If you are a professor in a physics department (or chemistry, computer science or math department) that has a wonderful working relationship with your university’s College of Education so that your students find the idea of becoming teachers attractive and they can smoothly transition into a teacher education program and earn a permanent certification, then you should stop reading now. This post isn’t for you.
For those readers who are still with me because the physics teacher education program on your campus isn’t running like a well-oiled machine, I’m going to start with some tough talk: You’re not off the hook. You can’t just throw up your hands, say “Our College of Education sucks!” and give up. That’s not good enough.
There are things you can do to introduce your students to the teaching profession, familiarize them with evidence-based instruction and give them access to school districts even without the help of your fine colleagues in the College of Education.
Start with this: Tell your students that high school teaching is an important and noble profession. If that sounds too simple to help, consider that the American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs made that their very first recommendation in January 2017 report “Recruiting Teachers in High-Needs STEM Fields: A Survey of Current Majors and Recent STEM Graduates”:
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.
Second, start a learning assistantship program. Here at FSU, learning assistants are undergraduates who serve as paid instructional staff in our SCALE-UP introductory physics classes. They attend the two three-hour class periods per week and attend the weekly TA preparation meeting. Learning assistants tend to become interested in teaching as a vocation because they begin to understand that the design of the SCALE-UP class and the exercises we use are based on research on how students learn – and generally physics majors are intrinsically interested in approaching challenges through research. In addition, they usually enjoy the interactions they have with students in the SCALE-UP classes.
Our Learning Assistant program is modest – four students per semester. Our Dean graciously picks up the $10K/year cost.
In 2010, the University of Colorado – where the learning assistantship idea was hatched – reported that their learning assistantship program had tripled the number of “well-qualified” high school physics teachers they were producing. In fact, it is not unusual for a few of the students in our SCALE-UP classes to become interested in the idea that teaching strategies can be based on how students learn. At least two alumni of FSU’s SCALE-UP program are now teaching physics in Florida high schools. So is one of the former graduate teaching assistants in our SCALE-UP program – and he is now teaching physics in a SCALE-UP format at his school (much to the delight of the U.S. Secretary of Education).
Third, invite school district or school leaders to campus and let them talk with your students about teaching careers. Last year, I invited the Chair of the Bay County School Board, Ginger Littleton, and the school district’s then-Human Resources Director, Sharon Michalik, to visit our SCALE-UP physics classes, and they did a nice job talking about the profession.
This spring, I was contacted by staff at Orange County Public Schools and asked about the possibility of a visit with undergraduate majors in chemistry, computer science, math and physics, and that presentation is scheduled for next week. The OCPS folks didn’t ask specifically about students who are already in FSU’s teacher preparation program, although I’m sure they would be glad if such students showed up. Instead, they asked for an opportunity to talk with students who haven’t decided on teaching as a career to see if they can make the sale.
None of the strategies we have adopted had anything to do with our College of Education. We did these things on our own, with considerable support (monetary and otherwise) from our Dean and other members of the university leadership.
You can do these things, too, starting with encouraging your students to consider high school teaching careers. You don’t need anyone from a College of Education to tell you that is the right thing to do.