PITTSBURG -- Growing up in Pittsburg, 22-year-old Erika So loved Girl Scouts, working with younger kids, insects and anything science related. The recent UC Berkeley graduate had no idea back then that her future career would incorporate most of her varied interests and hobbies.

"I would love to teach in Pittsburg. That is where my roots are," she said. "I have a good sense of the community. You have to know the social norms or traditions of the community. I love the pride and diversity of Pittsburg."

So found her passion in a Cal education class, where she helped teach science to middle schoolers in Berkeley. She plans to earn her single-subject teaching credential in science next year and is also recruiting the next generation of educators through TEACH, a public and private partnership on 21 college campuses across the nation.

TEACH's recruitment campaign this year is supported by the U.S. Department of Education, State Farm and Microsoft, and is aimed at not only recruiting top teacher candidates but also redefining the teaching profession in the future. Last semester, So worked with other TEACH student organizers at Cal to help break down some of the common myths surrounding teaching among their peers.

"As a new teacher, I want to change what teaching looks like," So said. "I really want the students to see the application to the real world. They can witness and understand how math and writing are part of science, and it is not just in a vacuum on its own."

So's dream is to teach middle school biology and use student interest in the outdoors and environment to make the subject more tangible to them. She also wants to utilize integrated lesson plans, project-based learning and group activities to boost student achievement in her classroom.

"With lecture-based classrooms, students don't learn well that way," So said. "It has to be something that the students relate to. If the student isn't interested in learning, you can't do much."

So's recent experience in the classroom was positive because she worked as an intern with a teacher who integrated science and math and connected both core subjects to current events. She noted that this made her see the value in teaching, and she hopes to inspire other recent college graduates or undergraduates in that same way.

"The majority of the current population of teachers are reaching retirement age because they are mostly Baby Boomers," So said. "There will be gaps to fill with new teachers soon."

At least half of the nation's teachers in the K-12 system will be retiring in the next decade, according to TEACH.

Teaching is a career that requires plenty of creativity and critical thinking, according to So. She hopes that TEACH can find top quality teachers who are innovative and passionate from campuses such as UC Davis, Stanford and San Jose State.

"There are preconceived notions about the profession," said Nina Schinman, the Bay Area regional director of TEACH. "People want to make a difference and make an impact. That can be a motivator for people."

The TEACH recruitment drive is also geared toward minority teacher candidates such as So, who is Chinese-American, and those who want to teach in the areas of math and science.

"We want to have a better representation of minority teachers because students can more easily relate to teachers who look like them," So said.

Reach Paula King at 925-779-7174 or pking@bayareanewsgroup.com.

to learn more
Prospective teachers can visit TEACH.org to access information about becoming a teacher and utilize a national job directory for teaching.