# How do we alleviate the shortage of qualified physics teachers?

by marcusesses
Tags: alleviate, physics, qualified, shortage, teachers
P: 20
 Quote by physics girl phd People think \$ is hard to come by, and then get possessive about their stuff / turf and are afraid to let undergrads have at it (especially if this undergrad doesn't compare favorably to that one ten years ago).
You know, I never really thought about it, but I think part of the reason the program might have been as successful as it is might be because the school does not have a grad program. As I understand it, the university has tried to encourage the development of a grad program, but the department has fought it, preferring to focus on undergrad. Personally I loved it, because it meant that the undergrads did research with the professors, and I got to publish a couple of papers, and I got to TA lab sections of gen ed classes, all of which gave me experiences I might not have otherwise had.

Then again, I could be completely wrong and it could be very common for a large portion of undergrads to do research.
 P: 3 Thanks for the comments everyone. Yes I am teaching algebra based physics. Some years we get into a little bit of trig but I don't remember enough calculus to introduce that to my classes plus only about half of my students take calculus at the same time they are taking physics. We only teach one year of physics at my school. We have an honors physics class and a general physics class offered which students have the opportunity to take their senior year. For physics labs I have access to the modeling curriculum but it's very sequential and I find it hard to pull out things here and there... it seems like an all or nothing sort of program. The worksheets are very oriented to their activities and I do not have time to follow it completely so I do not use very many of their materials. It sounds like there are new materials available but if I understand correctly they are only given out to workshops participants. I also have a copy of PRISMS which is a nice physics lab set that follows the learning cycle nicely. However I find my students can handle a few of the learning cycles and then get tired of doing it over and over again. I have the same problems with modeling. Students get really tired of doing worksheet after worksheet (even though they are very hands on labs). Some of the problem is our school's culture. I swear our students really do prefer a lecture style class with concrete problems and definite right or wrong answers. They get very upset if they get anything counted wrong with their lab grades saying that "those were the results we got!" even though if they actually did the lab diligently and followed directions they couldn't have gotten those results. Oh well... my biggest gripe is not actually about labs available but the other support materials. Just the other day I had to create a (rather pathetic) worksheet so students could practice drawing circuits using schematic diagrams. The worksheets I found were more about calculations than just practice drawing. I find it helpful to have students do the drawings before they begin the calculations. I had hoped to use problems and resources from our book more extensively this year (Holt Physics) but it's just not working out. I'm sure I'll get better as I grow in my physics knowledge but I know I'll be spending a lot of my summer trying to get my physics classes organized for next year. I will have three honors physics classes and one general physics classes along with two very low level freshman physical science classes. My problem is I can't always tell which areas the students need extra practice in until after I give them a worksheet or lab that is over their heads. Then I need to figure out an in between step to get them ready for the main event. It is when I go looking for that in between worksheet or practice problems that I am floundering. They don't seem to exist. Zodea
 P: 37 Salaries are an issue but the teacher still needs to have the desire to teach. I'm teaching because that's what I want to do even though I could make (and have made) a lot more doing other things. There's no performance bonus anything like that. The days are long, at least the hours I put in. A lot of the kids are brats and think they deserve an A for walking in the door and the parents are worse. The students expect to have a "review sheet" that has the exact problems (they are ok if the values are a little different) that will be on the test. The students throw a fit if you put any problem on a test where they have to use previous knowledge and common sense to solve instead of just memorizing the answers. The students are severely lacking in math skills, even rearranging a simple algebraic formula. The elementary and middle school teachers have a poor grasp of science. I heard a 3rd grade teacher telling the kids an open circuit lets the electricity flow just like you open a faucet to let the water flow. They split social studies time with science time and if the administration doesn't rob that time for an assembly or such, the elementary teach spends more time on social studies because that's where the teacher is more comfortable. Finally, The State of Texas is in the process of dumbing down physics to what was once called physical science. The intentions were good -- every student needs four years of science and four years of math to graduate but all this does is force kids who aren't ready to show up at my door. then I have to spend a month on significant figures and algebra review so they don't get a 40 on their first report card. Blah. Ok, I finished. But in spite of all of that, my administration is great and I do enjoy what I'm doing.
PF Gold
P: 1,150
 Quote by jamesnb The students are severely lacking in math skills, even rearranging a simple algebraic formula. The elementary and middle school teachers have a poor grasp of science.
The high school (in Texas also) I went to ended up replacing almost the entire math department after the first year it opened. I think most of them couldn't take the utter lack of basic math skills; I think there was a major breakdown in math education at the middle school level.

 Quote by jamesnb I heard a 3rd grade teacher telling the kids an open circuit lets the electricity flow just like you open a faucet to let the water flow.
What?? That's almost as bad as this.

 Quote by jamesnb Finally, The State of Texas is in the process of dumbing down physics to what was once called physical science. The intentions were good -- every student needs four years of science and four years of math to graduate but all this does is force kids who aren't ready to show up at my door.
I looked over the new end of course exam topics for physics and was horrified.
P: 20
 Finally, The State of Texas is in the process of dumbing down physics to what was once called physical science. The intentions were good -- every student needs four years of science and four years of math to graduate but all this does is force kids who aren't ready to show up at my door. Then I have to spend a month on significant figures and algebra review so they don't get a 40 on their first report card.
Yeah, as bad as that is I might be able to top it. My school is now requiring that all 11th students must take physics. This is a low income community where 45% of the school has free lunch. Some kids come in at a 3rd grade reading level. As a result of all this, I was put in charge of the committee to write the new curriculum. I also happen to be the only teacher with any real physics training. Despite this we will have 3 teachers teaching physics who have never taken a physics class in their life. On top of this, I wanted to make the lowest level course (where the kids who have never passed a math class are) a conceptual course. I was told that it had to be algebra and trig based (even though some kids can't add) because "that's the model we are following".

But that’s ok, what follows is a paraphrased conversation the year we were told this was happening.

ADMIN: We will require all juniors to take physics. If you look at your data I gave you, you’ll see that students who have taken physics score higher on the ACT. As a result, we have decided to drop Earth Science for Physics so that they will score better.

ME: But, physics is currently optional.

ADMIN: So?

ME: So the students taking it are more likely self motivated, are planning on college, or have parents involved in their life pushing them to take the course. That’s the three groups of students predisposed to do well on the ACT!

ADMIN: But the numbers say physics good!

ME: You’ve never taken a stats class have you?

Oh well, job security I guess.
Sci Advisor
P: 5,444
 Quote by jamesnb A lot of the kids are brats and think they deserve an A for walking in the door and the parents are worse. The students expect to have a "review sheet" that has the exact problems (they are ok if the values are a little different) that will be on the test. The students throw a fit if you put any problem on a test where they have to use previous knowledge and common sense to solve instead of just memorizing the answers. The students are severely lacking in math skills, even rearranging a simple algebraic formula. The elementary and middle school teachers have a poor grasp of science. I heard a 3rd grade teacher telling the kids an open circuit lets the electricity flow just like you open a faucet to let the water flow. They split social studies time with science time and if the administration doesn't rob that time for an assembly or such, the elementary teach spends more time on social studies because that's where the teacher is more comfortable. Finally, The State of Texas is in the process of dumbing down physics to what was once called physical science. The intentions were good -- every student needs four years of science and four years of math to graduate but all this does is force kids who aren't ready to show up at my door. then I have to spend a month on significant figures and algebra review so they don't get a 40 on their first report card. Blah. Ok, I finished. But in spite of all of that, my administration is great and I do enjoy what I'm doing.
 Quote by jhae2.718 The high school (in Texas also) I went to ended up replacing almost the entire math department after the first year it opened. I think most of them couldn't take the utter lack of basic math skills; I think there was a major breakdown in math education at the middle school level.
 Quote by Birkeland Yeah, as bad as that is I might be able to top it.
Ugh. I empathize with you all. The way standardized tests have impacted the US school system is horrifying and even worse, there is still a push to *increase* the role standardized tests have on the educational system, by tying student test scores to teacher salaries and promotions.
PF Gold
P: 1,150
 Quote by Andy Resnick Ugh. I empathize with you all. The way standardized tests have impacted the US school system is horrifying and even worse, there is still a push to *increase* the role standardized tests have on the educational system, by tying student test scores to teacher salaries and promotions.
With the caveat that I am not an educator, but merely a survivor of the horrors of the system, I must say I agree with you. Also, I apologize in advance for the following rant...

<rant>
The amount of ridiculous and, quite frankly, idiotic things we were forced to do to "prepare" for standardized tests was horrifying. The brainwave of the science curriculum administrators at the district I went to for preparing for standardized exams (in Texas, the infamous TAKS test) were "foldables". These were different papers that the students would put together and would fill in notes dictated by the teacher. In other words, it was essentially a kindergarten level activity applied to high schoolers, leading to no benefit at all.

When I took the algebra-based physics course my high school offered (prior to taking a proper AP Physics course; this course was labeled 'Pre-AP'), I was shocked and horrified at just how bad the course was. Some of the general crimes against mathematics and physics committed were:
• Claims that the kinematic equation d = 1/2at2+vt* could not be solved because the "t was in two places, and one was squared", lest we have the horror of having to explain how to select the correct solution to a problem.
• The density of water being described as 1 kg/m3, because apparently the teacher or whomever developed the curriculum could not do the simple conversion of units.
• Problems were entirely formulaic and were either "one-step" or "two-step". These required no critical thinking at all, reducing the exercises of the class to simply "plug and chug".
• Free-body diagrams were only glanced over, and the entirety of exercises consisted of drawing an FBD for a block. The use of FBDs as a problem solving tool was not covered. How does one do physics without an understanding of how to draw a free-body diagram?
• Vectors were barely covered, and in a way that had no usefulness. (I realize a high school physics class should not necessarily be at a college level, but surely they don't need to be dumbed down this much?)
• One of the worst was the claim that work could only be done horizontally, in the "x" direction. I don't know how they got this idea, as it makes no since at all.
We never got to electromagnetism, but I don't even want to think of the horror inflicted there. It scares me to think of the people coming out of that class with such misconceptions of physics. Even worse, however, was the total lack of problem solving skills or critical thinking. This has to be one of the worse aspects of the current education system, that students are no longer made to think critically.

I think the science education in the K12 system is pretty awful; I think a lot of teachers aren't qualified to teach hard sciences. At the very least, to teach a science one should possess a degree in that science. Of course, that's easy to say, but it brings us to the macroscopic subject of the thread, namely the lack of qualified physics (and I think science in general) teachers.

And on this, I'm not sure how we can resolve the issue. I only know that it is imperative that we do.

(On another note, one of the best classes I took in high school was a Pre-AP Biology class. The teacher was extremely knowledgeable on the subject (shockingly she actually had a master's degree in biology, and not something like a masters in education; she also was a part time lecturer at a nearby university) and was demanding of the students. But of more interest from a pedagogical side was a program she helped start whereby local high school teachers would do research in their subject in labs at that particular university over the summer. I think that it is a great idea, and should be more widespread. I'm not sure if the program survived; she ended up retiring after the school administration kept complaining that she made students work too hard and wanted her to tone down the course.)

*We couldn't have the horror of writing it as a function of time, could we?
</rant>
 P: 37 I'm lucky in that I have pretty good students and most of the parents care and like I said before, the administration is supportive. I really hate this idea the students have that the homework problems should be the same test questions. They start whining and literally crying on test day because they've "never seen this stuff before". They also think they are entitled to a review sheet with the exact problems that will be on the test. I try to structure the assessments so if they do the homework and try, they can make a C. If they can apply some of what they learn they can make a B and to get an A+, they need to be able to do some higher level thinking and apply previous knowledge. Sorry but I had to vent because it was another round of test whining. Plus, it's mid-April and some of them are acting like they've never heard of vectors or the relationship between velocity and acceleration. Thanks for the gravity magnet, jhae; that was funny.
 P: 2 In second grade, my son was being taught the states of matter; solid, liquid, gas. One day at a bookstore, he happened upon an Encyclopedia of Science. Paging through, he stopped and ran to me across the store exclaiming that there was a FOURTH state of matter - Plasma! It was, in his mind, the best state because it occurs so rarely and the conditions have to be just right. We were both thrilled at his "new" discovery. I had him write down some details of his discovery to show his teacher. He is dyslexic, and although this was just emerging, his dysgraphia made his effort difficult. Still, I encouraged him, and he took his paper bouncing on his feet to school in anticipation of sharing this great news. The teacher's response? "We won't be studying that here, you'll learn about it in a few years." That was the first time this teacher crushed his enthusiasm for science and exploration. The second time, the class was told to make Mother's Day cards. He drew himself and I on the moon happily waving (I was in the pink space suit). His teacher took the card, told him is wasn't acceptable, had him throw it away and try again. To my everlasting joy, he retrieved the card and gave it to me anyway because, "I knew you'd understand mom, and like it." Just two examples. Kids can learn so much more than they are offered. We chose to home school. We found pattern cut-outs of T4 Bacteriophages online from a Colorado University for a science class. We printed and constructed the project and he learned all about DNA, proteins, cells cycles...age 8. His IQ was tested at only about 128 so he wasn't necessarily "gifted", but innately curious. He also needed psycho-therapy due to the cruelty of teachers who not only did not catch signs of a learning disorder, but punished him because he could read as fast as others, complete assignments as quickly, or write in cursive. Physics, mathematics, reasoning, learning to learn conceptually or differently begins in elementary school and often before. You cannot alleviate the shortage of "qualified" physics teachers without thinking back to how they 'germinate' and then construct a system that nurtures curiosity.
 P: 32 Get the government to pay for my house/petrol/food/bills/uni fees, then you have 1 more high school physics teacher in the making! Sorry must have fell asleep for a second there :)
 P: 2 Sorry, a bit of a rant as well coming from the student/parent perspective. So many caveats to teaching and learning. Still I believe children can be fascinated by seemingly complex ideas at very young ages - and that is where we must start.
 P: 37 Regarding the Mother's Day card -- unless the teacher gave specific instructions that he didn't follow, what the teacher did was awful. Even if he didn't follow the teacher's instructions, a teacher should never crumple up a students work and throw it in the trash. That whole incident sounds bizarre. Regarding the 4th state of matter -- I usually have an in depth discussion about plasma, ionizing gasses and electron configuration with the high school physics students. They ask why they haven't been taught this before; all the other teachers say is just plasma is the 4th state of matter. My standard answer is most teachers generally don't understand what a plasma is. I know students don't have the best memory but I really believe it's just mentioned and not explained. Having said all that, it is difficult to cover what the state mandates to cover and prepare the students for the standardized tests and wedge additional material in. It's hard to fight the urge to go to the depth you think they really need and cover additional topics that you know the students should know and will need to know if they plan to study science in college. This is made even more difficult by the number of instructional days lost to merely administer in the standardized tests. We lost 18 instructional days due to testing this year and next year will be the same. We had an in-service a couple of months ago and it included some motivational type speaker that actually said "what's wrong with teaching to the test?" "Get rid of all the extra stuff you think the kids need to know and just teach them what they need to know for the test." After I made sure he wasn't being sarcastic, I asked what about higher level thinking, problem solving and teaching the students to be independent thinkers. He ducked the question and I realized what ever we paid him, we were being robbed. I pretty much tuned him out after that and started thinking about some labs i could do on electricity. @EMFSmith-- more money would be a step in the right direction.
 P: 1 When I taught High school, even in year 7 I would teach that there are 3 main states of matter, but there are more. Gifted classes I would get them to do research projects on Plasma and B-E condensates. Kids loved it, sure a lot of regurgitation, but they got the basics out, found uses of plasma etc. Plasma is the *MOST* common form of matter (I look up at the flurolights and the sun/stars in the distance). I talk about super liquids etc and explain that science is still trying to work stuff out and depending on your definition there could be lot more states (eg colloids, corn flower and water prac and much fun). Low(est) ability classes got the 3 states and “theres some other stuff too” and were happy with that. Those interested in science took it as an opportunity to research something interesting (in both the highest and the lowest ability). But gee didn’t my kids do poorly when asked in a test how many states of matter are there. I should have just taught three. Punish my students and their interest in knowledge. * Physics is harder to teach than most other subjects concepts of science, maths of an advanced maths course, pracs and ordering like a cooking/chem/metalwork, often fabrication of equipment (no equipment because why buy physics stuff when we have 3 bio classes), most physics course also include a history or writing component (at least in Australia), essay writing, prac marking etc. * There’s also generally no one to learn how to teach off as most of the experience Physics teachers have left and most schools were lucky to get one. Make all your own lessons, worksheets, solutions, pracs, websites, computer tutorials etc etc etc. Most other subjects two or more teachers teach, so they can share the workload of writing assessments or what not. * Also as the Physics teacher your generally the go to person. Because of your maths, the physical education teachers pretending to teach maths come to you, the science teachers come to you to understand physics in the junior course, you understand about computers so you should look after that too. A woodwork teacher is teaching “engineering” so you can help him with that. Why don’t you run the gifted student committee, the it group, etc etc. Newton help you if you actually let on your good at teaching, by the end I was a student year advisor, GAT, student leadership coordinator, basketball coach etc. Hey and because you have just started teaching you get the lowest rate of pay!! * Promotions are limited because you teach physics. I wasn’t accredited to teach maths (ha!), and there was a maths coordinator position, but I can’t be retrained to teach maths (or coordinate maths!), who would teach the physics (most senior positions come with reduced teaching load). So instead the sewing teacher gets retrained, fails the course and theres still no one to run it, so they get someone less able. Your locked in for life, you were born and will die a physics teacher, never able to teach anything else (come on, just a little chem now and then to keep my hand in the game? Maybe some maths so I can see how that course relates to physics). * You end up fighting everything on your own. I wanted to have an astronomy night, it was a luna eclipse, perfect early in the evening. Do you think I could get any to support me?? HA! I basically said I will open the school will bolt cutters and have it anyway at which point the head of science came on board. People genuinely though it wasn’t going to happen (apparently lots of teachers get burnt with that “Mars bigger than the moon” email). The school executive is in the dark ages. I was youngish so what would I know. Great night, about 500 members of the public, my own telescopes, clear night, Jupiter and Saturn were up as well with mars a bit later. Total eclipse lasting minutes bathing everything in red light, epic experience for some of the youngings. School runs an article on it (after the event), but invented a fictional teacher so I couldn’t claim credit for it (blocking me using as a reference). Meanwhile a sports teacher wants to have an ultimate frizzbie comp, here have hours to organise it, time off to run it and the full support of the school. They also get support from other schools and the dam frizzbee manufacturer. Photos in the local paper (pushed by the school)... Overworked, underpaid, no promotion prospects, no equipment, an outcast all alone surrounded by poorly retrained staff(in the region). Did the only thing, walked into a university and got double the money, 1/3 of the teaching hours, no lunch supervision duties and a budget bigger than my schools (I don’t even have a Phd), I even get a ½ day once a week. University had the same thing, they struggled to find anyone *ANYONE* who was capable of teaching the 1st/2nd year harder physics and engineering subjects. Despite the money and the sweet offers. (Largest city in Australia 5 million people top 3 nicest cities in the world). So it’s not just about money, there are just not enough Physics wizards left in the kingdom. There are no wizards to inspire/train other wizards. Those masquerading as wizards are poisoning it for everyone. Read Issac Asimovs “The feeling of Power” (short story). It is getting very close to that level with physics (lets be honest, maths isn’t too far behind). Sure those on Terminus are surrounded by Physicists and such, but its all dying, it will just take longer to reach the core..
 P: 5 Hi all, another problem is that if you apply as a high school physics teacher, you may only teach physics as a small percentage of the total teaching load. The other 90% of your load (say) could be teaching some area your not familiar with such as biology etc. Thats what can happen in Australia for example
P: 5
 Quote by zodea I realize this thread has been going on forever, but I would like to make a couple of comments. I teach high school physics. I doubt that I'm really considered qualified. After I have taught physics a few more years I might be getting close. One of my biggest complaints is lack of student friendly materials. Let's say I want my students to do some additional practice on motion graphs. If I spend some time searching the Internet for potential worksheets/practice problems I might come up with 2-5 things that might possibly work with my students. However, if I want to find something to help my biology students practice identifying parts of a cell and their functions (or any other biology topic) I will easily finds 100's of things that could be useful and it will take me much less time. So if you want to make physics teachers "better" supply them with the necessary materials. I would seriously like to see some honest to goodness drill and practice sheets for physics. The materials that come with the text books are not what I need. They often only have one or two of each type of problem and if students need extra reinforcement it's not there. Even if you have a "qualified" physics teacher, they probably get fed up with creating all their own materials and leave for something else. I'm to the point I'd rather teach any other subject than physics because there is so much more support for the other subjects. But I'm basically stuck teaching physics because I am the only teacher in my school who has the certification. Zodea
I agree!

 Related Discussions Educators & Teaching 10 Educators & Teaching 2 General Discussion 8 Academic Guidance 8 Academic Guidance 5