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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION Appendix D Interviews with Ph.D.s in K-12 Science and Mathematics Education To complement the survey of graduate students and recent Ph.D.s about their potential interest in K-12 education, we interviewed 18 Ph.D.s already working at the K-12 level to draw insights from their experiences about the opportunities for—and obstacles to—Ph.D.s in K-12 education careers. These interviews were conducted by telephone during the month of August 1999. NRC staff compiled a short list of Ph.D.s working in teaching or curriculum development positions and these individuals were contacted for an interview. At the end of each interview, we asked the individual being interviewed if he or she could think of someone else who would be suitable for interviewing. This “snowball ” sampling method yielded more than 32 names, of which 20 were available for interviews in the time allotted. Two of the 20 did not hold doctorates, so the total number of Ph.D.s interviewed was 18. In interviews typically lasting 35 to 50 minutes, we asked these individuals to talk about their experiences in K-12 education. We asked them to comment on what attracted them to secondary school teaching or to curriculum development. We asked them whether colleagues or mentors were supportive when they decided to enter K-12 education, to describe any barriers they encountered in taking K-12 education positions, and how they handled teacher certification. We also asked for the effects of financial or family considerations on their career paths. Individuals interviewed were asked to comment on their current work environment, their relationships with other faculty and administrators, and whether they were actively engaged in research. Finally, we asked them whether they were happy with their choice of a career working in K-12 education, what advice they would give a Ph.D. considering such a career, and what the prospects for such a career would be at this time. While the interviewer asked these specific questions, the interview was also conducted in such a manner as to encourage the interviewee to explore the reasons why they went into teaching and to discuss what were the most significant issues involving that career choice. Responses to specific questions are detailed below, followed by a section that summarizes the many ideas for improving the experience of Ph.D. teachers that were elicited from the interviews.
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION CHARACTERISTICS OF INDIVIDUALS INTERVIEWED Out of a list of 32 individuals working in K-12 science or mathematics education, 20 were contacted and 18 were found to hold a doctorate. Respondents were located in all regions of the country. The characteristics of these 18 individuals are as follows: Of the 18 Ph.D.s interviewed, 14 had received their Ph.D. prior to beginning a career in K-12 education and four received the doctorate after beginning such a career. Eight had held postdoctoral fellowships and 10 had not. Sixteen were teaching or had taught in secondary schools (2 with extensive experience) and two were working in curriculum development. Of the 16 teachers, 10 were still teaching, five had left teaching, and one had left and returned to it later. Eight of the 18 Ph.D.s interviewed were teaching or had taught at private/independent schools and three of the eight private schools were religious in orientation. Seven of the 18 had taught at the college or university level prior to entering the secondary education environment. Five of the 16 teachers earned their teaching certificate prior to completing their Ph.D., seven earned certification after completing the Ph.D., and four (all of whom were teaching in private schools) did not obtain teacher certification. The two individuals working in curriculum development also did not acquire teacher certification. The Ph.D.s were in a wide range of fields: biology/physiology (six); earth sciences/geology (four); mathematics (three); physics (two); biochemistry (two); and computer education (one). Ten were male and 8 were females. FOLLOWING A CAREER IN K-12 EDUCATION What attracted you to secondary school teaching? A common theme, cited by 10 respondents, was that they had gone into teaching because they loved teaching, enjoyed working with children, and enjoyed helping children succeed.
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION One respondent stated: “Sometimes I feel like a bull fighter: if you stand right in front of the bull [a.k.a. high school students] you will get squished; but if you point them in the right direction, they will take off and go right past you and keep going.” This was a very satisfying experience for him, to see the children learn how to learn. Respondents frequently had more than one reason for entering teaching, however, and there was a great variety in the responses: One Ph.D. teacher, who had been a university administrator for 20 years, stated that “Going into high school teaching meant he could go back to thinking almost full time about math and science. A chance to really learn the stuff that he thought he had learned a long time ago.” Several complained that they found research too isolating, and not suited to their characters because they were extroverted. Two mentioned that they had physical injuries that precluded them from continuing in the physically demanding arena of research. Three really didn't want to teach high school. Two felt it was necessary for career development since they ultimately wanted to return to college level teaching in curriculum development. One said it permitted him to do research in the summer months in his area of specialization. Several people referred to the feeling that they were giving something back to the community. One stated: “I'm not so excited about creating a billion scientists, but science literacy is something I really believe in, as an equalizer or way for people to take care of themselves, to learn about the world, and to make sure they are not taken advantage of, to preserve the environment…those are all important things that you can address best with K-12 education.” Were your colleagues or mentors supportive when you made your decision to enter into secondary school teaching? Did you meet with approval or disapproval? There were three common responses to this question: Eight reported that mentors and colleagues were generally supportive. The geologists who were turning to K-12 careers during a downturn in the oil industry found others to be especially supportive. One respondent indicated that her mentor was supportive of her decision. Six reported that the decision was met by “total disbelief,” mostly from colleagues at high profile research institutions. Several respondents reported that others told them they were wasting their education. One teacher claimed that a professor from her alma mater told her this year that “we are not training our students here to be high school teachers. We are investing $100,000 per student…they need to return that investment to the scientific community.” He did not thinking high school teaching was a return on that
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION investment. Another stated that colleagues “thought her career was going well in research/academia, so they didn 't understand why she wanted to stoop to high school teaching.” Four reported no reaction to their decision. Did you encounter any barriers to taking a secondary school teaching position? How did you overcome these barriers? Eight of the 18 Ph.D.s interviewed—six teachers and two in curriculum development—said there were no barriers whatsoever when they sought their K-12 education positions. Three of these six teachers were teaching in private schools. In both private and public institutions, the school administration was enthusiastic about their Ph.D.s, (almost like bragging rights) and the parents were very happy to have such qualified people in their children's classrooms. Eight teachers (three private, five public), however, stated that the teacher certification process was a real barrier to getting started. [See question #6 for more comments on this issue.] Five teachers (two private, three public) said they had a really hard time convincing the administration on their first job interviews that they were serious about their desire to teach. One stated: “Most people don't trust Ph.D.s…they think they won't be on the mark; that they won't be able to relate to other people, that they won't be a team member. Also a lot of people are afraid of being upstaged. ” Another thing he encountered on interviews was “why in the world would you take a Ph.D. and teach high school…you must be a failure.” Several of them were hired only because the school district was in a panic to find someone that year. Subsequent jobs were much easier to land, once they had proven they were committed to this career path. One stated that he couldn't teach in private schools in the South because of his religious persuasion, since most of the private schools in the South were of a religious orientation. One person in curriculum development was worried about her career path because she had never taught in secondary science classrooms, but was responsible for organizing the volunteer program at a nearby university and preparing science kits. She wondered just how far she could go without the teaching experience. To what extent did financial considerations have an effect on your decision to enter into secondary school teaching? A striking finding from this question is the number of respondents who said they couldn't have chosen the teaching profession unless they had sufficient family income so they didn't have to worry about their salaries: seven said they had their spouses' financial support, and five had saved funds (retirement, stocks) from a previous career. One person stated that it was “the risk of whether she would like it or not that was more of a consideration than the
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION financial considerations.” Another stated that she felt more secure in secondary education than in college or university settings because she was not dependent on grants, etc. Another stated it was the working conditions (long hours, lack of laboratory support) and lack of prestige, not the lack of pay, that was driving teachers away. Except for respondents from Washington and New York State, in most cases low salaries were an area of concern. In Washington, the Ph.D.s are paid by the state, not the school district, so they can be paid more without dipping into the school districts' resources. In New York, one teacher with 20 years experience and several published textbooks said he was making more than $90,000 for 9-months work, hence he was making more as a teacher than a researcher would be making. Two said that salary wasn't a consideration, they were just glad to have a job. To what extent did family considerations have an effect on your decision to enter into secondary school teaching? There were three general responses to this question: Four respondents didn't have children, or the children were grown up, so family considerations were not an issue. One mentioned if he had children, he wouldn't have been able to stay in the teaching profession because he would have needed more money. Eight said that having more time with their children (mostly summers, but also after school hours) was a benefit, but not the only reason they chose this profession. One woman stated that “doing something you like becomes more important when you have to be separated from your child to do it.” Another said 99.9 percent of the reason he went into teaching, was “so that I could spend more time with my family. My research colleagues were married to their jobs.” Another woman stated that “the women scientists that were successful were not people that she wanted to emulate.” She was told her “best strategy as a female scientist is to marry someone rich so you won't have to worry about paying for [dawn-night] childcare.” Nine said that they were faced with geographic restrictions due to family issues (spouse's job or custody issues) so they were constrained to find a job that they would like within a narrow geographic focus. An additional two people mentioned they had specifically chosen to teach in private rather than public schools so that they could get a tuition break for their children at that school. How did you obtain teacher certification? Was this the typical way teachers are certified in your state or was this an alternative certification process? What alternative certification processes are available in your state? Did your state (and/or the State Department of Education) provide you any assistance or pose any obstacles in getting you certified? If yes, how.
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION Five of the 16 Ph.D. teachers received their teaching certificates while undergraduate students. Two took education classes for the certificate while teaching at a college. Three took summer/evening classes while teaching at an independent school or teaching at a local community college. One was able to convince the university to let her do the certification via independent study, since she was faculty there and was teaching in two of the three required courses. One person took off an entire year to get a master's in Education. He estimated it cost him over $20,000 (tuition, lost income) to go this route. Six did not get certification (four taught at independent schools, two were in program development). Ten people complained about the teacher certification process, noting most frequently that the teacher education classes were useless (eight), or near to useless (two). One noted a course that included instruction on how to use a transparency machine. At the same time several of the teachers with certification felt that it was a good idea to at least learn how children think and learn, or to do some supervised student teaching where they got constructive feedback. The repeating theme was that just knowing the material was not sufficient to be able to teach it well. One person stated “If I went in there with what I thought was teaching, no way would it have worked in middle schools.” Another private school teacher stated “it is a big mistake that private schools don't require certification.” His [teacher education] program was abysmal, but it did make him think about teaching and learning about alternate ways to present the material. Many felt that an accelerated, or boot camp, approach to teacher certification would have been sufficient, while others said 6–10 weeks was not sufficient. One respondent stated: “it is a feasible option to speed up the teacher certification process. [It] may not be ideal, but you can't expect someone who spent years and years getting a Ph.D. to be willing to spend three semesters to get their teaching certificate. ” Some mentioned that the cost was a substantial barrier in those states that didn't have an accelerated program, as there was both tuition and lost salary to consider. Aid from the states was non-existent or very limited. Emergency or probationary certificates were the only things mentioned as possible aid from the state. WORKING IN K-12 EDUCATION CAREERS Would you please describe the school in which you are currently teaching? Eight were teaching or had taught in private schools, ten were in public schools, and two were in curriculum development. The private schools were either college-preparatory (five) or religious (three) in nature, and were typically less than 500 students in the secondary education division. The public schools ranged in size from 500-2000 students. The number of courses taught in either private or public schools per day did not seem to be significantly different between the two school types (four to five courses each), but the class
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION sizes were definitely smaller in the private (mostly less than 22 students/class) than in the public (high 20's) schools. Teachers at private schools were not required to coach or do cafeteria duty. About the same number of teachers (four private vs. three public) mentioned teaching honors classes at their schools, but only the public school teachers mentioned teaching remedial courses (two). One Math Ph.D. said he preferred teaching the remedial classes. Seven had left teaching in high schools, but all felt they were still teaching, albeit in a nontraditional environment: three taught educational workshops at research institutions, one is now teaching at a community college, one is preparing science kits for statewide distribution, one is coordinating teacher education program at major research university, and one has returned to teaching after doing well in the stock market. What are your relationships with other faculty and with the administration like? Are there other Ph.D.s teaching at the school? Eleven interviewees felt that their holding a Ph.D. was not an issue in the high school or curriculum development setting, though four mentioned there was some initial resistance or caution amongst the colleagues, until they had proven themselves as good teachers. One stated: “If anything, [the Ph.D.] might be a hindrance. You know all this stuff, and if you share it, you may come across as pontificating, or being bossy. Got to keep your mouth shut and do it.” Another noted that personality does play a big part in this issue, and that “a Ph.D. that goes into teaching is not typically arrogant.” Five said school administrators loved to brag about the number of Ph.D.s they had on staff. In one case, the respondent was the only Ph.D. among 150 teachers. In public schools, respondents were frequently the only Ph.D. science teachers on staff, although there would usually be some Ed. D. administrators. At private schools, other Ph.D. colleagues would be more likely. Are you still engaged in research? The majority of people interviewed said they were not doing traditional research-like activities (11), while four people said they were maintaining their research interests during the summer. One person deliberately chose teaching so that he could do research in the summers. He stated: “There are a lot of high school teachers that live and breathe high school 12 months of the year, but I am just not interested in that. Frankly, I spend 9 months of the year with 14- and 15-year olds, and I am not interested in spending my summer months with them too ”. This same person later stated, “If you are not looking at maintaining the research end, they [Ph.D. teachers] would have to reconcile why they want to do high school teaching with the time and effort to get the Ph.D. If they can't reconcile this, they might have to face problems with dissatisfaction later. ”
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION One had gone back to full-time research at a research institute, but was now also producing teacher education workshops there. Instead of pursuing research, many respondents were engaged in other professional activities. Six (four at private schools) were actively involved in producing teacher workshops. Three were writing textbooks (two were at private schools). In addition, individuals from private schools could be found to be reviewing grants for NSF or other funding associations (three), adapting computer programs to the high school setting (two), or doing private consulting (two). Several people said they believed research was too isolating for them—so much so that they couldn't continue in this field. Are you happy with your choice to become a secondary school teacher? The majority of the people interviewed appeared to be happy or very happy with their choice. They stated that they really enjoyed watching students learn (nine) or teaching a particular subject (five). One specifically stated, “When I teach, the greatest satisfaction is seeing the creativity of the kids, the way they approach problem solving, it is the ‘ah-hahs '; they thought of something that I didn't even think about…that is fun.” Two also mentioned they enjoyed forming long-term relationships with the kids. Five of the teachers in the private school setting volunteered that they were “very happy” with their choice. Public school teachers never said they were unhappy, but only one made the statement about being “very happy.” Another teacher noted that teaching was a creative process, that one never does the same thing twice. Another stated, “I believe [public school education] is where we should be putting our very best people. The kids with the greatest needs need the greatest teachers.” There was very little overlap in the responses to the question about sources of frustration with teaching. Some of the statements made were: Bureaucracy and politics, and culture of adversity between administration and the teachers made the work environment frustrating (eight). One teacher said, “The worst part was being treated like an employee, in the category of a servant…no independence… no prestige.” Another (who had been in university administration for 20 years) said that he was dismayed by the number of high school administrators who were more concerned with “getting the trains to run on time” than trying new approaches to old problems. Two teachers, both in public schools, said discipline is a problem. The poor socioeconomic condition of the students was a source of concern. One person was quite depressed about this and said: “Education is an insurmountable problem. There is just no way…these kids are going to be able to learn this, they are not going to have good lives.” Because of the turmoil in the students' lives, the teacher had to be flexible and be able to adjust to surrounding situations rapidly.
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION Other problem areas included: (1) lack of high standards for the students or teachers, (2) lack of prestige, (3) rigid schedule with long hours, and (4) lack of help with laboratory classes. It was somewhat surprising that only one person complained about lack of equipment or poor facilities (at a public school). PROSPECTS FOR RECENT PH.D.S ENTERING CAREERS IN K-12 EDUCATION What advice would you give to a science/math Ph.D. who is considering secondary school teaching? One overwhelming response was that it was essential for the candidate to get some high school teaching experience, either as a volunteer or as part of a certification process (13). Another piece of advice was for potential K-12 teachers to assess their personality, to determine if they are the types of persons who like working with people, in a cooperative setting, which is very different from the research environment (three). Eight respondents suggested that if graduate students were already past the master's level, and close to getting the Ph.D. that they should finish the Ph.D.—it would open some doors for you in the future. However, the Ph.D. didn't always make you a better teacher. If you knew before you got the master's that you wanted to teach rather than do research, one person suggested you stop at the master's level and jump right into teaching. One noted the people “that are leaving science are not the ones that were bad scientists. Too many people are staying around because they don't have a clue as to what else they can do.” In the same vein, another (who had returned to full time research) noted: “I am not afraid of switching careers…I will try teaching again if I get bored with the work at the [research] institute. It is really hard to change careers the first time, but after that it is no big deal.” One respondent noted there was a group of graduate students at a major research university who felt like they were failures in the eyes of their peers. The students “found research is cold and impersonal, but didn't know how to break through without starving to death. I just said do it, have some faith in themselves. After all, they have half the battle taken care of: they know the content, they have time to focus on their people skills”. Several recommended that all K-12 teachers should get certified, even if they plan to work at a private school. Having the certificate would give them more options and there is some value in the psychology/pedagogy courses. Two said not to do it unless you were sure it was a viable option, not to pursue teaching just because you didn't like research. You had to love teaching to put up with the low pay and long hours.
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION When asked whether he was glad he had finished the Ph.D., one teacher said, “I was really glad to have done the intense work, so I could concentrate on the teaching and model being a scientist. You can afford to have fun!” Another piece of advice to future Ph.D. teachers was: “Don't try to get a full-time job right away; having three different preps in the first year is overwhelming, and as a Ph.D., you tend to be too thorough…and try to avoid teaching at the ‘bad' schools where you also have discipline problems to juggle. Take a step back and give yourself a chance to excel”. What do you think about the future of secondary school science teaching? What future do you envision for science and mathematics doctorates entering into secondary school teaching? Twelve believed that the future for science teaching was “good” to “very good,” especially in light of the new science curriculum reform movement. They felt more teachers were needed in this area, and they had to be better trained. They provided several recommendations that they thought would make the experience even better. Specifically, the teachers recommended that the secondary school system: Have better equipment in the labs; Have more infrastructure support (classrooms, facilities, etc.); Solve discipline problems; Avoid using fads in teaching style; Have smaller class sizes; Improve the quality of the teachers, especially those who “taught to the test” just to get pay raises; and Have a mix in the schools, of those with Ph.D.s and those without. Each has strengths to bring to the classroom, and can complement each other. DISCUSSION The majority of people interviewed were content or very happy with choosing a career in K-12 education. A frequent comment was that they had found research isolating and that they were much happier in a job that required interaction with other people. However, they also emphasized that you had to love teaching to put up with the long hours and low pay. Teaching appeared to be a viable alternative to many faced with the two-career dilemma. Many of the respondents had made the decision to go into teaching due to family or geographic restrictions related to the spouse's job. The flip side of this coin, as revealed by subsequent probing, is that many are dependent on their spouses' income for a sense of financial security. While interviewees they were not asked about retirement benefits, and others were actually teaching now while in “retirement” from previous jobs. Teaching is a “luxury” available to them because of these other sources of income.
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION The respondents were positive about the future for Ph.D. science teachers, seeing it as a growth field, but were also concerned by the lack of quality people in the “pipeline.” Again, the issue of bright people finding “easier” jobs for more pay was mentioned. The respondents asserted that the Ph.D. was a valuable tool in their teaching experience. The Ph.D. teachers claimed to be more flexible in their teaching styles. That is, they were not dependent on the textbook for exercises and were able to create more challenging environments in the classroom because of the variety of ways they could present the material. These Ph.D. teachers seemed ideally suited to develop laboratory exercises for the new problem-based, inquiry learning methodology that is currently in vogue. If a Ph.D. candidate knows that s/he is seriously interested in teaching that person should volunteer, substitute teach, or find some other way to get into the classroom during graduate school so as to make an informed decision. If, prior to getting the master's degree, the graduate students realize they disliked research and really want to teach, many suggested to stop at the master's and jump into teaching right away. For individuals who already have the master's degree, however, interviewees recommended that they complete the Ph.D. because it would help open some doors in the future. Teacher certification, as it exists today in many states, is a major barrier to Ph.D.s considering public middle or high school teaching careers. SUGGESTIONS FOR FACILITATING K-12 EDUCATION CAREERS FOR PH.D.S The following ideas emerged from the interviews as ways to encourage Ph.D.s to go into secondary education: There is a need to involve the Ph.D. teachers in problem-based inquiry learning programs. Ph.D.s may excel as teachers in such programs, because they know the content and can concentrate on the delivery and interpretation of the data with the students. Frequently, teachers without Ph.D.s are afraid to use this style of teaching because they are afraid to tell their students “I don't know” when they get unexpected results. This is the nature of science: lots of unexpected results. Ph.D.s have significant experience with dealing with unexpected results and formulating new hypotheses. Ph.D.s interested in secondary education teaching could volunteer to help science teachers during these exercises, providing a knowledgeable resource and, in return, getting experience in the classroom. Encourage Ph.D. teachers and research laboratories to develop long-term relationships. Ph.D.s would return every summer to research laboratories for 10+ weeks to do research. These are highly qualified people who could be very focused on a particular component of a research project. They would be likely to be of more value than a high school, college or graduate student, and they would be more likely to return in subsequent summers. In addition, laboratory scientists with whom the Ph.D. teachers work during the summer could
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION be a potential resource during the school year for student mentoring students or providing surplus laboratory supplies. There is a need for more opportunities like the NSF GK-12 fellowship program that supports graduate students who want to improve their teaching skills while finishing their Ph.D.s. Develop a “science teacher aid” career path within school systems. These aides could help set up laboratory experiments and provide an extra pair of knowledgeable hands during the class. This would provide an alternative to other technical careers such as working as a laboratory technician in the biotechnology research. Such positions would probably only require an associate's degree to be qualified and aides could potentially be hired at a relativity low cost to the school districts. Improve the quality of the teacher education classes required for certification. As a corollary to item 5, an accelerated certification process should be available for Ph.D.s, preferably subsidized so that they could afford to do it during a summer or semester term prior to completing their Ph.D. and having to make a career decision. States should be encouraged to take responsibility for teacher salaries, especially Ph.D.s, rather than individual school districts. This would equalize the quality of teachers across the state, and would remove any barriers to hiring a Ph.D. within a school district. Washington State has such a plan. Recommend that petroleum and aerospace industries look into supporting their Ph.D. employees who want to get into secondary education teaching. Some sort of subsidized program could be offered during periods of downturn in the industry cycle. This would keep the Ph.D. teachers in the industry programs (usually the ones giving short courses, etc.) in the geographic area, but would provide a resource that can be rehired when the economy booms again. One Ph.D. (who used to be vice president of a major university and is now a math teacher in an independent school) would really like to see workshops offered only for Ph.D.s who were teaching science at the high school level. He wanted less concentration on the material, and more networking and discussion of ways of approaching the material and effective communication with the students.
Representative terms from entire chapter: