TOP Teachers Program Will Help to Curb Teacher Shortage
The United States faces a critical shortage of qualified physics and physical science teachers in high schools. More than one half of physics teachers do not have a physics degree, and the American Association for Employment in Education consistently lists high school physics as one of the fields with the most severe teacher shortages. Physics is the foundation for all other sciences, but in the past five years, MU has graduated only three new physics teachers.
Karen King, assistant teaching professor, and Professor Linda Godwin hope to increase those numbers thanks to funding they received from the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) program. The title of King and Godwin’s program is Tomorrow’s Outstanding Physics Teachers (TOP Teachers.) PhysTEC is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Physical Society. Since 2001, PhysTEC’s mission has been to improve and promote the education of future physics teachers. So far, the funded institutions have doubled their production of physics teachers and have developed mentor programs to help retain them.
A former high school teacher, King is the principal investigator for this project. She understands from first-hand experience the importance of recruiting quality physics teachers. Beginning this fall, she and Godwin will recruit students for the program through high school visits, college classroom presentations, and partnering with the College of Education.
“It is never too early or too late to recruit a student into the teaching profession,” says Godwin. “That is why we will target high school students, college students at all stages of their education, and recent graduates who are searching for a career.”
Students can get their teaching certifications in several ways. The first is to earn a dual degree in education and physics (www.t2d2.missouri.edu). This option will better prepare students to teach advanced placement classes and opens the door for graduate school if college-level teaching is appealing. Students interested in this option should start early in their college careers, so, ideally, high school students and freshmen are the targets in that scenario. Another option is to earn a bachelor of science degree in education with an emphasis in physics. This option works best for those students who already have plans for an education degree and do not want to start over with a dual major. The last option is the Science and Mathematics Academy for the Recruitment and Retention of Teachers (SMAR2T), which targets seniors or recent graduates who are looking for jobs. This program offers an entry into teaching for graduates who have already earned a degree in physics or engineering. Additional education training with a mentor teacher and classroom teaching will be required.
“The hardest group to recruit is sophomores and juniors,” says King. “We need to find ways to get them interested in teaching, even though they aren’t majoring in education.”
One of the initiatives King and Godwin will implement this year is the Learning Assistant (LA) Program.
As an LA, students will have an opportunity to teach in a high school or college-level physics classroom.
“This is a great part of the program because the students will get an authentic teaching experience and will get excited about the possibility of teaching,” says King.
Learning assistants will work with faculty to make courses student-centered and interactive. These programs will provide potential future teachers with support and a low-stress early teaching experience that will encourage them to pursue a teaching certification. Other institutions that have tried this program have found that it can increase the pool of students from which to recruit future physics teachers.
“We want to grow students’ interest in physics as a whole,” says King. “We want to emphasize that you can do a lot with a physics degree—one does not just have to go to graduate school. Physics is a flexible and useful major.”
Learning assistants will receive comparable compensation to a research assistant. The goal is to elevate teaching to the level of a researcher as a career choice.
Not all of their attention will center on current college students, however. One potential program will allow 11th and 12th graders to design mini lesson plans for 9th-grade students with the goal of discovering potential prospects.
The key to a successful teacher preparation program is to have a teacher-in-residence (TIR) who applies classroom wisdom to the tasks of identifying, training, and supporting teachers of physics. Doug Steinhoff, a physics teacher at Jefferson Junior High School will take on this role at MU. His experience in the Columbia Public School system will be beneficial in building bridges with local schools and in creating professional development courses. Steinhoff will also serve an active role in recruiting future teachers, mentoring student teachers, and designing new courses aimed at preparing physics teachers.
The TOP Teacher Program is funded through PhysTEC for three years, with the College of Arts and Science and the Department of Physics agreeing to fund an additional three. Their goal is to have at least 10 students graduate from the program every three years.
Other contributors to the grant include: Troy Sadler, professor of science education and director of MU Science Education Center; Deborah Hanuscin, associate professor of physics and education; Dorina Kosztin, associate teaching professor of physics; Carlos Wexler, associate professor of physics; and Patricia Friedrichsen, associate professor of biological sciences and education.
By Laura Lindsey, College of Arts and Science
August 10, 2012