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Getting the facts out about teaching chemistry as a career

by Jennifer B. Nielson, Chair, Society Committee on Education
November 9, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 44

 

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Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Nielson

What do we do when students express interest in becoming secondary chemistry teachers? How do we encourage their exploration of this career?

How we answer these questions, as individuals and members of the American Chemical Society, can influence the shortage of qualified chemistry teachers in middle schools and high schools in the US.

The key to presenting secondary school teaching as a viable and satisfying career path for chemists and others in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is to help change the narrative.

The Get the Facts Out project, supported by the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education initiative (through grants NSF-1821710 and NSF-1821462), is aimed at changing the misperceptions around careers in teaching science and math in secondary schools. It enhances ACS’s efforts to recruit future teachers, as well as its work in preparing and supporting teachers of chemistry. The ACS-Hach Programs and the American Association of Chemistry Teachers, for example, provide preservice and in-service teachers of chemistry with programs, products, and services that advance chemistry teaching and learning. Many local sections and divisions also engage, support, and recognize teachers of chemistry.

Get the Facts Out positions us to do more with students who may have an interest in secondary STEM teaching by supporting their exploration of this career choice and providing them with the information necessary to make informed decisions.

Here are some ways we can help change the narrative:

Be based in reality. A recent Journal of Chemical Education editorial, “Refuting Myths about Secondary Chemistry Teaching: Getting the Facts Out to Current and Future Educators” (2019, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b00547), highlights the importance of changing the conversation around secondary STEM teaching and addressing misperceptions—those of chemists and of the public. The information and perspectives that educators, advisers, students, and parents have and share all influence how people view a career in secondary chemistry and whether they consider and pursue it. Get the Facts Out provides data on salary, benefits, and career satisfaction of STEM secondary school teachers to help us accurately convey the realities of the teaching profession.

Use research-based resources. The Get the Facts Out tool kit, available at getthefactsout.org, contains editable, research-based, and user-tested resources that provide accurate information about secondary STEM teaching. It has brochures, flyers, posters, validated assessments, student-facing presentations, and faculty-facing presentations. Resources can be modified to be used by different institutions and organizations for a range of audiences.

Qualitative and quantitative research activities, conducted by the Colorado School of Mines, are documenting the effectiveness and impact of the tool kit and its implementation. This research is guided by a theory of change focused on national influencers, local champions, educators, advisers, and parents, as well as students.

Take advantage of disciplinary societies. Given the shared challenge of addressing the shortage of qualified secondary STEM teachers, the American Physical Society, American Association of Physics Teachers, and Mathematical Association of America are also working with ACS and the Colorado School of Mines. Each society is supporting change agents, using their connections with local champions in departments on college campuses, and disseminating information about the project’s aims to their larger disciplinary community. By working together, we can develop and share research-based resources with consistent messaging in a cost-effective manner that achieves greater uptake.

Working with the chemistry change agents, ACS is sharing information about the project and tool kit. A symposium was held at the ACS Fall 2019 National Meeting in San Diego shortly after the publication of the Journal of Chemical Education editorial. A website focused on chemistry teaching will complement the main Get the Facts Out website. Webinars, workshops, and other mechanisms for informing and involving the broader ACS community in this important work are also planned for 2020 and beyond.

Contribute to the solution. Engaging the community is key. Change agents, local champions, educators, advisers, students, and parents all need to be involved in changing our narrative and informing our actions about careers in secondary chemistry education and STEM teaching.

During its most recent meeting, the Society Committee on Education considered ways that we as individuals and members of ACS can use Get the Facts Out. Our discussions highlighted the many significant contributions the chemistry community can make to the critical work of recruiting secondary STEM teachers, preparing them, and inspiring the next generation of educational leaders in chemistry. This work should start with informed conversations with students and colleagues. It involves programming, such as new student orientations and career nights. It extends to collective efforts, such as programs for education majors.

Each of us has a role to play in encouraging the pursuit of a career teaching secondary chemistry and STEM. What role will you play? Share your ideas with us at education@acs.org.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN, ACS, or NSF.

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