Almost 25 years ago, AAAS convened a National Science Foundation supported conference to consider how best to train science and mathematics teachers. Interestingly, the attendees were one hundred and two deans, the dean of education and the dean of science from fifty-one institutions. The report of that conference, “Seizing Opportunities: Collaborating for Excellence in Teacher Preparation” (Bell & Bucchino, 1997), can be found here.
This conference was held at a time when there was great activity and energy around science and mathematics education reform. The conversations of 1996 would likely sound quite familiar since we were all wrestling with many of the same issues we discuss today: what is a good teacher, and what education and experiences need to be provided to prepare such a person? Several deans told me that that was the first occasion they had had to sit with their dean colleague from the same institution to consider a consolidated plan, this, despite the fact that, technically, they shared the responsibility for providing excellent programs for students preparing to become science and mathematics teachers.
The 1980s and 1990s were times of great debates about K-12 mathematics and science education, much of the conversation around what content should be taught and what every child should learn. It was at the Education Summit in Charlottesville in 1989, convened by President George H.W. Bush with the nation’s governors that there was a call for content standards along with articulation as one of the National Education Goals: that by the year 2000, “United States students will be the first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.” This action was stimulated by lackluster performance of U.S. students on international tests of science and mathematics compared with students from the rest of the world.
Around the same time a higher education-focused study began relatively quietly in 1990 that sought to understand why students of above average ability were leaving science, mathematics and engineering programs as undergraduates. In the report of the research, Talking About Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences (1997), Elaine Seymour and Nancy Hewitt found a relationship between poor teaching and weed out courses and field switching, disproportionately seen for women and students of color. In so many ways this study stimulated the undergraduate teaching reform movement. But the links between the K-12 and higher education discussions had not yet converged.
Despite the separateness of the K-12 and higher education conversations the recommendations of the “Seizing Opportunities” conference included elements that began to link the two, such as the call for college faculty to “model” the kind of instruction that science and mathematics teachers should use so that they would teach as they are taught rather than as they were taught to teach.
Fast Forward to Today
AAAS SEA Change is an initiative to support institutional transformation so that diversity, equity and inclusion in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) are normative. The SEA Change Institute recently offered a series of web events to make visible the research from the book, Talking About Leaving Revisited: Persistence, Re-location and Loss in Undergraduate STEM Education (TALR) (Seymour & Hunter, 2019).
Learn how we can support your institutional transformation towards diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Having spent a career working on efforts to diversify STEMM fields, I have thought a lot about how to get at the root of this issue. Some while ago I thought that the solutions might lie in K-12 teacher professional development. And then I connected the dots between these separate conversations of the K-12 and higher education communities. I was further disabused of the idea that it was a “K-12 problem” when a friend noted how many times teachers left teacher education programs, “in immediate need of a 50,000 mile tune up.” This friend had done the major surveys of science and mathematics teachers, so she had a deep understanding of the problems viewed through a national lens.
So that means we end where we began, turning again to what is happening in our colleges and universities. Let’s imagine that we could reconvene that group of deans. What would today’s conversation be? How to help future teachers better understand their learners, introduce culturally relevant content? How to help science and mathematics faculty model the teaching we hope future teachers will use? How do we build on what we know; and how do we seize this opportunity?
Facing Today’s Challenges
I can only hope that we start the conversations where the deans left off almost 25 years ago, but how do we move from conversation to strategic, collaborative action and not be stuck in the same place 25 years from now?
What is a good teacher? For quite a while a discussion of the challenges of the system of STEM teacher education tended to focus on content knowledge (or lack thereof), especially at the high school level, and increasingly for middle grades as well. How do we find the balance across concerns of what we teach, how we teach, who we teach and to what ends we teach?
Implications: Recommendations for New Year’s Resolutions
This is a big, audacious vision, just as it was in 1996. And just as in 1996, we realize the need for commitment that spans institutional units–teaching the children well means we must teach the teachers well.