March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Raising the Prestige of Teaching STEM

Posted: Friday, May 20th, 2016

by Lisa Hegdahl

What makes a career prestigious?  Is it the power it wields? The number of people it impacts? The required number years of training? The amount of the monthly paycheck? According to dictionary.com, prestige is defined as:

“…reputation or influence arising from success, achievement, rank, or other favorable attributes.”

Space Shuttle Independence Houston Space Center Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

Space Shuttle Independence
Houston Space Center Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

At the Houston Space Center, control site for 17 Apollo missions, 275 representatives gathered for the 5th Annual 100Kin10 Partner Summit to explore the question of how to continue to go above and beyond in taking on the grand challenges of training and retaining great STEM teachers.   One of those challenges is identified as –  “teaching lacks prestige and is not widely perceived as a top career choice for STEM graduates”.  Small group sessions allowed partners to examine the issue from a variety of perspectives and experiences.

What is 100Kin10?

In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama “announced a national goal to prepare 100,000 new teachers in science, technology, engineering, and math over the next decade.”

100Kin10 is an expanding network of more than 230 partner organizations, each taking on a piece of work to contribute to the goal of 100,000 excellent STEM teachers.  CSTA became a member in 2013 joining the nation’s top academic institutions, nonprofits, foundations, companies, and government agencies, among others, that contribute to the goal by recruiting stronger STEM teachers, transforming how STEM teachers are hired, supported, and developed, or changing policy, sharing the STEM story with the wider world, and contributing funds towards the 100Kin10 goal.

STEM Teacher Image

Hegdahl2According to Zachary Levine of TEACH, there are several contributing factors to the current image of STEM teachers.  Most people believe that teachers primarily deliver instruction, administer quizzes, and assign homework.  However the STEM classroom of 2016 looks much different than the classrooms of our grandparents, parents, and even those of my 23 year old nephew.   The Next Generation of Science Standards, Common Core, and advancements in technology have transformed classrooms into problem solving and sense making environments that have in turn required changes in the role of STEM teachers and how they interact with their students.

Do these skills look familiar?

  • Public speaking that can captivate a room and inspire interest in any topic
  • Thinking on one’s feet and showing poise under pressure
  • Setting long term goals for people and then mapping out steps that lead to that goal
  • Motivating people and earning their trust
  • Analyzing data to drive decisions
  • Having an incredibly strong work ethic

Hegdahl3While teachers may readily recognize them as skills they use daily in their classrooms, it might be surprising to know that they are also skills developed at Stanford’s School of Business.  Turning the focus from what teachers do to the expertise needed to carry out the role of a teacher, is critical when attempting to update the image of STEM teaching.

Melanie Narish, a Talent Officer for Great Hearts Academies, believes there are three ways to increase STEM teacher prestige.

  1. Change the language about why we teach STEM –
    1. STEM teaching is a noble tradition that is not all about the answers, but about the questions.
    2. Teachers teach these subjects because the subjects are amazing. STEM content allows us to have awe of the world around us.
  2. Cultivate teachers who exude wonder and inquiry.
    1. Professional development should invigorate teachers as well as students.
  3. Veteran teachers should interact with college students who show an interest in STEM teaching.
    1. Determine which teachers would represent the profession well.
    2. Go out to the students and meet them in person.
    3. Share the true vision of the life of STEM teachers.
      1. Share the joy and nobility of the profession through stories.
      2. Have students reflect on what will make them happy in a lifelong profession.

100kin10The 100Kin10 organization identified the root causes of low STEM Teaching prestige as:

  • Insufficient incentives to join the profession
  • Cultural norms devalue teaching
  • Lack of diversity in the STEM teacher workforce
  • Poor teaching conditions
  • Lack of support and understanding from higher education

Although I participated in several discussions around this topic over the two day Summit, I would be dishonest if I said that we reached a consensus about the reasons for the lack of STEM teaching prestige or the next best course of action.  I did, however, receive a new awareness of the concerns of the larger 100Kin10 partnership around the issue and how it will affect the goal of cultivating 100,000 new STEM teachers in, now, five years.  CSTA is committed to the 100Kin10 goal and continues to move forward to promote high quality science instruction by highly skilled science teachers.

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is President for CSTA.

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The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

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Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.