It seems like almost every time I turn on the news, I hear more about our nation’s teacher retention problem, particularly among teachers in STEM education. While I think this topic has long been an issue, attrition rates have increased substantially especially over the last few decades1, with science teachers having some of the highest rates of attrition in the United States.2

In my own state of New York, more than 20% of new chemistry teachers left the profession during their first five years of teaching. The rates were even higher for isolated chemistry teachers (being the only chemistry teacher at their school), with over 43% leaving the classroom during the same 5-year period.3Moreover, even higher rates of turnover are experienced at lower socioeconomic schools, where science teacher turnover rates are nearly 70% greater than those at to higher socioeconomic schools.4 High rates of attrition have been shown to negatively impact school climate, teacher satisfaction, and student achievement5,6,7, leading to even more teachers leaving the classroom.

There are a multitude of reasons that teachers leave the classroom, such as low wages and workplace conditions; but many teachers also cite other reasons for leaving the classroom, including lack of support and lack of opportunities to advance and share in the decision making process.8 Teaching has often been referred to as a “flat profession,” because there are limited opportunities for advancement inside the classroom. This also can lead to teacher dissatisfaction, causing teachers to either leave the classroom for administrative roles or to leave the profession altogether.9

Becoming a teacher leader

Figure 1.The author leads a teacher workshop about using modeling in the chemistry classroom.

After my first 10 years of teaching, I found myself in this exact situation. I was at a crossroad in my career, looking for opportunities to grow and advance, but struggling with the idea of leaving the classroom. It was at this time that I started to take on some informal leadership roles, such as presenting at local and state science conferences, providing professional learning opportunities in my district, hosting AACT webinars, and writing for Chemistry Solutions.

Reflecting back, it was these informal teacher leadership experiences that led to an overall increase in my job satisfaction, and ultimately kept me in the classroom. They exposed me to chemical educators and opportunities, helped me grow as a teacher, and reinvigorated my passion for teaching chemistry.

But what exactly is a teacher leader? At the core of most definitions, teacher leadership involves teachers leading from the classroom by supporting the professional growth of others, sharing best practices, influencing policy, and impacting the learning of other students. The important thing is that teacher leadership not only keeps teachers in the classroom but, as these leaders expand their sphere of influence beyond their classroom, also combat attrition of other teachers. Teacher leaders can help to support the growth of other teachers in their school, state, and even across the nation, while also facilitating school improvement, professionalizing teaching, and combating attrition.10

Why chemistry teacher leadership?

With most states adopting new science standards, how these standards are implemented will have a huge impact on both teachers and students. Currently, school administrators make the majority of the science curriculum and policy decisions in schools, which include decisions about funding, course offerings and sequencing, and what grade levels these courses are given.

Unfortunately, these decision makers often lack a background in science. In a 2019 study11 that looked at over 100 school districts, only 10% of administrators had a science background, and some may have never even taken a chemistry course in high school or college. It is important that chemistry teachers get involved to help these administrators make informed decisions regarding chemistry curriculum and classroom policies. With the added responsibilities of managing chemical inventories, lab equipment, and chemical safety, these decisions can have a significant impact on the safety and effectiveness of the chemistry learning environment.

For example, school-wide policies such as class size can result in overcrowding, which has been shown to significantly affect the frequency of incidents and accidents in the lab.12,13 This fact highlights the importance of chemistry teacher leaders leveraging their experience and expertise to help advocate for sufficient funding, resources, and safe lab conditions — all of which can impact teacher retention.14

AACT opportunities for teacher leadership and support

AACT is a professional learning network with a robust support system created by and for its membership of over 7,000 chemical educators. This professional learning network can be a valuable resource for all chemical educators, especially isolated teachers and those looking to become teacher leaders. In his 2022 editorial in Chemistry Solutions, my predecessor, Michael Farabaugh, describes the importance of having a professional learning network, and how being an active member of AACT has allowed him to grow as both an educator and a teacher leader.

Teachers who are looking for support as they become teacher leaders have access to high-quality teacher resources through the classroom resource library, professional development opportunities through live webinars, over 200 archived webinars on topics ranging from lab safety to project-based learning. Other sources of inspiration and support include collaboration with a scientist through the Science Coaches’ program, access to periodicals through Chemistry Solutions, and much more.

For example, in a recent virtual event, “Lessons Learned from Teaching Chemistry and Physics Simultaneously,” teachers discussed the many challenges of teaching both chemistry and physics in the same year — and particularly the challenges of running two different labs during the same day. Teacher participants identified the overlap between the two curriculua and how some labs could be used for both courses, which could help lessen the burden on the teacher.

As teachers begin to grow as leaders, they have opportunities to share their expertise with the chemical education community by hosting a webinar or writing an article for Chemistry Solutions on best practices, innovative lessons for the K-12 chemistry classroom, or overcoming challenges in the classroom. Teachers who are looking to take on an even greater teacher leadership role are encouraged to become an AACT regional representative or run for the governing board. Regional representatives help support chemistry teachers in their region, while the members of the governing board help support AACT in setting direction and making policy and strategy decisions that follow the vision and mission for AACT.

In this issue of Chemistry Solutions, you’ll hear from various teacher leaders on how they’re doing new and innovative things in their classroom.

  • In the feature article, you’ll learn about two chemistry educators who detail their recent journey with standards-based grading, outlining its rationale, implementation, and obstacles they encountered.
  • You’ll hear from a teacher who teaches chemical kinetics by starting with reaction mechanisms before using experimental data to determine the rate law using methods of initial rates or integrated rate law methods.
  • Another chemistry educator examines the dynamic between technological innovation and skepticism, assessing AI’s pros and cons in education and providing practical applications.
  • You’ll read the story of a teacher who balanced being a doctoral student, teaching full-time, and enjoying family life.

Wherever you are in your teacher leadership journey, there are many ways to get involved with AACT. I encourage you to “contribute your voice to a growing network of chemistry educators” by becoming a member, participating in leadership opportunities, sharing resources and best practices, and helping to support fellow teachers.

Martin Palermo
AACT President-Elect


1. Carver-Thomas, D.; Darling-Hammond, L. Teacher Turnover: Why it Matters and What We Can Do about It. Learning Policy Institute: Palo Alto, 2017.

2. Ingersoll, R. M.; Smith, T. M. The Wrong Solution to the Teacher Shortage. Educational Leadership. 2004, 60(8), 30–33.

3. Palermo, M.; Kelly, A. M.; Krakehl, R. Chemistry Teacher Retention, Migration, and Attrition. Journal of Chemical Education. 2021, 98(12), 3704-3713.

4. Teacher Turnover.

5. Wrong Solution, 30–33.

6. Ronfeldt, M.; Loeb, S.; Wyckoff, J. How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement. American Educational Research Journal. 2013, 50(1), 4-36.

7. Sorensen, L. C.; Ladd, H. F. The Hidden Costs of Teacher Turnover. Aera Open. 2020, 6(1),

8. Teacher Leadership Institute. The Teacher Leadership Competencies. 2018, (accessed Feb 26, 2024).

9. National Education Association. 5 Ways School Districts Can Better Retain Educators. 2022, (accessed Feb 26, 2024).

10. Killion, J.; Harrison, C.; Colton, A.; Bryan, C.; Delehant, A.; Cooke, D. A Systemic Approach to Elevating Teacher Leadership. Learning Forward, 2016, (accessed Feb 26, 2024).

11. Adler, C. STEM Representation in School Administrations in Long Island Schools. Poster presented at the Annual Undergraduate Research & Creative Arts Conference, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, Apr 24, 2019.

12. Stephenson, A. L.; West, S.; Westerlund, J. An Analysis of Incident/Accident Reports from the Texas Secondary School Science Safety Survey, 2001. School Science and Mathematics. 2003, 103(6), 293-303.

13. West, S.; Kennedy, L. (2014). Safety in Texas Secondary Science Classrooms. Texas Academy of Science, 58

14. Borman, G. D.; Dowling, N. M. Teacher attrition and retention: A meta-analytic and narrative review of the research. Review of Educational Research. 2008, 78(3), 367-409.