November 2020 | Classroom Commentary
Getting the Facts Out About Secondary Chemistry Teaching
By Terri M. Chambers, Etta C. Gravely, William Hunter, Jennifer B. Nielson, Ellen J. Yezierski and Kevin Diaz
|© Unitone Vector/Bigstockphoto.com|
Perhaps one shouldn’t draw too much inspiration from Facebook and Twitter, but one of our favorite posts during the COVID-19 crisis describes how teachers took their new situation seriously, put their students first, created online spaces for learning, and got on with teaching the best they could — without the help of virtually anyone else. You likely know dozens, if not hundreds, of teachers who embody this spirit of dedication.
You have inspired us and your students — and not just during this pandemic. A 2017 study of STEM undergraduates showed that nearly half (40%) had “considered” or “seriously considered” becoming a teacher.1 Over the course of years of dedicated work in the classroom, you have influenced many of your students — and they are now interested in becoming science teachers.
Your sustained influence has important implications for secondary education in the United States. There is an urgent national need for more math and science teachers.2-4
Shortages in middle and high schools are reported across the United States, with chemistry, mathematics, and physics teachers in particularly high demand.3,4
Challenges in the STEM pipeline
Unfortunately, the STEM teacher pipeline faces challenges that require support from the educational and scientific communities. Although nearly half of chemistry undergraduates consider teaching as a career path, low numbers of students actually pursue K–12 teaching careers. Many factors have contributed to this situation, including an apathetic attitude among some college communities toward K–12 teaching. Approximately 30% of chemistry undergraduates reported a negative perception of the choice to pursue careers in middle or high school teaching within their college or university chemistry department, and only 25% agreed with the statement, “middle or high school teaching is discussed as a career option in my major department.”1
So clearly, we have work to do in college and university chemistry departments — and we hope to engage your influence as well. Students who are considering teaching as a career option continue to arrive in our classrooms, and their interest was likely cultivated in your classroom.
What is GET THE FACTS OUT?
Get the Facts Out (GFO) is an NSF-funded project designed to base the conversation around STEM teacher recruitment on current STEM teaching realities through the development and implementation of a national information campaign. Central to the campaign are data challenging some of the commonly-held myths encountered in discussions of teaching as a career.
The Get the Facts Out project team includes leadership from the American Chemical Society, Colorado School of Mines, American Physical Society, American Association of Physics Teachers, and Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators. Working together, we are championing careers in middle and high school STEM teaching. One key strategy for doing so is to give chemistry educators the tools they need to explain and correct students’ misperceptions, including data on career satisfaction, salary, and benefits (insurance, retirement) of secondary school STEM teachers.
Every STEM teacher plays a role
We would like to harness your influence, along with that of countless other educators, to further encourage students by helping them understand the many benefits of becoming a science teacher.
To appreciate how much of an impact you can have, think about the kinds of conversations you have with students who are considering becoming high school chemistry teachers, and the type of counsel you provide. For example, do you:
- encourage your most successful and promising chemistry students to enter the field of high school chemistry teaching?
- suggest that teaching pays as much or more than other jobs one can get with the same degree?
- talk about high school chemistry teaching as an opportunity to share their passion for the central science?
- say that teachers can retire well, are happy, and respected by the public?
One challenge to having these discussions is that the U.S. public has strong perceptions about teaching as a career. Some of these perceptions are not based on fact, and are merely myths about the profession. As we reflect on the counsel we offer our students, we can use recent data to have impactful conversations with students who are interested in STEM teaching careers.
Challenging myths about the teaching profession
One common misperception is that secondary STEM teachers are unsatisfied in their careers. The evidence tells the opposite story. In fact, one of the best-kept secrets of the teaching profession is that STEM teachers are nearly six times as satisfied with their ability to make a difference in others’ lives, compared with other recent graduates.1 Only physicians rated the quality of their current and future professional lives more highly than teachers.
The campaign also debunks other commonly-held myths, such as those around teacher retirement and salary, by providing information on scholarship programs for pre-service STEM teachers.
The campaign features a toolkit of editable, research-based, and user-tested resources that refute myths about STEM teaching by providing accurate information via brochures, flyers, posters, validated assessments, and student- as well as faculty-facing presentations. The campaign encourages you and your fellow educators to modify these resources with branding and information consistent with your own school or department. The project’s activities also include qualitative and quantitative research on the effectiveness and impact of the campaign.
How you can help Get the Facts Out
As front-line chemistry educators,5 we all are well-positioned to provide students with facts that facilitate an informed exploration of careers in secondary STEM teaching. In doing so, we can work toward improving the interest in and perceptions of secondary STEM teaching, and we can — as a community — make significant contributions to the critical work of secondary STEM teacher recruitment.
Changing the narrative around teaching science as a career is essential to solving the shortage of qualified chemistry teachers in U.S. secondary schools. As high school teachers, you already have a huge influence, but with more data available, you can be an even more effective advocate for future career choices in K–8 STEM teaching.
We invite your involvement with this national effort. Please feel free to use Get the Facts Out resources in talking with students and colleagues, and sharing information with guidance counselors and others who advise students on careers.
Additionally, many students don’t know about scholarships and financial aid available for prospective STEM teachers; the Get the Facts Out website directs students to this important information. We welcome your participation in the Get the Facts Out campaign as influential partners working to change the conversation around secondary STEM teaching, and support more students in exploring their interest and passion for careers in secondary STEM teaching.
Visit the Get the Facts Out project website (www.getthefactsout.org) to learn more.
Views expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of the ACS.
- Marder, M.; Brown, R. C.; Plisch, M. Recruiting Teachers in High-Needs STEM Fields: A Survey of Current Majors and Recent STEM Graduates; A Report for the American Physical Society Panel on Public Affairs: College Park, MD, 2017.
- Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Office of Science and Technology: Washington, DC, 2010.
- 2014 Educator Supply and Demand; American Association for Employment in Education: Slippery Rock, PA, 2014.
- Cross, F. Teacher Shortage Areas Nationwide Listing 1990–1991 through 2017–2018; U.S. Department of Education: Washington, DC, 2017.
- Major Influence: Where students get valued advice on what to study in college; Report by Gallup, Inc. and Strada Education Network: Washington, DC: September 2017.
(article cover) tashatuvango/Bigstockphoto.com