In light of increased global competition, the United States is pushing to improve the quality of K-12 grade science instruction by developing and recruiting a well-trained and engaged pool of science teachers.
An American high school student has a 40 percent chance of studying chemistry with a teacher who has a degree in chemistry, which is due to the shortage of highly qualified K-12 grade teachers, according to the National Center of Education Statistics.
“There is a huge dropout rate for teachers in the first few years, regardless of what they are certified in,” said George W. Mehler, the district coordinator of science and technology for the Central Bucks School District.
Mehler said that for every 600 American students earning a degree in education nationwide, 180 will graduate with a certificate, 72 will pursue a career in teaching and 40 would have left the profession three years later. In the coming decade, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the nation’s schools will need to fill between 1.7 million and 2.7 million teaching positions, about 200,000 of them in secondary science and math classrooms.
Nationally, universities and colleges are creating programs and incentives that will convince undergraduate science majors to pursue careers in science teaching.
Many processes in the home and the office are computer-based and require citizens to have a basic scientific literacy. Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Education, American students, grades K-12, continue to fall behind those in other countries, especially in math and science.
“The whole level of science and math literacy has to come up in a big way,” said Susan Jansen Varnum, a chemistry professor in the College of Science and Technology at Temple. “There is so much more technology in the workplace that if we don’t do a good job teaching kids the math and science that they need, forget about going to college; they won’t get a job.”
Dr. Joseph S. Schmuckler, the lead professor of science in the curriculum instruction and technology in education department at Temple, is working closely with faculty from the College of Science and Technology and graduate students to show undergraduate science majors, intent on pursuing a career in medicine or computer science, that science education is a great alternative.
“There are excellent opportunities for postgraduate teachers to join in real research in the pure sciences and science education here at Temple,” said Schmuckler, who has been teaching for 55 years.
In response to Hurricane Katrina, Schmuckler and a graduate student, Lillian Hsieh, are designing lab experiments on mold and fungi for instruction in secondary schools to teach students about the effect of mold-infested homes on the environment.
“Education is the mother of all sciences,” said Hsieh, who became fascinated with science teaching after having Schmuckler as a teacher. “I want to be able to help other kids understand science.”
Hsieh and other students pursuing science education take courses in teaching methods, computer instruction and child psychology. They also practice teaching, where students spend a semester observing the classroom environment and a semester on the job.
“It is one thing to know science, but it is quite another to know how to teach it,” Schmuckler said. “We teach courses that will give students the background to teach the subject.”
A report by the National Academy of Sciences contributed the critical lack of technically trained people in the United States to poor K-12 grade mathematics and science instruction and added that teacher excellence is solidly linked to improving student achievement in science.
“Teachers do affect lives,” Schmuckler said, noting that the senior vice president of GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s second largest pharmaceutical company, was once a former high school student.
“If you are a teacher, sitting in your class could be an individual that can change the world,” he said.
The major benefit of science teaching is that “you can marry your love of science content with your love of people and it’s a perfect opportunity to do both without becoming a medical doctor,” said Joy Barnes Johnson, a doctoral student in the CITE science program.
Schmuckler said he hopes that undergraduate science students not only realize the detriment of not pursuing a career in science teaching but also the benefits that science education has on society.
“A teacher affects the next generation,” Schmuckler said.
Malaika T. Carpenter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.