awareness by postsecondary science faculty members of their role as science teacher educators is to change their attitude toward K-12 teaching and the students who elect this critically important career path. However, students quickly learn that many science faculty view K-12 teaching as a poor career choice. In their study of current and former science, mathematics, and engineering majors, Seymour and Hewitt (1997) identified a subset who had considered becoming science or mathematics teachers, and tried to uncover some of the reasons they decided to pursue other careers. One student in the study lamented that “you’re pretty much looked down on as a high school chemistry teacher—I mean, there’s still that stigma. The first response would be that you couldn’t cut it in graduate school” (page 199).
There may be a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Some science faculty have become aware of their critical role in the effort to improve K-12 education and want to be more successful in preparing future science teachers. A significant impetus for this increased awareness has been the release of several national reports on undergraduate science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SME&T) education that emphasize the role of postsecondary education in the preparation of K-12 teachers (National Research Council, 1996a; National Science Foundation, 1996). Kuerbis and Micikas (1996) argue that, through collective action, postsecondary institutions, departments, and administrators must demonstrate that they value science teacher preparation. However, even if such recognition and acceptance of the importance of the undergraduate years in science teacher education were to be realized today, members of the postsecondary education community would still be uncertain about the pathways and strategies they might use to improve their efforts.
Despite the challenge and complexity of science teaching, there are several important ways that science faculty can make a substantial contribution to reform. Because future science teachers take many courses from faculty in science departments, these faculty members provide future science teachers with their most recent and prominent models of science teaching. Science faculty can be powerful influences on how future teachers understand and appreciate science by the ways in which they present their knowledge of science and the modes of investigation they employ to acquire new knowledge. Scientists also can shape prospective teachers’ understanding of the nature of science by involving them in research projects. Numerous opportunities for such activities already exist, including undergraduate research supplements to existing research grants, and science faculty should be encouraged and rewarded through NSF policies to consider preservice teachers for these research positions.
Concerns about promotion, tenure, and salary increases also may limit the extent to which faculty are willing to become involved in science teacher preparation. Many aspects of scholarship compete for faculty members’ time. Many science faculty and their departments and institutions equate scholarship with conducting original research within their disciplines and publishing their results in peer-reviewed journals. However, through critical analysis of one’s own teaching and the creation of new ways of helping students to learn, scholarship also extends into the realm of teaching. (Boyer, 1988). Administrators may say that the improvement of teaching “counts” in tenure and promotion decisions, but ultimately it is the value that faculty members place on teaching that gives it its prestige. External factors such as the availability of and competition for grant funds provide time for research and bring recognition for quality work. Through its grants for education, the NSF has the opportunity to bring added prestige, rewards, and other benefits to science faculty who make the scholarship of teaching a priority.