Eric J. Pyle, Ph.D., Professor of Geology, James Madison University
Donna Governor, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of North Georgia
Cynthia D. Crockett, M.Ed., Science Education Specialist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Alicia Conerly, Ed.S., Principal, Monticello Elementary
Over the last year, it has become clear that the demand for well-prepared teachers of science with a range of instructional skills remains great. Educators are now teaching both virtual and in-person, and in many cases a blend of each, straining the very framework of how teachers are prepared to be successful in their critical first years in the classroom. In this blog, we will clarify several structural issues related to the preparation of science teachers, as well as how the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) provides support to new teachers, particularly to those Noyce scholars beginning their first full-time teaching experiences. In doing so, we share contemporary ideas in teacher preparation, the research that supports these ideas, and the broader perspective on how this preparation should play out in high-need schools. We also seek to lay out a few broad priorities for science teacher preparation.
Preservice Teacher Preparation and Support for New Teachers
According to a recent report from the National Academies Press, Changing Expectations for the K-12 Teacher Workforce (Floden, Stephens & Scherer, 2020), the expectations and demands for teachers of science at all levels have changed greatly in the past decade. There is a greater need for both content and research-based pedagogical knowledge for preservice teachers in their student experience. These shifts are a direct outcome of the 2012 report from the National Academies of Sciences, A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC) which was the foundational document that guided the development of the Next Generation of Science Standards (NRC, 2015). Since the release of this report, a new generation of curricula has emerged built on a foundation of three-dimensional teaching (science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and cross-cutting concepts) and learning with accompanying performance expectations built on these dimensions. Most states, whether they have adopted the NGSS or not, have revised their state standards to encompass the research-based practices reflected in these documents (NSTA, n.d.), creating a range of adopters, adapters, and crypto-adopters.
As the result of Framework- and NGSS-driven changes in pedagogy, teaching science today is far different from teaching at the turn of the (21st) century, just two decades ago, when test-based accountability guided the curriculum and framed the school experience familiar to most of today’s preservice teachers. While it is important for Noyce Scholars as novice teachers to have a strong science content preparation, their preparation and induction support should also include experiences that demonstrate how scientific practices and cross-cutting concepts enhance their own students’ learning (Morrell, et al., 2020)
What it means to teach science has evolved in a short time, and preparing preservice science teachers today requires new approaches to teaching for three-dimensional learning. Preservice teachers must learn to foster a deeper level of student learning that goes far beyond the guidelines suggested by previous science standards. They are best supported by new resources, new strategies, and new models for teaching and learning science that are different than those from just a few short years ago.
In Changing Expectations for the K-12 Teacher Workforce, the authors suggest that professional organizations, such as NSTA, have an important impact on teacher education programs and can serve as valuable resources for preparing preservice teachers.
In supporting new science teachers, NSTA has invested considerable time and energy to develop resources for all teachers of science that meet the needs of this pedagogical shift. For instance, NSTA has developed a series of content-based modules through its Interactive eBook series that addresses the need for a broader range of integrated three-dimensional content knowledge. Pedagogical shifts that encompass three-dimensional teaching and learning are evident in publications, lesson plans, web seminars, journal articles, and resources provided in NSTA’s vast library of online resources, including the recent “Daily-Do” series of lesson plans and web-based resources. Preservice teachers can utilize the NSTA forums to ask for advice from experienced teachers or interact with their peers to navigate resources and research on current practices. A new NSTA national chapter for preservice teachers, currently in development, will allow for better networking, improved access to targeted resources, and more professional learning opportunities for future science educators.
Additionally, NSTA is well positioned to support teacher preparation programs through institutional membership options that can “promote broad programmatic priorities” (Floden, Stephens & Scherer 2020, p. 117). The NSTA Preservice Teacher Preparation Division is currently working with NSTA staff to streamline resources into modules of materials around specific themes for implementation in methods courses.
As NSTA expands its commitment to preservice teachers and the programs that prepare them, new resources will continue to be developed, including web seminars, virtual conference options, and resource collections. In time, NSTA will lead the way in helping to prepare preservice teachers of science at all levels.
Research in Support of Preparation Programs
Across the United States, there are over 2,000 colleges and universities that award degrees and/or certificates in education. According to a 2018 report by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), the vast majority (88%) of these institutions are two-and four-year colleges and universities, while a small portion (12%) are individual school districts, non-profit organizations, and other approved agencies that offer alternative teacher preparation programs (King, 2018). The concept that there is a general shortage of teachers across grades K-12 is not supported in fact. There are regional or localized shortages in areas of high population growth, specialty areas including special education and English language learners (ELL), urban and rural schools, and those with a large under-represented minority population. Contrasting with these shortage areas, there are areas of net overproduction of teachers, such that graduates in some states must move to another state to secure a teaching position or never enter the teaching profession (Goldhaber, Krieg, Naito, & Theobold, 2019). The dynamics of the teacher labor force defy simple explanations.
Despite this, there remain shortages in the fields of science, math, and STEM education in many areas around the country. A large portion of this is due to attrition among early career and novice teachers (Ingersoll, May, & Collins, 2019; King, 2018) as well as the attractiveness of higher paying jobs in STEM fields. Mining Title II data on new licensures from the U.S. Department of Education provides a clear picture of the slow but steady decline going back at least six years. The preservice teacher cohort and novice teacher workforce is overwhelmingly female with little diversity among the population. Of those who complete their preservice education, many do not go on to teach. For those who do, a significant proportion leave the classroom within the first four years after their first year in the classroom as a newly minted teacher (King, 2018). Sadly, adding to the shortage of new teachers is the closing of schools of education and teacher preparation programs across the country (Camera, 2019; Toppo, 2019; Flaherty, 2020).
There is no one consistent approach or method to the components of science teacher preparation programs. This variation exists in pedagogical knowledge preparation, content knowledge preparation, and student teaching placement and duration. Concurrent with preservice teachers’ preparation for teaching is also the acquisition and mastery of content knowledge, particularly in the science fields (Shulman, 2013; Jeffery, McCollough, & Moore, 2015). Course requirements in science vary from completion of introductory classes, along with one upper-level class, to requiring a degree in the designated content area along with full teacher preparation requirements.
This variation can be attributed to institutional history, available resources, and accrediting bodies. At the current time, there is no science-specific accrediting body, but NSTA had previously provided a recognition framework for CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation). But at the current time, the assurance of program quality at the discipline level is shifting towards SEAs (state education agencies), with roughly half of states opting to provide accreditation separate from CAEP. National recognition of programs in science is currently not available, but NSTA has recently revised its recognition framework through standards built around the Framework (NSTA, 2019), and is currently developing the means by which to provide review and recognition to programs on a voluntary basis. The format remains CAEP-compliant but is designed to stand separate and be of use to programs individually.
In addition, the amount of time spent in the field varies widely by program. Students in some programs begin observing classrooms in the first semester of their program; this “field experience” increases each year culminating with student teaching. Researchers studying teacher preparation note that there is often a lack of interaction or coordination between methods students, cooperating teachers where preservice teachers learn to teach, and college and university instructors. In 2020, one such study looked at teacher preparation and indicated the need for stronger communication and alignment between teacher “residency” programs and placement sites, incorporating a much-needed balance between faculty with teacher candidates and their placement schools as well as incorporating the needs and initiatives of the placement district (Miller & Strachan, 2020).
In light of the vast variation in preservice teacher preparation program requirements, many institutions are looking at ways to rethink and improve how we as a nation prepare our teacher workforce. Innovations introduced through Noyce programs need broader advocacy to policymakers and associated staff. NSTA offers an existing network through which lessons learned can be shared through state chapters and affiliates, regional directors, and the Board of Directors. NSTA Legislative Affairs has been crucial in providing tools and actions in support of advocacy goals. These adaptations of existing preparation programs and novel approaches can provide the substrate from which more systematic approaches might emerge. Through its requirement for induction of novice teachers to teach in high-need school districts, the Noyce program creates an expectation that teacher preparation does not end after student teaching and a diploma, recognizing that there is a transition from student to teacher.
The Multicultural Classroom
One issue and opportunity that confronts novice teachers is the diversity that they will face as they enter the classroom, particularly in high-need schools. As stated above, fewer college students are opting to become science teachers. It is also clear that students who do become teachers are not seeking out areas that are heavily populated with students of low-socioeconomic status, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.
Well-thought out preparation programs include coursework designed to equip graduates with tools to support the teaching of diverse students, but much of what novice teachers experience is theoretical and does not include much time to develop expertise with the use of these tools in a diverse classroom. There is an implicit assumption that such expertise will come with teaching experience. Considering all of the demands placed on novice teachers, developing this expertise is a vital component of their long-term retention in the profession, particularly through the development of learning communities focused on the needs of diverse students. Field experiences during preparation programs in settings both congruent with and divergent from new teachers’ prior experience are impactful in setting the stage for their experiences as they begin their careers.
NSTA has made strides in providing the experiences over time that enhance the skill sets of teachers, recognizing a need to provide a safe space for teachers of science to express their needs for assistance with processing issues of classroom diversity and the larger national narrative linked to these issues. NSTA recently completed a four-part virtual miniseries titled, “Rising to the Challenge: Creating Equitable Opportunities During a Remote Learning Environment … and Beyond.” The series “What IS Social Justice Teaching in the Science Classroom?” was offered in April and will be again in June 2021. (All of these sessions will be archived and made available for future use.) The “take-away” messages have a role in deepening the new teachers’ toolkit in ways perhaps not yet realized in their experience.
NSTA has also built long lasting partnerships with other organizations, such as Shell Oil Company and the Smithsonian Science Education Center, to develop a model that is revisited and implemented annually that focuses on attracting, recruiting, and retaining educators from diverse backgrounds. The “Teach to Lead” Logic Model focuses on reversing the trend of some schools not having any highly-qualified STEAM teachers of color that would benefit the current student population in developing them into productive STEAM workforce citizens. The overarching goal is an action plan that can increase the diversity of our workforce by 2% annually.
Inputs to this system come from school division human resource administrators, building administrators, and an internally focused “grow your own” program for new teachers. Individuals in these positions have ownership of the tasks, which include internally focused recruitment within their schools, an organized cohort mentorship program for potential candidates, and external partnerships with professional organizations and regional teacher preparation programs to attract STEAM teachers of color. In terms of outputs, the programming is anticipated as being in place by the end of the 2021-2022 academic year, with substantial increases in these programs expected in the short term, and long-term increases in applications from new teachers of color. In the end, new educators will be provided with encouragement, teaching resources, and assistance in honing their teaching skills. It is considered vital to provide these supports in an effort to keep them in the profession and reinforce their desire to teach in high-need schools.
Teachers who enter the profession today face a classroom environment that is vastly different. They face different experiences and challenges compared to teachers who entered the classroom 10 or 20 years ago. Although the numbers of students electing to become science teachers has been declining, Noyce scholarships remain an attractive incentive. However, we are ethically obligated to provide them with programing that supports three-dimensional learning through research-based practices and induction frameworks reflective of the needs of a diverse student body.
As the largest science education organization in the world, NSTA provides invaluable – often free – resources for preservice as well as novice teachers.
Web Seminars – focused on content updates, as well as contextual factors that promote or hinder student learning
Conferences – virtual and (eventually) in-person, at the national and regional levels
Teacher lesson plans and NGSS tools – peer-reviewed and vetted lesson plans focused on student sense-making
Science Scope and The Science Teacher - journals designed for middle grades and high school teachers respectively
Interactive eBooks – content-focused resources organized by grade bands
And coming soon – A national chapter for preservice teachers with opportunities to network and volunteer.
Prospective, as well as in-service teachers, can use these as an invaluable toolkit for developing support for novice teachers and setting their trajectories towards classroom success and long-term tenure. The key takeaway messages for Noyce scholars and their mentors are that connecting with professional associations such as NSTA provides on-going and career-spanning professional development in areas that directly impact teachers’ classroom practice, delivered through a professional staff and knowledgeable volunteers. NSTA is especially active in generating the content needed for new teachers to be both competent and confident in the classroom, both prerequisites for long-term tenure in the profession.
NSTA knows and understands the needs and interests of novice teachers as they prepare for successful 3-dimensional teaching and learning, the challenges faced by Noyce program developers to enhance the practice of preparing teachers, and the nature of diverse contemporary classrooms in high-need schools. Through responsive professional learning programming and creative content development, NSTA is well-positioned to support Noyce Scholars and other new teachers as they transition to the classroom full-time.