Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools?

  1. Nov 29, 2009 #1
    Of all the complaints that I hear about when the topic of public school teaching is being discussed , the subtopic that always seems to come up is the lack of qualified science teachers that are teaching in public high schools, especially physics teachers. What can be done to address this pertinent problem, I mean besides firing unqualified teachers and hiring qualified teachers? Some say that the best science teachers are drawn away from teaching because of the more lucrative jobs in the job market that offer higher pay than teaching. But I would argue that some teachers who do have a BA or a higher degree in a science like physics or biochemistry should not be teaching if they are only interested in their subtopic and not interested in teaching the introductory material to their students, just like their are some college professors who have no business teaching and should devote their full time to research if that what they love to do. That being said, I suppose the best thing to do to address this problem is to hire teachers who not only specialize in the subject that they are teaching , but higher teachers who are gifted or worked very hard to present the material in a manner where the non-specialist has a full understanding of the subjects that they are teaching. What are some of your suggestions to address this problem or even do some of you even see a problem with how science is being taught generally in high schools?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2009 #2

    whs

    User Avatar

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    Who says its a problem? Sounds to me like you are just hearing people complain.
     
  4. Nov 29, 2009 #3

    Chi Meson

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    By gum there is a problem.

    I only have a Bachelor's in Physics, and I think that makes me a better high school teacher than if I had stuck it out for a Master's. It was hard enough getting my head down to the High School level after undergrad. If I had gone post-grad, It would have taken me even further from this level.

    But even with a Bachelor's, I could have started at much higher salary almost anywhere else. I decided to teach mainly because the summer vacations were worth much more than the $30,000. It was a no brainer to me, but evidently I am considered the "odd one."

    If you want better science teachers, we will have to pay them more or give them other incentives. We have a deficit of physics teachers in general; only 44% of all physics teachers have any form of degree in physics (and this includes a "minor in physics education"; this was printed in last February's Physics Today) and only about 2/3 of America's High Schools even offer Physics.

    Why should teachers be considered to be a mutant breed of humanity that does their job jot for money but merely for the good feeling one gets when educating America's youth? Why should the law of supply and demand take a holiday?

    Every elementary school should have a physical science specialist for each grade. Every high school should have a Physics teacher with a degree in physics. In my own school there is the "other guy" who has repetedly demonstrated that he doesn't know what he is doing. He teaches his Honors Physics class like a middle school IPS class "Let's discover the characteristics of waves on our own by playing with slinkys in the hall for 45 minutes!" (And the slinkys come back mangled and overstretched!)

    Anyway, if you know what you need and you can't find any takers, then the offer isn't good enough.
     
  5. Nov 29, 2009 #4

    whs

    User Avatar

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    I am confused with these statements.

    How was it hard getting your head down to high school level? High school level physics would hopefully come naturally after 4 years of study...

    And why do high school physics teachers need a degree in physics? My high school physics teacher was excellent, and she didn't have a physics degree, or a physics minor. She even gave me extra studying materials to get me prepared for college, even though I didn't major in physics.

    Who says teachers are considered mutant breeds of humanity?! You must be one very disgruntled person..

    It would be nice if physics was offered in more high schools, if that number has any truth to it.

    But when I went through school, hardly anyone cared about actually learning, and those that did sure didn't need a physics major to learn physics, they could do it on their own. All we needed was a teacher that could spark some sort of interest in the material, and my teachers accomplished that.
     
  6. Nov 29, 2009 #5

    D H

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    The math and the physics in high school physics are markedly and painfully simplistic. Those with a bachelor's degree in physics, let alone an advanced degree, would have to dumb themselves down to a high school level to be able to teach it. That is not an easy task.
     
  7. Nov 29, 2009 #6

    whs

    User Avatar

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    Oh really? So tell me, you get your BS in physics and you are off to teach High school. What steps would you take to dumb yourself down? Go out drinking for a few months? Hit up starbucks and tediously try to understand a lack of details? There is no such thing as 'dumbing yourself down'. Its an excuse people make that either can't teach, or don't understand these concepts.

    I find it hilarious that someone who CHOSE to teach would find it difficult to teach very simple concepts that were a part of the degree itself.

    My math degree doesn't hinder me in the least from teaching simple concepts. More proof that I am brilliant I suppose..
     
  8. Nov 29, 2009 #7
    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    Well math isn't physics first off. With your degree in math how would you explain to a person with no prior experience to how to calculate the max. amount of area a certain amount of fence? Not just show them what to do but give them and understanding of everything being done.
     
  9. Nov 29, 2009 #8

    turbo

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    Our next-door neighbors in our last house were a math teacher and a general elementary teacher. They made 'way more money than the average citizens of the town (Maine is a poor state with low wages), and they had summers off to vacation with their 3 kids. They had a slide-in camper for their truck when we moved into the neighborhood, and upgraded to larger camping trailers over the years. They put their kids though college, did home improvements, and bought new vehicles ever 4-5 years or so. Teachers are not impoverished up here - they are living pretty well as long as they don't live beyond their means, and they get really great health-care coverage and retirement benefits AND summers off with their kids. Pretty sweet deal. We have some pretty well-qualified teachers because of that. An old friend of mine teaches special education at the regional junior-high/HS, and she has a masters from Penn State. Pretty sharp lady.
     
  10. Nov 29, 2009 #9

    Chi Meson

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    I certainly wouldn't call it "dumbing yourself down," but it is difficult to find several ways of explaining a concept to several different people when you yourself never had any difficulty with that concept.

    Tell me, where do you teach?
     
  11. Nov 29, 2009 #10

    whs

    User Avatar

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    Ah OK, but D H said math OR physics, hence I replied with an example in math.

    I'm not sure what you are trying to ask me with your hypothetical situation. Are you trying to get me to say I will need to dumb myself down and I'll be able to perform the task? Do you want me to say it will be simple? Impossible? What happens if we get nuked mid learning session?

    "Give them and understanding of everything being done" : Not sure what you mean by this.

    So 'Sorry!' are you saying you wouldn't be able to teach high school physics after a BS in college without 'dumbing' yourself down? (Whatever that means..)
     
  12. Nov 29, 2009 #11

    Chi Meson

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    Wow, you make a lot of assumptions! And it's clear that you are not a teacher, either.
     
  13. Nov 29, 2009 #12
    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    In addition, I believe there are less liabilities and headaches relative to working in private sectors (high/good paid jobs)... I guess?
     
  14. Nov 29, 2009 #13

    whs

    User Avatar

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    I'm sorry for your difficulty. I find when I don't have trouble with a concept, I can easily find many different ways to explain it. Whatever.

    Back on topic...

    Does anyone have any evidence that there are too many unqualified science teachers? Or is the subject of science just getting a back seat to something else?

    My very narrow observations show well qualified teachers, some without degrees in physics, chem etc..

    I think this is an interesting topic that I also hear a lot about. I'm sorry that I have upset some people here. Geez.
     
  15. Nov 29, 2009 #14

    lisab

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    You're trolling. Are you just upset at the term "dumbing down"?

    Fact is, there is a *wide* gulf between physics learned in high school (where the students are still learning the basics of algebra) and in college (where most of the upper division classes use multi-variable calculus, Dirac notation, etc).
     
  16. Nov 29, 2009 #15

    whs

    User Avatar

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    Huh? Where was all the assumptions? Are you calling my personal experiences in high school assumptions? Did you read your own post? I was repeating your assumptions, questioning them, followed by personal experience..

    I see why you have trouble teaching..
     
  17. Nov 29, 2009 #16

    turbo

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    I taught adults in industrial settings, and it was a bear of a job. Many of the people in my classes were poorly-educated and functionally illiterate. They had worked their way up through the ranks, often with only on-the-job peer-to-peer training, and their employers would hire me to develop and deliver training programs as retirements and illnesses thinned their ranks. Bear in mind that my specialty was pulp and paper, and the power boilers, chemical recovery boilers and associated systems were generally operating at 600-900 psi. Pretty dangerous stuff to trust to operators with only spotty OTJ training, so my contracts were mostly driven by the mills' insurance companies. They wanted documented, certified training. The employees often were put off by the notion that somebody from 1000 miles away could come in and teach them more about their mills and teach them how to be better at their jobs. Hard to win them over, sometimes. I had to write and teach an electrical safety program to electrical-department supervisors for DuPont after too many of their staff took early retirement in the 80's. They lost a lot of talent and experience due to that mis-cue.

    I would have loved to have taught in a school program in which I had some confidence in the base of knowledge that each class had established in earlier grades. I took some education courses in college in anticipation of just that, after switching from engineering to liberal arts in mid-course. Life intervened, and I wound up working in construction, and then as a chemist in pulp and paper. I like to think that I would have been a good HS teacher and a decent motivator for kids.
     
  18. Nov 29, 2009 #17
    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    I've never understood how high school teachers complained about their pay. The average salary for a teacher is something like $45,000 for 8 months work. That seems quite reasonable considering the vast majority of teachers don't even have undergraduate degrees in the topic they're teaching (for example most physics teacher could not do any actual form of physics or engineering in industry). And of course there are people who get into teaching because they love it however it has been my experience that those are the precious few. With exception of 2 people, every person I knew who went to teacher's college went because they weren't eligible for grad school (failed too many courses) and they didn't like their odds at getting an industry job either. It was sort of the "drop-out" track for physics grads (excepting of course those precious few who always wanted to become teachers).
     
  19. Nov 29, 2009 #18

    whs

    User Avatar

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    Did I say otherwise somewhere? Why would be upset at that term? I never brought it up in the first place? I am really sorry I upset everyone in this off topic debate. I can see I'm not welcome here.

    Dare I question anyone. I am apparently a lying troll.
     
  20. Nov 29, 2009 #19

    D H

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    *You* are the one who brought the thread off-topic. You are welcome here, but if you want the welcome mat to stay in place I suggest you lose the chip in your shoulder.
     
  21. Nov 29, 2009 #20

    mgb_phys

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    In the UK the IoP claim that 25% of schools have no science teachers. (*)

    As a result almost all state funded schools don't teach separate science, they teach general science instead. The big advantage of this is that it's easy and it counts as 2 courses.
    So if you have a student in general science who gets an A (which >50% of students do since it's mostly reading comprehension) that counts the same as a student getting an A in both physics and chemistry (must less likely) as far as school performance tables and funding goes.
    The more students you can put through easy courses, the more funding you get - the last thing you want is students gambling next years budget by taking hard science classes.
    Would you want to be physics teacher if your job is based on how many stuents you can get through the easiest exams?

    It's even worse in languages, since they stopped being compulsory almost all schools have dropped them - it's hard to guarantee an A in a foreign language
    * - its worse than that sounds, the education dept 'science subjects' also include design and technology, information and communications technology, business studies, graphics, textiles and food technology.
     
  22. Nov 29, 2009 #21
    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    I never said anything about dumbing anything down but based on what I've seen of people who take math throughout university to get a degree in math they are extremely talented in the subject. I would love to see you try and teach someone with no prior understanding how to do such a problem from the basics up.
    I tutor math and science (biology/physics) and sometimes it is VERY hard to try and help someone understand something that came so easily to yourself... the higher up in degree you achieve the easier the simple stuff would seem that you probably lose sight of the very basics and how important they were in your own understanding. As well, all the things that you learnt at the advanced level would serve you no purpose what-so-ever in a high school classroom (unless of course you want to teach them something they might find interesting on the side which my physics teacher did quite often) This is what I think Chi was trying to get at before, nothing about 'dumbing' yourself down. As well making sure they understand everything means you can't just tell someone "ok now put that over there and type it in the calculator and then divide your answer by this" You have to explain WHY they are doing everything else they will not gain an understanding to be able to do it on their own just as confidently as you can do it.

    I never had the problem in question with science teachers going through high-school. To teach senior level sciences at my school you had to have a degree in your field. So grade 12 university biology teacher had to have a degree in biology. At the lower levels while I was in them our science teachers had degrees in varying science fields but after I was in grade 12 I noticed that we had lost a lot of those teachers and the lower level sciences were being taught by the gym teachers who had credentials in teaching 'core' subjects...

    My grade 11/12 physics teacher had a masters he worked for as a meteorologist or something to that effect but had to work on military bases and move around a lot. He told us how surprised he was that he had gained all that knowledge throughout university and it was pretty much useless in the real world. So he decided to settle down and teach physics instead and try to help other people to make it through university (he was really good at helping prepare for university).
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2009
  23. Nov 29, 2009 #22

    Chi Meson

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    Since you asked, here are the assumptions I was referring to:
    High school physics does come naturally to me, as it did from my first class; that's why it is challenging to find a way to explain concepts to people for whom it does not come naturally to. And the four years of college physics were way above the level of high school, so when teaching the basics, there is not much use for the months I spent on quantum.

    I am actually quite not.

    Even if this is a verified fact in your school, it is not the general case. I have many students who are very interested in learning.

    while some can learn on their own, most can't or haven't yet learned how to.
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2009
  24. Nov 29, 2009 #23

    turbo

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    Some people are born teachers - can't help it. My neighbors' daughter moved back in with them after a nasty divorce and she has daughters that are 4 and 6. When we visit each other, I teach them life sciences (what birds and animals live here, which birds can survive Maine winters, how beneficial and pest insects live here and can be controlled, etc). The younger girl loves rocks, and I teach her the names of the minerals in the "interesting" rocks that she collects, and her grandfather has started taking her to mineral shows, and buying her inexpensive hand-samples. I show the girls my astro-photographs and try to explain them how big and far away some things are. When the neighbor on the far side of the neighbor with the kids shot a deer this fall, he asked me to gut out his buck (he is squeamish), and I let my neighbor with the g-kids know. By the time I got there with my knives, he was there with his daughter and grand-kids, and as I gutted and cleaned out the deer, we gave them an anatomy lesson. A 5-minute job turned into a 15-20 minute lesson, but the girls loved it, so that was fine. They know that the heart resides between the lobes of the lungs, and the function of each, what the liver does, what the intestines do, etc. When they get to HS biology class and are required to dissect specimens, they will not only have a head-start on their class-mates - they will charge right in.
     
  25. Nov 29, 2009 #24

    Chi Meson

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    This is actually quite true, in my experience (except it's at least 9 months work, and teachers in high school are now required by NCLB to have a degree or 30 sem hours in their subject area (and that had already been the law in CT before that, and perhaps only South Carolina is still deficient), and the numbers are slightly more than "precious few," at least in these parts). Where was I...

    I am quite embarrassed over my pay, currently, with so many of my friends taking cuts or outright losing their jobs in the past year. I try to make sure that my effort is worth it. In addition to teaching, I coach our school's FIRST Robotics Team. This is an extra 10 to 30 hours a week, depending the season. Not only am I not paid for it, I've spent over a grand of my own money so far for the cause.

    The general notion that you mention ("the drop out track") was prevalent when I was in college. I remember us joking around during 2nd and 3rd year: "Man, if I can't get this, I'll end up teaching high school! Noooooooooooooooo!"

    I must admit, that it was clear during my first year that I was not PhD material. I simply could NOT buckle down to that kind of study regimen.

    Still, we have to get to a point where it is not considered a failure to have a science degree AND teach high school. And nothing speaks of "not a failure" as a good starting salary (hey, I'm being human here!).

    If we need more degreed science teachers (as is the general consensus, from educational groups, from the AAPT, from school administrations) then the offer of employment should be enticing. But as it is, a successful physics teacher who has been teaching for 10 years does not get any more compensation than the worst [pick any grade] teacher who spends their time playing computer solitaire while kids fill out worksheets.

    We had a chem teacher who did undergrad at MIT and got a Master's at Cal Tech. You simply do not accidentally do that! She taught AP/IB Chem, I had AP/IB Physics and together we ratcheted up the science curriculum at our school. She was selected teacher of the year for the whole district on only her fourth year at the school.

    Anyway, we lost her because there was an opening in her home town, shortening her commute to five minutes, and our school made no effort to keep her. It is "not done" around here to offer teachers any other form of incentive to stay on.

    So now, the AP/IB chem is being taught by a really nice guy who doesn't know the subject that well. Kids love his classes because they are so easy, and he shows a lot of episodes of CSI. But they aren't scoring very well on the AP and IB exams. The upside, is that my AP/IB class is a bit larger now, since the word going round is that "if you want to actually learn something, you gotta take Mr. C's class."

    Yes, that's right, I'm the teacher who is glad when he gets more students in his class. I think there was one other, but she retired.
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2009
  26. Nov 29, 2009 #25

    D H

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Re: why is their an oversaturation of unqualified science teachers in US high schools

    That terminology is mine. What I meant by that is that to teach high school physics, one must learn how to do so without resorting to multidimensional calculus (and calculus in general!), operator notation, Einstein sum notation, abstract geometry, Noether's theorem, ... To get a bachelor's degree in physics one has to learn Maxwell's equations three times over, and the first freshman physics form is over the heads of high school physics students.

    [thread=357929]Here is a recent thread[/thread] on this forum where a high school physics teacher has done a disservice.
     
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook