It is a pleasure and honor for me to give the "Best Should Teach" lecture this year. I started my teaching career almost 43 years ago in a small rural high school in Ohio.

I vividly remember that first year of teaching American literature to 11th graders. I could not wait to teach a poetry unit on Robert Frost and prepared a lesson plan on "The Road Not Taken."

Just as I was beginning the lesson, I heard a siren and every male in the class—along with a few females—got up and started to leave.

I asked what was going on and they looked at me and said, "We are part of the rural fire department. We can leave school any time we hear the siren."

I had no idea then, or now, who was—or was not—a member of that fire department. But I heard many many sirens in that first year of teaching.

On another occasion when I announced an upcoming test on Hawthorne, the students chimed, "That's a holiday for us." I said, “What do you mean? There’s no holiday coming up.” They replied in unison, "It's the first day of deer hunting season!"

I learned quickly that these and other rural priorities took precedent over Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and Frost.

As a student of the 60's I can well remember when President Kennedy encouraged us to ask ourselves what we could do for our country. Some of us joined the military, some joined the Peace Corps and some, like you and me, became teachers.

Even back then the theme of "The Best Should Teach" resonated with me. If I may, let me tell a story about two of my professors in college.

As a 20 year-old sophomore at Ohio State, I took an American literature course on Fitzgerald and Hemingway. My professor was Matthew Bruccoli, who was a Fitzgerald scholar. He was by far one of the best teachers I ever had. He was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and humorous.

I can still remember our discussions about Fitzgerald and Hemingway—their writing styles, their competition with each other, and of course, their love of the good life during the Jazz Age.

When I returned to Ohio State to study for my Ph.D., Professor Bruccoli had left to take an endowed chair at the University of South Carolina where he stayed until his death in 2008 from brain cancer.

Over the years, I followed his stellar career and marveled at his scholarship—he authored more than 50 books on F. Scott Fitzgerald and other literary figures.

His 1981 biography of Fitzgerald "Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald," is considered the standard Fitzgerald biography.

I left Ohio State with a bachelor's degree in English education and began teaching my juniors in high school American literature. At about the same time, I started a master's degree at West Virginia University in curriculum and instruction. Twice a week, I made the 80-mile round trip to West Virginia for the class.

The professor that I had in curriculum & instruction—I cannot remember his name or anything we discussed. I do remember that he looked like the original McGarrett on Hawaii 5-0, Jack Lord-tall with slick-back hair. The classes were boring, no enthusiasm, no humor. At the end of each class, I was waiting for him to say, "Book him Danno"—or I thought about saying that to him to enliven the classroom.

At the time, I was probably too young and too naive to connect the dots about the relationship between scholarship and teaching. But it later dawned on me that the outstanding scholar was also an outstanding teacher and made the classroom come alive with his first-hand knowledge of the Jazz Age.

The other was a fine person, who shared what others had done, but could not light up the classroom or engage the students.

That vivid contrast between the stimulating teachings of Professor Bruccoli, and the uninspiring ways of the West Virginia professor, sparked in me a desire to teach—to give students the joy of learning that Professor Bruccoli gave me.

Our teachers in the audience tonight, I'm sure, have their own collection of stories, both humorous and sobering. And our future teachers with us tonight will soon have their own classroom anecdotes to share.

Students of my era can remember the excitement of wide-eyed school children gathering around a small, grainy black and white television to watch the first American take flight in space on May 5, 1961—50 years ago. We were amazed by the miracle of science as Alan Shepherd traveled 5,100 miles per hour squeezed into a tiny capsule that parachuted back to Earth. It lasted 15 minutes but left a memory for a lifetime on young, impressionable minds.

Just last month, the final voyage of the space shuttle left us to reflect on the legacy of U.S. manned space flight. One of its great legacies is education. When the Russians launched Sputnik I nearly 54 years ago, beating the United States to space, it created an educational revolution in America.

We thought we were the most technologically advanced country in the world in October, 1957 when the Soviet Union sent the first satellite into Earth's orbit, and four years later, the first human into space.

It was a wake-up call that sparked a revolution in America calling for young people to study math and science. It motivated elementary schools and universities alike to focus their efforts on the development of human capital that would be necessary to catch up in the space race.

The result was a huge influx in the number of young people pursuing careers in science and engineering.

It started with President Eisenhower, when he said we must invest in education because we are falling behind. President Kennedy took it one step further with his national goals for the space program. All these goals required teachers.

Today, we are at that point in history again. The United States' competitive edge has significantly declined and President Obama is challenging our nation's universities to recruit 10,000 science and math teachers by 2015.

This call is not merely for math and science teachers. Our national levels of literacy lag behind those of many others nations in the world. Our students are abandoning reading as an educational and personal pursuit. Our programs in the arts and media are being cut at a time when students have a greater interest in these subjects than ever before.

So "The Best Should Teach" is not just a CU legacy. It should be a national priority. "The Best Should Teach" is not simply something we want to do. It is something we have to do. Our nation, our society and our security depend on it.

Lindley and Marguerite Stiles were at once historians and visionaries when they established the Best Should Teach Initiative at CU-Boulder. Dr. Stiles was a three-degree CU-Boulder alumnus who served as dean of education at the universities of West Virginia and Wisconsin-Madison before establishing the Best Should Teach Initiative here, at his alma mater.

The "Best Should Teach" is managed by the Graduate Teacher Program under the direction of Dr. Laura Border in coordination with the School of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School.

It is my great pleasure to speak to you today at the invitation of The Graduate School. Graduate programs focus on the next generation of researchers, and the CU Graduate Education Program conducts research in important areas such as evaluation, curriculum, foundations and bi-lingual and multi-cultural education.

Lindley Stiles brought his "Best Should Teach" ideals to CU-Boulder because our philosophy of pairing content rich majors with teacher licensure matched his own.

We had—and still have—three major ingredients to successfully turn his "Best Should Teach" ideals into reality.

  • World-class faculty in the content areas of math, sciences, social sciences, humanities, and English. They include multiple Nobel laureates and National Academy members, many who teach freshmen and non-major courses.
  • Top-flight teacher preparation by virtue of our College of Arts and Sciences, School of Education and Graduate School.
  • The best students.

But the picture wasn't always so rosy. In the mid-1980's we almost lost teacher education at CU-Boulder as the Colorado Commission on Higher Education was examining duplication of programs. They were going to move us to Greeley or Denver. The CCHE argued that CU-Boulder, as a major comprehensive research university, did not need to fulfill the role of teacher education in Colorado.

Our argument was just the opposite: if any institution should offer teacher education it should be the state's flagship university because you want the best students to be teachers, and as a highly selective university, we have the best students attending CU-Boulder.

Prior to this issue, the School of Education had decided not to offer an undergraduate degree in education, but rather require a degree in a content area such as English, math, physics, social sciences, or humanities prior to licensure. It's the model we offer today, and the model that Lynn Stiles first advanced as one of the 20th century's leading teacher educators.

The School of Education has not only persisted over the years, but it has thrived. Two years ago at this event we celebrated 100 years of teacher licensure at the University of Colorado. Today, I also take pride that the School of Education is known as a national leader in faculty research in both teacher education and policy issues. This especially pleases me because as dean I advocated for the School of Education to have a strong research component.

Today, the "Best Should Teach" philosophy of teaching the best students to teach is the basis of our nationally leading programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education—or STEM education.

The Best Should Teach Initiative is only 15 years old, and yet it already has left a national legacy and is answering our nation's call to action.

We are recruiting our top-tier students in math, physics and engineering to address a national crisis: the shortage of math and science teachers.

Last year CU-Boulder was one of four public universities recognized by President Obama at the White House for answering the nation's call through our STEM programs. At that time, I pledged to President Obama that CU-Boulder would at least double the number of science and mathematics teachers who graduate over the next five years.

Through a multidisciplinary collaboration of the School of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering and Applied Science, CU-Boulder has doubled the number of STEM majors completing secondary math and science teacher certification compared to just five years ago.

And the number of physics and chemistry majors enrolling in teacher certification has more than tripled in the past three years.

Today our STEM programs are emulated around the country, based on the foundation established by the "Best Should Teach" initiative.

We have integrated more than 45 STEM programs on campus through iSTEM—or Integrating STEM.Our STEM community includes more than 50 faculty from 14 disciplinary departments, including—as I mentioned—multiple Nobel laureates and National Academy members.

Allow me to briefly highlight just three of these programs that illustrate both the interdisciplinary nature and the breadth of our STEM programs.

Examples of three CU STEM programs

  • Two programs under the umbrella of the Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) funded by the National Science Foundation and coordinated by Jessica Felds. Jessica is a professional research assistant in the Dept. of Computer Science and an elementary school teacher with more than 15 years experience. These two programs enrich the learning and teaching experience for both graduate students and K-12 students.
  • Engaging Computer Science in Traditional Education (ecSITE Project). This program brings computing into courses that students are already taking, because computing has become a vital component in so many fields. For example, biology students learn about the role of computing in sequencing genetic materials.
  • Project Extremes is a collaboration among a trio of CU departments and institutes and the Boulder Valley School District placing STEM graduate students into Boulder's more socio-economically diverse schools to explore extreme local habitats. One of these habitats is the Sombrero Marsh, one of the few saltwater marshes in Colorado. Another is CU's Mountain Research Station, site of world-class alpine tundra research. Again, this program supports both the enrichment of science learning opportunities and the professional development of young scientists as teachers.
  • The second program I want to highlight is the Colorado Learning Assistant Program. Integrating STEM co-directors Valerie Otero, a professor of education, and Noah Finkelstein, a physics professor, have turned our Colorado Learning Assistant Program into a national model of how to recruit and prepare future K-12 math and science teachers while improving introductory college STEM courses.

Undergraduates who have mastered coursework, in say physics or biochemistry, work interactively with their peers in learning difficult concepts by guiding small teams of students to discover answers for themselves.

The STEM undergraduate mentors discover the skills and joys of teaching while improving the education of their fellow students. Our assessments have shown it to be extremely beneficial for both the Learning Assistants and their fellow students. Students in the Colorado Learning Assistant Program are the agents of their own education and of educational transformation.

I like the testimonial of Ryan O'Block, who signed up to be a Learning Assistant in an introductory physics course, when he said, "A light bulb clicked on for me. This is what I want to do."

Or Cassandra Ly (Lee), who said, "The L.A. program confirmed my love for teaching. I'm not going back to pre-med ever. I've never been so sure about anything in my entire life."

Since the program began in 2003, more than 440 students have participated as Learning Assistants, improving introductory courses in 10 departments and helping more than 8,000 students annually. The LA program has been replicated in nearly two dozen universities nationwide.

  • Thirdly, I would like to highlight the CU-Teach program. The CU Teach program is an innovative collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Education. It allows our students to earn a degree in a math or science major while simultaneously earning a secondary math or science Colorado teaching license. The program is in two steps. Step 1 invites science and math students to explore teaching as a career by providing first-hand experiences co-teaching science and math lessons in local elementary classrooms. The second phase is co-teaching in middle school math or science classes. About 170 students are enrolled in CU Teach.

Our STEM education programs are supported by grants totaling more than $30 million from national organizations including the National Science Foundation. It's notable that faculty-directors of these programs serve in national roles such as chairing the National Academies' Board on Science Education.

These are groundbreaking programs, nationally recognized and widely replicated. Our STEM education research has been published in leading journals, and we provide STEM education consulting.

We continue to recruit more and better students to address the need for effective K-20 STEM educators.

I mention this not to be boastful, although I am proud of our success, but to point out that our interdisciplinary STEM teaching programs are meeting a national call to action. It is truly the legacy of the Best Should Teach Initiative, and it is everything that founding father Lynn Stiles could have imagined.