The United States' global competitiveness is at risk as the nation confronts persistent shortages of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teachers in subjects such as physics, chemistry, and computer science. More than half of all high school physics teachers lacked certification in the discipline in 2012, for example.
As a result, students who are interested in STEM careers find themselves ill prepared to compete in an increasingly highly technical workforce. A new study by the American Physical Society, in collaboration with the American Chemical Society, Computing Research Association, and Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership, addresses the reasons why STEM students shy away from teaching as a career and offers ways to counter the trend.
The report found a quarter of all STEM majors are "somewhat interested to very interested" in the teaching profession. But several factors keep them from pursuing teaching careers, including concerns about salaries. Misconceptions about teaching abound, the study showed. For instance, students often believe teachers are poorly paid and teach in unruly classrooms. The truth is that they earn more money than most people think they do, and they have control of their classrooms.
To encourage more STEM majors and graduates to become teachers, the report recommends professional societies and disciplinary departments:
- Impress upon university faculty and advisers in STEM disciplinary departments the importance of promoting middle and high school teaching with their undergraduate majors and graduate students, and of providing them accurate information about the actual salary and positive features of teaching.
- Support high quality academic programs that prepare students for STEM teaching and expand good models to more universities. Strong programs provide improved coursework, prevent certification from requiring extra time, and support their students and graduates financially and academically.
- Support expansion of programs that provide financial and other support for students pursuing STEM teaching.
- Advocate for increases in annual compensation, including summer stipends, on the order of $5,000 - $25,000 for teachers in the hardest-to-staff STEM disciplines.
- Support programs that improve the professional life and community of STEM teachers.