NPR on physics teaching at Broward’s DeSoto High

NPR broadcast a story this morning on the teacher shortage in Broward County:

In Broward County — the nation’s sixth-largest school district — more than 500 teachers resigned just two weeks before the start of the school year.

“It’s very difficult for any district to meet that challenge,” says Gracie Diaz, chief human resources officer for Broward schools. “I think we all want to have every teacher by the first day of school.”

Diaz says lots of people apply — just not in the fields they’re looking for. The district held a last-minute teacher job fair, hoping to fill all the vacancies. Some 800 candidates showed up, but only seven of those candidates taught math or science.

At DeSoto High last year, students went without a teacher certified in physics or chemistry for three months. Substitute teacher Sue Knight filled in for those classes. As a sub, Knight says you just “wing it.”

“If it’s a subject that you don’t know, then you take the book home every night and you do homework,” says Knight. “And you learn it.”

The entire science department helped out by creating lesson plans for Knight. The school principal even brought in a retired physics teacher to help out in the classroom.

“It’s very difficult, and we don’t like putting students in those positions at all,” Principal Shannon Fusco says. “But when we’re unable to find someone with the certification, or even the ability, we do the best that we can, and we all pitch in.”

With all due respect to Ms. Knight, who was obviously working very hard to do her absolute best, it seems unlikely that she actually learned physics (and physics pedagogy) well enough to help her students learn with understanding by taking the book home at night and reading it.

Bringing a retired physics teacher in was actually positive.  But for a durable solution to the physics teacher shortage, here’s an idea:

Pay them more.

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