The University of Texas at El Paso’s College of Education plans to launch a social media campaign next week focused on the impact teachers have on children. Its goal is to interest and inspire more high school students to consider a K-12 teaching career.
The college’s leaders knew they needed to promote the profession after the pandemic, which generated a lot of stress and anxiety among teachers because of health, safety, social, emotional and technological issues. That unease affected relationships among colleagues, students and their families, and led to burnout and decisions to leave the profession.
“I hope this campaign will change the narrative,” said Clifton Tanabe, who marked his five-year anniversary as dean on July 1.
Tanabe said COVID-19 negatively affected the college’s recruiting, and the number of UTEP’s education graduates dipped. He hoped the campaign, which starts Monday and includes a website, would alert prospective students to how fun, exciting and important it can be to work as a K-12 teacher and, hopefully, prepare for that future at UTEP.
However, the enrollment problem went beyond UTEP and COVID. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education stated that U.S. colleges awarded fewer than 90,000 undergraduate degrees in education in 2019 compared to 200,000 a year in the early 1970s. The study also found that from 2012 to 2022, the number of people who completed a traditional teacher preparation program fell by 35%. Another key figure is that students who earn science or mathematics degrees have fallen by 27%.
Tanabe said that the numbers of UTEP students who earned bachelor’s degrees in education consistently fell during the eight years prior to his arrival, but had settled to about 200 graduates annually. The numbers started to go up but then COVID brought them back down to pre-pandemic levels. He anticipated that the bilingual campaign, which ends in December, would trigger at least a 50% increase in a few years.
Raiz Federal Credit Union provided financial and creative support of the project. Raiz hired El Paso-based CultureSpan Marketing to produce a 30-second commercial and three 15-second advertisements that will be delivered to audiences through Twitch, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, social media platforms that cater to teenagers and their friends and family.
Mike Matthews, CultureSpan president and chief creative officer, said that the videos address the profession’s rewards and challenges, and incorporate the human element behind the decision to become a teacher. He expected the message to resonate with viewers.
The 30-second spot involves four borderland educators who imagine their lives as teachers while a voiceover talks about what it takes to be a teacher and ends the commercial with a challenge.
“The journey isn’t for everyone, but it can be for you,” the narrator said.
One of the actors was El Paso native Dulce Falcon, a 2010 Del Valle High School graduate who earned her bachelor’s degree in education from UTEP this past May. The former Miner Teacher Residency Program participant said that the video shoot was fun because it allowed her to reflect on her seven-year journey to become a teacher.
The 31-year-old mother of four said she hoped her participation would inspire and motivate others to follow their dreams and to not give up. She called her higher education journey hard and expensive, but worth it.
Falcon, the third featured actor in the video, recalled how the director instructed her to pretend to be excited because she was thinking about something important that she wanted. She just thought of herself as a teacher.
“That was easy for me because I really was excited,” said Falcon, whose first day as a fourth-grade teacher at Desert Hills Elementary School was July 11. “I wasn’t pretending. Those actually were my emotions.”
As part of the campaign, CultureSpan will track the data to learn where the message succeeds and where it needs to be tweaked. The team also will compile the information from those interactions to create a better digital profile of students who might want to become an education major.
“I think that’s really going to benefit UTEP’s College of Education to really get a deep dive understanding of where these potential students are and help to cultivate them at an early stage, and to notice when there’s that want or desire to become an educator, and just really stoke those flames,” Matthews said during a Zoom interview.
Susana Aguirre, the college’s director of strategic engagement and planning, said the campaign wants to reach those who might want to become a teacher, or any job in the education field to include learning coach, counselor or administrator.
Starting salaries for first-year teachers in the El Paso region range from $50,000 to $60,000 and could be augmented with bonuses and stipends based on what and where the person teaches.
“We know that (teenagers) are not always sure about what they want to do,” said Aguirre, the project’s lead coordinator. “They are not sure if teaching is the correct field for them so targeting those that have that passion will help them make the right decision.”
Alejandro Yu, Raiz vice president of marketing, said his company understands the critical role teachers play in the region’s success. He hoped the campaign would attract more people to want to earn an education degree from UTEP and add to its legacy.
“This partnership is a crucial way to help others to find their purpose,” Yu said.