Howard Voss, Chair
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Arizona State University
10 June 1998 House Hearing
Finding, Training and Keeping Good Teachers
I do not come with easy, quick solutions or even much in the way
of techniques; however I offer some comments as one who has had
a four-decade career as a high school teacher, university
teacher, teacher of teachers, and chair of a university
We will need to recruit about two million K-12 teachers by 2007
and almost all grade school teachers are science teachers. That
two million assumes that all recruited will stay in teaching.
History indicates otherwise. Since teachers are effectively
recruited while they are young, 2007 looks frighteningly near
given the decade or more pipeline. The task will be especially
hard because it is not acceptable to hire people to merely occupy
the front of the classrooms as we have too often in the past.
I am convinced that nothing short of societal changes will do.
We do not have campaigns to recruit lawyers, neurosurgeons, or
physics professors (anymore).
National leadership is essential as is strong leadership by the
higher education complex and by the professional and scientific
societies, with help from industry and business. Creating the
conditions for recruiting teachers is a shared responsibility.
In a previous hearing the most obvious cause was highlighted.
The CEO of a high-tech company bemoaned his need to spend $70,000
to make foreign engineers eligible to work in America. He
indicated that he could have hired an engineer with this money.
Well, his local school could probably have hired two or three
Here is a list of some other causes:
- Americans no longer hold teaching in high regard, contributing to
poor learning/teaching environments.
- In other fields, salaries rise to attract sufficient applicants.
In teaching we have too often simply lowered our standards.
- Many candidates are lost in elementary and high school when they
fail to take the courses, especially mathematics courses, that they
need for later work
- Now turn to some cures which we will call catching, keeping, and
converting. If keeping were spelled with a 'c' my points would be even
easier to remember.
We must make the profession attractive to the young people we want
teaching our children. Let me start a list:
- Elementary school science must be taught by people who have learned
science through experience and inquiry methods and who have learned
about science pedagogy.
- The most efficient recruiting engine we will ever have is the cadre
of enthusiastic, well-prepared high school science teachers.
- Colleges (including the two-year variety!) and universities must
make the undergraduate experience conducive to learning science, to
choosing teaching as a career, and making teacher preparation programs
exciting and effective.
Recruitment of teachers is hindered by exactly the kind of things
that cause teachers to leave the profession. Some suggestions:
- Teachers must be treated as the professionals they are.
Counter examples abound. I know. I was there.
- Teachers must be assigned to teach only courses for which
they have sufficient preparation.
- Science teachers must have real opportunities for
professional development and scientific education.
My experiences amply show that a good source of science teachers is
current and prospective non-science teachers willing to change fields.
We will need the help of:
- Colleges and departments of education - we science types need the
education types and they need us. We will likely recruit more science
teachers by collaboration with the colleges of education than any other
- University and four-year college science departments - these are
where the prospective teachers get their exposure to science and
mathematics, and catch the excitement of science.
- Collaboration between colleges of education, science departments,
and state certification officials can create paths into the profession
after a time in other parts of the work force.
- Two-year college science departments - universities can collaborate
with two-year colleges so that two-year college faculty can offer
courses (including needed credit) for practicing science teachers and
for non-science teachers who wish to become science teachers in the
- High school teachers - university and college professors can
collaborate with highly qualified high school science teachers who can
then offer courses for elementary teachers wishing to becoming science
- Professional and scientific societies: All have become interested
in the teacher recruitment problem. After all, science in the schools
is the other end of the pipeline that creates scientists.
I would like to remind you of my themes. Recruitment of good science
teachers on a sufficiently large scale only if:
- The esteem in which America holds the teaching profession rises to
a reasonable level.
- The preparation and professional development opportunities for science
teachers are raised to appropriate levels, and if
- Our resources (teachers and programs at ALL levels) are brought to
bear so as to produce the sort of leverage we need to deal with the huge
numbers, and if
- We remember that teaching is a communicable disease. It is caught
only from teachers.
Your comments and
suggestions are appreciated.
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