While some graduates may struggle to find a job or are having job offers rescinded as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the economy, Karina Bhutta counts herself as one of the lucky ones.
Bhutta just earned a bachelor’s degree from FIU. She’s already packed up and back home in Tampa.
Come August, Bhutta will be a science teacher at her alma mater — Howard W. Blake High School.
Her chosen career won’t be easy. But it is indispensable. And it is in such high demand that no matter how many new graduates walk out of a university with a degree in hand, it has yet to make up for decades-long teacher shortfalls nationwide.
Howard W. Blake High School is a magnet school for visual and performing arts. It draws students from all over the county. It primarily serves mostly black and Hispanic children. It’s a school that in the last decade has seen its grade slide from A to C. In biology alone, children performed 9 percent below school district scores and 10 percent below statewide scores.
Bhutta, of course, knows the school well. But, she’s prepared to teach these students because of her time at FIU.
While she was studying for her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences, Bhutta joined the FIUteach program. It allowed her to earn a teaching certification without adding time or expense to her degree. She was also in the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, which paid for her last two years of college as long as she committed to teaching in a high-needs school.
When Bhutta designed a lesson to teach high schoolers about genetics, her plans called for them to debate a story making the rounds in the news. Was it ethical to for parents to choose the genetic traits of babies inside the womb? When students were to answer the question, Bhutta needed just two things – that they ground their answers in science and back up their argument with what they learned during her lesson.
During those two years, Bhutta learned to teach by teaching in high-needs schools all over Miami-Dade County. It’s where she realized hands-on lessons are the lessons that connect. She found this to be true for herself and for high schoolers no matter where they came from or how much their parents earned.
During a zoology lesson about an octopus, a student mentioned having seen something about the bizarre way a certain octopus species propagates. Bhutta gave the student an opportunity to research the Argonaut Octopus – and to present to the class about how the male of the species gives a prospective female mate a tentacle containing its genetic material. The female stores the arm and decides when the time is right to impregnate herself. That opportunity and the debates Bhutta uses to expand her lessons make ripples outside her science classroom. Students pick up much needed presentation skills and they become more confident.
“I found most of my students were shy at first,” Bhutta said. “But when it becomes a norm in the classroom, they ask things I never would have thought of.”
Now, Bhutta is excited to develop more of her own hands-on lessons. She’ll have support as a 2020 Knowles Fellow in getting the classroom materials she’ll need.
Bhutta doesn’t know what the future holds – whether her first day on the job will be in the classroom or whether she’ll see her students on a videoconference. Either way, Bhutta is ready. For her, it will be a dream come true.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Bhutta said. “When something goes well and I can see them super engaged and excited about what they’re learning, it’s the best feeling in the world.”