Occupations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related fields are some of the fastest growing and best paid in the world. The STEM workforce is broad and complex, and it touches every aspect of our economy. Even many non-STEM jobs require technical proficiency, such as basic software skills. With the growing need for these skills in both technical and non-technical occupations, it is more important now than ever to ensure that students are properly prepared to succeed in these fields. One of the most important components of students’ success in these subjects is high-quality science and math teachers, but finding, recruiting, and retaining these teachers is one of the greatest challenges our nation faces today.
Most people can recall at least one teacher who was able to motivate students and build interest in a subject. This usually requires a teacher who challenges the class to use critical thinking and is able to relate the concepts of the lesson to real world experiences. Such high-quality teaching can have lasting effects on students. Educators who are able to provide a solid STEM foundation through well-rounded curriculum and engaging classroom activities may help spark an interest in STEM at an early age that can last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, there is an extreme lack of trained and qualified science and math teachers in the U.S. It is estimated that over 1 million teachers move in and out of schools annually, and between 40 and 50 percent quit within five years. Of the active teachers, roughly 30 percent of chemistry and physics teachers in public high schools did not major in these fields and have not earned a certificate to teach those subjects, and more than two thirds of middle school math teachers are not qualified to teach the subject. If a teacher lacks the knowledge and capabilities required to teach a subject, it can be difficult for students to understand the concept, likely resulting in a loss of confidence and interest in that field.
State and federal policymakers have made efforts in recent years to create programs that help recruit and prepare effective STEM teachers, but this is a challenging undertaking. President Obama’s 100Kin10 coalition unites the nation’s top academic institutions, nonprofits, foundations, companies, and government agencies to train and retain 100,000 excellent STEM teachers within the decade. Already, more than 150 foundations, companies, and others have come together to lead 100Kin10, raising over $30 million, but there is still a long way to go, and a successful program demands that leaders from every sector take action and spread the word.
Additionally, state legislators such as Rep. Dwayne Bohac and Rep. Bobby Guerra of Texas have introduced bills recognizing the importance of certification and professional development for public school teachers, but these programs need to extend beyond the subject of computer science to provide training, professional development, and mentorships in all STEM fields.
Elected officials, business leaders, and educators must continue working together to provide STEM teachers and prospective teachers with the tools they need to successfully teach STEM subjects and motivate students to follow career paths in these fields. Students need teachers who are capable and knowledgeable, so it is critical that we work together to create programs that attract, train, and retain talented math and science teachers. If we are able to improve the quality of STEM education in the U.S., our students will be better prepared for the workforce, and the ability of the U.S. to compete in a 21st Century technology-intensive, global economy will be strengthened.
Written by Kathleen van Keppel