Issue Date: July 4, 2011
Teaching Science Literacy
I have read with interest the letters on scientific literacy in recent issues of C&EN. I am a high school science teacher who is also a former research scientist. I hold B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemistry and have done doctoral work in biochemistry and molecular biology. When I was in research, I saw and heard of the need for highly qualified science teachers at the high school level and decided that I would like to be part of the solution to my county’s need for science excellence. I contacted my state department of education and was told I was the type of person who was needed in the classroom. I completed my certification and have been successfully teaching for 10 years.
Much is being made about the need for scientists in the classroom. In my state and many others, teachers are under attack. When the current “reforms” in my state are passed, I will no longer have enough take-home pay to support myself as a single person. Many other ex-researchers who became second-career teachers are already leaving the field to return to research or take jobs that are not even in science. We cannot find equally qualified replacements at the currently offered salaries. Having previously worked in both science and business, I can say that teaching is far more strenuous and time-consuming, lower paying, and less respected than other fields.
In other countries, science and math teachers are treated with respect and recruited from the top of their classes with decent salaries and benefits. My former coworkers who stayed in research are earning much higher salaries than I am earning.
To solve the problem of scientific literacy, we need to recruit and retain scientists to be in the classroom each day. Although it’s a noble idea, a few days of scientists meeting with classes is not sufficient. Teachers already do flashy demonstrations to hold students’ attention, but the students still need to master the related theory and apply it on their own to novel situations in laboratory settings. This requires hard, continuous work from both student and teacher. In today’s society where students are used to immediate solutions and gratification, this is becoming an increasingly difficult skill for them to master.
I love teaching and desperately hope that I am able to continue. I have had the privilege of teaching many wonderful students who truly appreciate learning about the world around them. Some have even majored in the sciences upon leaving high school. As a society, we need to support our members who have already taken up the fight for scientific literacy each day and encourage conditions which will entice more into this field.
By Ann-Marie Bossong
- Chemical & Engineering News
- ISSN 0009-2347
- Copyright © American Chemical Society