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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION 3 Perspectives on Ph.D.s in Secondary School Science and Mathematics Education To complement the information we collected on the interest of Ph.D.s in secondary school education careers, we sought to learn from the experiences and perceptions of individuals already in the field on the opportunities and obstacles for Ph.D.s in secondary school education careers. First, we interviewed eighteen Ph.D.s working in secondary school education, mostly as secondary school teachers, but some in other positions. The object of these interviews was to examine how they made the transition to the secondary school environment, their challenges and successes, and their recommendations for how other Ph.D.s could contribute to secondary school education. We also interviewed five high school principals, three school district superintendents, and four state school officials. The high school principals included those in charge of regular public schools, as well as science and technology magnet schools. These administrators work in New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas, California, and Washington. The object of the interviews was to understand the perspectives of educators on the contributions Ph.D.s might be able to make in secondary school education and the conditions that might influence their success. We also interviewed five graduate deans to explore how graduate students might be better prepared for secondary school careers and to learn about opportunities for restructuring programs to support those who might seek this career option. In the course of our interviews, we encountered a number of stereotypes about science and mathematics Ph.D.s and the secondary school educational system. We also found some surprises about the experiences of those Ph.D.s who have taken positions in secondary school education and creative suggestions that could make secondary school positions more viable, fulfilling, and thus more attractive to scientists. Appendix A discusses our study methodology in detail, including our process for identifying those interviewed. Interview guides can be found in Appendix C. Detailed results of our interviews with Ph.D.s can be found in Appendix D and results of our interviews with administrators in Appendix E. The individuals we interviewed cannot be considered a representative sample, but the discussions raise many important issues and ideas that should be discussed further at the national workshop to be held in the spring of 2000 as part of the next phase of this project.
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION Ph.D.s in Secondary School Science and Mathematics Education In our discussions with science and mathematics Ph.D.s and administrators we sought to assess both perceptions and realities about the strengths and weaknesses of Ph.D.s in secondary school science and mathematics education generally and in secondary school science and mathematics teaching in particular. In general, we were struck by a pattern of perceptions among administrators about how Ph.D.s would fare in secondary school teaching. Administrators agreed that multiple obstacles keep a large number of Ph.D.s from considering positions in secondary school education. Almost all of the administrators cited low salaries as a one obstacle and the potential opposition of teacher unions to recruitment of Ph.D.s as another. Several believed that Ph.D.s would encounter difficulties with certain aspects of the secondary school teaching environment, like having to deal with bureaucracy, receiving little respect, having to discipline students, and working with students who say “why do I need to learn this?” High school and magnet school principals saw several additional drawbacks to science Ph.D.s in secondary school classrooms. First, they tended to see Ph.D.s as overspecialized and overprepared for teaching secondary school students. Along with district superintendents, they were also more likely than state officials and graduate deans to state that Ph.D.s needed educational coursework—and certification — before teaching. School administrators identified a number of strengths that Ph.D.s could bring to secondary school science and mathematics positions. They cited most often the content knowledge of the Ph.D. and argued that the experience of Ph.D.s in scientific inquiry provides them an important skill that they could bring to problem-based teaching. Those interviewed also cited the ability of Ph.D.s to assist in the implementation of national science and mathematics education standards. Administrators saw Ph.D.s as contributing organizationally as well. Both magnet and regular high school principals saw Ph.D.s as enhancing their schools' credibility and standing with accrediting bodies and as individuals who could obtain grant funding for school programs. Administrators also saw the potential for Ph.D.s to assist in building links between high schools, colleges, and universities. Some administrators suggested that Ph.D.s could bring a positive attitude and energy that would be valuable in the classroom. The Ph.D. teachers we spoke with claimed they were also more flexible in their teaching styles than other teachers. They saw themselves as less dependent on textbooks for exercises and more able to create challenging environments in the classroom through the variety of ways they could present material. Ph.D. teachers saw a role for others like themselves in problem-based inquiry learning programs. In their view, Ph.D.s excel as teachers in such programs because they know the content and can concentrate on the delivery and interpretation of data with the students. Frequently, teachers without Ph.D.s do not use this style of teaching because they are afraid to tell their students “I don't know” when they get unexpected results. Ph.D.s have significant experience in dealing with unexpected results and formulating new hypotheses. Two-thirds of the Ph.D. teachers believed that the future for Ph.D.s in science teaching was “good” to “very
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION 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. Ph.D. teachers offered the opinion that other Ph.D.s interested in secondary school teaching should volunteer in secondary schools both to help science teachers in inquiry-based learning and to obtain classroom experience. Which Ph.D.s? An important lesson learned from discussions with Ph.D.s working in secondary school education is that many generalizations about Ph.D.s are irrelevant to a discussion of how Ph.D.s might contribute to secondary schools. Most individuals who have pursued and obtained a Ph.D. degree in science or mathematics are specifically interested in research and, typically, have personalities suited to the research environment. But not everyone fits the stereotype of the laboratory scientist or abstracted mathematician. The majority of Ph.D.s in secondary school classrooms that we interviewed said they are content or very happy with their careers in secondary school education. A frequent comment was that they had found research isolating and were much happier in a job that required more interaction with people. Teaching appears to be a viable alternative for Ph.D. scientists with certain characteristics. First, they must enjoy interacting with others, and especially with students. The Ph.D.s we spoke with said they enjoyed working with school-age children and found that helping students learn and succeed is fulfilling. Second, those who succeed love teaching—the enjoyment of teaching outweighs its potential negatives, such as lower salaries than in other science and mathematics careers. An important piece of advice Ph.D. teachers had for those contemplating a career in secondary school education was to assess their own personalities to determine if they like working with people in a setting very different from the academic or industrial research environment. We discovered that lower salaries were less of an issue for the group of Ph.D.s we spoke to than expected. Many of the Ph.D.s who decided to pursue teaching careers had family or geographic restrictions related to their spouses' jobs. However, many were dependent on their spouses' income for a sense of financial security. Others were teaching while in “retirement” from previous jobs. Teaching was a “luxury” available to them because of these other sources of income. Finally, several Ph.D.s indicated that they felt that they were giving something back to their communities and that this, too, was rewarding. As one Ph.D. put it: “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, learn about the world, make sure they are not taken advantage of, and preserve the environment …those are all important things that you can address best with K-12 education.”
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION Preparation for Teaching High school and magnet school principals uniformly agreed that Ph.D.s would not be able to teach effectively without educational coursework. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows we spoke to in focus groups, however, perceived the process of taking education courses and obtaining teacher certification as major obstacles to becoming teachers. They saw little value in education courses, large costs in wages foregone in taking them, and the entire process as taking too much time. Science and mathematics Ph.D.s teaching in secondary schools offered what we believe are insights and suggestions about preparing Ph.D.s for teaching that may bridge the divide between the requirements of school systems on the one hand and the perceptions of graduate students and recent Ph.D.s on the other. Several science and mathematics Ph.D.s recommended that graduate students or recent Ph.D.s considering teaching should obtain certification even if they plan to work at a private school. They believe that there is value in psychology and pedagogy courses and noted that the teaching certificate provides one with a wider range of options. However, they argued that there should be an alternative certification process available for those with Ph.D.s in science and mathematics. This process should be accelerated and subsidized so that Ph.D.s could afford to do it during a summer prior to teaching or during a semester prior to the completion of their Ph.D.s. They also argued that the content of the teacher education courses that Ph.D.s would take should build on their experience and target their specific needs. Practical Aspects of the Transition to the Secondary School Environment We asked those we interviewed about the practical steps a graduate student or Ph.D. needs to take to move into a secondary school environment and found a consensus across all groups that anyone who is considering teaching as a career needs experience in a classroom with students. Ph.D. teachers strongly suggested that if a Ph.D. candidate is seriously interested in teaching, that person should volunteer in a classroom, substitute teach, or seek other means for obtaining classroom experience during graduate school, so as to make an informed career decision. They also argued it is important to have more opportunities like the National Science Foundation's National Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education program (popularly known as the GK-12 program), that supports graduate students who want to improve their teaching skills while finishing their Ph.D.s. Principals, superintendents, and graduate school deans agreed that Ph.D.s should have some experience with classrooms and students, especially while in graduate school. At least one individual within each group of administrators suggested Ph.D.s should be provided experience working in classrooms/schools during graduate school. In a similar vein, at least one individual within each group of administrators (except magnet school principals) indicated Ph.D.s should take educational coursework while pursuing their advanced degrees.
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION All of the administrators were uncertain whether graduate schools would be willing or able to support graduate students in the sciences who want to explore secondary school education—the typical response was “maybe.” Many administrators suggested that improved links between education schools and schools of arts and sciences (science and mathematics departments) within colleges and universities would improve science and mathematics teacher education. They argued that teacher preparation should include more subject matter courses. They also argued that faculty in arts and sciences underestimate the value education courses add for science and mathematics students considering teaching. We asked Ph.D. teachers what they encountered when they told others in the university environment that they had decided to pursue a secondary school teaching career and found that there had been a surprising amount of support for these individuals. One-third of the Ph.D.s did relate that their decisions were met with “total disbelief,” and several reported that others told them they would be wasting their education. One teacher related that a professor told her that “we are not training our students…to be high school teachers. We are investing $100,000 per student…they need to return that investment to the scientific community.” Another related that colleagues who saw her research career as progressing well asked her “why she wanted to stoop to high school teaching.” However, one-quarter said that their decisions to pursue a secondary school career were met with almost no reaction, and half of the Ph.D.s said that their mentors and colleagues were generally supportive. Several Ph.D.s indicated that changing careers is not as difficult as it is often perceived to be. One noted that the people who are “leaving science are not the ones who were bad scientists. Too many people stay 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 that they were failures in the eyes of their peers. These 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.” The Ph.D. teachers we talked to suggested that if, prior to getting the master's degree, graduate students realized that they dislike research and really want to teach, they should stop at the master 's degree and shift 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. 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!”
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION Ph.D.s in the Secondary School Work Environment Another common perception about Ph.D.s is that they would have trouble feeling at home in the secondary school work environment. Our conversations with Ph.D.s and administrators suggested that, to the extent this is a problem, creativity and resources could address these issues. There is a common misperception that Ph.D.s would not be made welcome by other secondary school teachers. Most of the Ph.D. teachers indicated that the Ph.D. was not an issue for their secondary school colleagues. A handful noted some initial resistance or caution among colleagues but that this evaporated once the Ph.D.s had proven themselves as good teachers. One Ph.D. acknowledged that if one comes across as “pontificating or bossy,” then having a Ph.D. would be a hindrance to forming good working relationships with others; another noted that personality does play an important role in forging relationships in the workplace and that “a Ph.D. who goes into teaching is not typically arrogant.” Similarly, Ph.D. teachers did not meet the level of resistance from school administrators that is commonly perceived to exist. Only about one-third of Ph.D.s said they had a difficult time in the job interviews convincing school administrators that they were serious about their desire to teach, and this was a real obstacle for them. One stated: “Most people don't trust Ph.D.s…they think 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. ” That individual encountered the sentiment that “why in the world would you take a Ph.D. and teach high school…you must be a failure.” Several Ph.D.s got their first positions only because the school districts that hired them had positions they could not fill. They noted that subsequent jobs were easier to land once they had proven they were committed to this career path. Moreover, one-third of the Ph.D. teachers also noted that once hired, their school administrators saw them as an asset and often noted publicly that they had a Ph.D. on staff. There is a common perception, particularly among administrators, that in order to attract Ph.D.s to secondary school teaching, changes need to be made to “make it interesting” for them and to support them. As we have already discussed, most Ph.D.s who pursue secondary school teaching are— and should be—individuals who love to teach and enjoy working with students first of all. Having said this, both Ph.D.s and administrators put forward a number of suggestions that should be seriously considered. They suggested that programs allowing Ph.D.s to engage in research during the summer months would benefit them personally and as teachers. One state official noted that programs already exist there that bring high school teachers into industrial laboratories during the summer months. Linking Ph.D. science teachers to these programs should be an important goal of any program designed to attract Ph.D.s to secondary school teaching. This could be beneficial in several ways: (1) Ph.D.s would continue to feel connected to scientific research, (2) they could bring their summer experiences back to their teaching during the school year, and (3) these opportunities
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION could potentially provide 12-month instead of 9-month employment for Ph.D.s and, therefore, higher overall salaries. The Ph.D. scientists made similar assertions. They encouraged the development of long term relationships between Ph.D. teachers and research laboratories (academic or industrial). Ph.D.s could return every summer to research laboratories for ten to twelve weeks to do research. They suggested that Ph.D.s could focus on a particular component of a research project; Ph.D.s would likely be of greater value than a high school, college or graduate student; and Ph.D.s would be more likely to return in subsequent summers. In addition, laboratory scientists with whom the Ph.D. teachers worked during the summer could be a potential resource during the school year for mentoring students or providing surplus laboratory supplies. In an interesting variation on this idea, one person recommended that cyclical industries such as petroleum and aerospace look into supporting their Ph.D. employees who want to get into secondary school teaching as a counter-cyclical measure. The individual suggested that if industry supported them, Ph.D.s could teach in secondary schools during periods of downturn in the industry cycle and provide a resource that can be rehired when the industrial cycle turns up again. In another variation on Ph.D. involvement in research, it is important to note that some Ph.D. teachers also engage in active research during the school year with their secondary school students. Such Ph.D.s often involve their students in community-based research, for example on local environmental issues. We noted in our interviews with science Ph.D.s that many pursue other professional activities besides research—perhaps more often than research. For example, while some did maintain research interests during the summer, others were engaged in producing teacher workshops, adapting computer programs to the high school setting, writing textbooks, reviewing grant applications for NSF and other foundation programs, or consulting. Other recommendations Ph.D.s made for improving the work environment for Ph.D.s teaching secondary school science and math were: providing better laboratory equipment; providing more infrastructure support (classrooms, facilities etc.); hiring science aides who could set up equipment and experiments for teachers; dealing with students who have discipline problems; providing for smaller class sizes; improving the quality of the teachers, especially those who “taught to the test” just to get pay raises; and having a mix of teachers with and without Ph.D.s in the schools, since each has strengths to bring to the classroom and they can complement each other.
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ATTRACTING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS PH.D.S TO SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION Finally, there were suggestions for the professional development of Ph.D. science and mathematics teachers. One Ph.D. who used to be vice president of a major university and is now a math teacher expressed interest in workshops offered for Ph.D.s who are teaching at the high school level. These workshops would concentrate on the substantive material and more on networking and discussion of ways to approach the material and develop effective communication with students. A state school official said that a program to bring science Ph.D.s to secondary school education and to support them in that environment should not just develop them as teachers, but also provide them an opportunity to become leaders in secondary school science and mathematics education in their states.
Representative terms from entire chapter: