Addressing the shortages of teachers in chemistry, computer science, math and physics: The report of the American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs

Here is the Executive Summary of the report “Recruiting Teachers in High-needs STEM Fields: A Survey of Current Majors and Recent STEM Graduates”, which was released by the American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs in January, 2017.  The Executive Summary concludes with a call to professional societies of STEM professionals and academic departments in those fields to get involved by sharing the importance of middle and high school teaching with their students and advocating for financial incentives to attract more strong students into high-needs subjects.

The United States faces persistent shortages of appropriately trained middle and high school STEM teachers in high-needs fields, particularly physics, chemistry, and computer science. The American Physical Society, American Chemical Society, Computing Research Association, and Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership surveyed over 6,000 current and recent majors in our disciplines.

Our goals were to:

  • Investigate the attitudes and opinions of undergraduate majors and recent graduates from high-needs STEM fields towards teaching.
  • Identify incentives that are both feasible and likely to be effective based on the responses of students showing some interest in teaching.
  • Develop recommendations for the professional societies and disciplinary departments.

Our main findings were:

  • Around half of STEM majors indicate some interest in teaching, suggesting a significant pool from which more STEM teachers could be recruited.
  • For STEM majors with some interest in teaching, 80% say that various financial incentives would increase their interest. They report the most powerful incentive would be an increase of teacher salary.
  • Undergraduate STEM majors underestimate teacher compensation, and the salaries they report would interest them in teaching are close to actual salaries.
  • Students are most inclined to consider teaching in departments where the faculty discuss teaching as a career option.
  • Mathematics majors indicate the most interest in teaching and respond most strongly to incentives. Chemistry and physics majors show less interest and physics majors respond less strongly to incentives. Computer science majors show the least interest.
  • The aspects of teaching that most worry STEM undergraduates are substantially different from the aspects of teaching that worry practicing teachers.

Our recommendations to professional societies and disciplinary departments are to:

  • Impress upon university faculty and advisors in STEM disciplinary departments the importance of promoting middle and high school teaching with their undergraduate majors and graduate students, and of providing them accurate information about the actual salary and positive features of teaching.
  • Support high-quality academic programs that prepare students for STEM teaching, and expand good models to more universities. Strong programs provide improved coursework, prevent certification from requiring extra time, and support their students and graduates financially and academically.
  • Support financial and other support for students pursuing STEM teaching.
  • Advocate for increases in annual compensation, including summer stipends, on the order of $5,000 – $25,000 for teachers in the hardest to staff STEM disciplines.
  • Support programs that improve the professional life and community of STEM teachers.
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