. That was just one of many hands-on experiments Barajas participated in while attending a summer science program at Fresno State 13 years ago.

“The experiments were based on the idea of how we can push away from using fossil fuels,” Barajas said. “We were doing physics and there was a lot of hands-on construction.” This memory stuck with Barajas as he built a passion for science.

Many teachers will say their passion for teaching came from having great teachers growing up — and Barajas is no different. He remembers having several teachers who pushed him to have fun with science, leading him on the path to becoming a science teacher.

Fast forward 13 years and Barajas has been nominated for the Resident of the Year award from the National Center for Teacher Residencies.

Barajas is currently pursuing his master’s degree in curriculum and instruction at Fresno State while simultaneously completing a single subject teaching credential in science. He is able to complete both of these programs through the Fresno Teacher Residency Program.

“It feels amazing, and I’m surprised,” Barajas said. “I feel weird that this is something that I accomplished and they saw that much potential in me.” This year, the National Center for Teacher Residencies is recognizing 15 resident nominees from around the country. This award honors the tremendous work residents are doing to learn and grow as they prepare to become full-time teachers.

After graduating from Fresno State in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Barajas spent the next year working as a substitute teacher and after-school program guide. He remembers speaking with the librarian at Sunnyside High School in Fresno and learning the librarian’s daughter went through the teacher residency program. This was not the first time he had heard good things about the program, and he decided to enroll in summer 2019 with an anticipated graduation date of fall 2020.

“It’s an intense program, but you have more than enough support,” Barajas said. “The whole idea is that you aren’t going at this alone. There was never someone I couldn’t talk to.”

Fresno State is dedicated to making a difference in teacher preparation. Teacher residency programs are intensive preservice preparation through which residents become members of the school community on Day 1 and contribute to the community throughout their teacher preparation. The residency model combines rigorous masters-level coursework, teacher credentialing coursework and in-classroom apprenticeship. Evidence shows that residents, upon graduation, are more like second-year teachers in their first year of teaching.

Amy Bennett, Fresno Unified School District’s teacher residency program coordinator, said the partnership between Fresno State and the district was established 12 years ago.

“The residency program allows for collaboration to occur on a regular basis,” Bennett said. “We have resident graduates that are coming in well prepared to work in Fresno Unified. Their entire credentialing experience has been contextualized in our district. Not only is their student teaching being conducted in our classrooms, but they are engaging in professional learning, throughout the entire school year provided by our district, so they’re up to date on all the current initiatives.”

Bennett nominated Barajas for the Resident of the Year award. “He stood out right away in our professional learnings because he is so highly invested in the conversation, willing to participate and make connections to his own experience. He brought background knowledge from his subbing experience that stood out to me right away. He was eager to learn, receptive to the information he was learning, willing to turn it around and apply it to the practice in the classroom.”

Barajas completed his residency in a science classroom at Scandinavian Middle School in Fresno. The science teachers took him under their wing and helped him along the way. He recently accepted a job at Yosemite Middle School as an eighth-grade science teacher and will begin this fall. He is currently planning for his first year to be taught via distance learning and is working on his syllabus and management plan.

“I’m getting used to the idea of working on Microsoft Teams. I have to get used to how to maneuver my way through it and how to set up different groups,” Barajas said. “I’m figuring out exactly how am I going to take attendance and be able to do a warm-up online.”

Fresno Unified is supporting its teachers through this online transition, providing a hub of resources on its website that both teachers and residents have access to. Barajas said he has had an excellent experience and feels well prepared for his first year of teaching.

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