In 2017, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) organized a series of five regional dialogues to facilitate conversations focused on preservice STEM teacher education. More than 200 faculty, scholars and researchers, in-service and preservice teachers, administrators, and others attended the meetings, representing schools and universities from the Northeast, the Southeast, the Midwest, the West, and the Southwest. Participants discussed how to improve all aspects of STEM education for preservice teachers, from recruitment and retention to content and pedagogy. They also offered recommendations and advice on how to improve preservice teacher curricula, and attract and support more qualified students to STEM K-12 teaching through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Noyce program and other STEM teacher initiatives.
Participants identified issues most relevant or most pressing in their region (e.g., mathematics education or teacher recruitment) and yet, regardless of their location, discussants focused on many common themes. For example, recruiting talented individuals into STEM teaching proved to be one of the greatest challenges participants addressed. As one group noted, undergraduates majoring in STEM disciplines already have a career in mind, such as nursing or other health-related careers, or engineering and computer science all of which are in demand and pay well. Generally, those with an expressed interest in education tend to focus on early childhood and special education, not science. While scholarships help, many noted that financial support alone is rarely enough to motivate individuals to switch career paths. As one Noyce principal investigator was quoted as saying, “I never knew it’d be so hard to give away a million dollars.”
Instead of asking,
“Would you like to be a teacher?”
“Have you ever thought about teaching?”
Ensuring preservice teachers have the content and academic skills they need to succeed in their STEM coursework and then, later, in their own classroom poses its own set of challenges, as do STEM faculty who teach preservice teachers and yet are not up-to-date on current pedagogy and standards. Dialogue participants also emphasized that as part of their preparation all preservice teachers, but particularly prospective STEM teachers, need to understand what is “at-risk” for their students and their communities, and how to work with often diverse students with even more diverse educational needs.
I teach not only for what is,
but for what could be and,
in some cases, what should be.”
Meeting participants identified professional development and teacher leaders as another critical component for successful STEM teaching. Preservice teachers need assistance to transition from being students themselves to becoming successful STEM classroom teachers. The additional challenge of working with at-risk students and/or in high-needs schools can compound the difficulties faced by these new STEM teachers, however, a supportive environment, coupled with good mentors, can make a significant difference in who stays with teaching and who chooses to leave the profession. As many discussed, the mentors themselves can also benefit, learning to see themselves as real leaders and better understanding what makes a teacher successful. STEM faculty who teach preservice teachers can also benefit from establishing collaborative relationships with colleges of education and teachers in the field, they noted.
One of the best things I learned
as a mentor was how to narrate what I was doing and why,
so that the student teacher could understand my thinking.
This approach has rejuvenated my career — and
I learned it from the new teacher I was mentoring.”
The nation faces enormous challenges, from global climate change and clean water and air, to improved healthcare and environmental sustainability. To find affordable, acceptable and meaningful solutions to these kinds of challenges requires an educated workforce and citizenry.
All over America, STEM educators struggle with how best to meet the needs of the nation while also helping to educate a diverse student body in often underfunded K-12 schools. For these preservice and early-career STEM teachers to be successful, they not only need quality STEM education themselves, but they also need access to supportive teacher development programs that encourage them to grow, to have confidence in their abilities, and to view themselves as able to make a difference, regardless of the environment in which they teach.
The AAAS Noyce regional dialogues furthered the discussion of how to ensure the nation and its STEM teachers are up to these challenges. A report of the recommendations and advice of these STEM teacher advocates and their colleagues will be available later this year.