Tallahassee Democrat op-ed: Make math and science teaching careers more attractive

From my op-ed in this morning’s Democrat:

In his Democrat My View, Gov. Rick Scott was right on target when he said that Florida will be successful in giving more students the skills to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) only if we improve math and science teaching at all levels — elementary, middle school, high school and postsecondary.But to do this, we need more great math and science teachers in our schools…

…So I asked my students this: If a teacher’s salary actually looks good compared to your other options, what is keeping you from the teaching profession? Several of them spoke up at once, saying that teachers don’t get any respect.

And who doesn’t give teachers any respect? Teachers would say that the rhetoric coming from the political leadership has been far from positive.

But in fact, the problem begins right here on our university campus, with the signals many professors send to their students. When the subject of a teaching career comes up, too many of my own colleagues tell their good students that only weak students should go into teaching. If we are going to make any progress in improving math and science instruction in our K-12 schools, my own colleagues are going to have to say something different — that while teaching well is difficult and not particularly lucrative, it is quite honorable and incredibly important to the future of our society.

We must make that change right now.

While I’m on the subject of my colleagues, I want to give a shout out to one particular former professor colleague who taught in the Department of Communication — Steve MacNamara, who is now Gov. Scott’s chief of staff. Professor MacNamara, his boss and their fellow members of the political class should send our students the same message about the honor and importance of the teaching profession. If they’re not on board, nothing we do at the universities will help much in attracting strong math and science students into the teaching profession.

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2 Responses to Tallahassee Democrat op-ed: Make math and science teaching careers more attractive

  1. Doc Carr says:

    Great column, Paul, but you left out the context that you were talking about biology in that discussion of salary.

    I thought your strongest point was the mismatch between what a math teacher starts at and what a math major out of FSU Teach can earn as a mathematician, and the need to use both a salary differential and more respect to fix that crucial part of the pipeline. (I’m glad you were paying attention to my comments here!)

    The only thing you didn’t mention was classroom working conditions, which have declined since we were in school and are made worse when political leaders hold teachers in contempt.

  2. Doc Carr says:

    Biology is an interesting problem of supply and demand, and perhaps even one of lower status assigned to jobs that are mostly held by women. A look around shows almost 60% of BS degrees and about 40% of PhDs in biology go to women. Oddly, the lowest paid jobs are postdocs !! in the biotech area November NYTimes article). Those are the ones that pay what a HS teacher makes, due to a high supply/demand ratio.

    Chemistry is next with about 50% of BS and about 1/3 of PhDs going to women. However, there you have better job opportunities that make it a challenge for either women or men to be convinced to teach HS or middle school. That problem likely parallels that of math, with physics offering the greatest challenge.

    Undergrad degree data are nicely shown on the APS web site:


    I’d guess that the best solution for physics ed at the HS level is to be sure that CHEMISTRY grads of the FSU Teach program know enough physics to teach it well by using the same active learning methods your program pushes. It wouldn’t hurt to have some math teachers who understand the difference between algebra and problem-solving in science and might also be good physics teachers.

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