The best way to help K-12 students in science is to help science teachers!
We are all too familiar with the challenges of science teachers in primary and secondary education: Changing science standards on a national level, heavier emphasis on science curriculum from state and district levels, lack of proper materials, and inadequate or non-existent laboratory space. For more than a decade, these issues have been well-known, and well-documented. (Ingersoll, 2000) But for new science teachers who have quit their jobs, the echo in the dark seems to point—again and again— to leadership. But who’s listening?
“For new science teachers, it’s getting tougher to hang on,” says Charles Pearson, Retired Principal, and Coordinator of the Marygrove College Master in the Art of Teaching Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment program. “As the rigors of science instruction become greater, it places greater pressure on science teachers who typically need far more planning and prep time than other teachers to provide effective instruction.”
Dr. Pearson says there are things principals can and should do to help support The New Science Teacher. He directs colleagues to the New Science Teacher Academy for best practice in the field. Good science teachers are incredibly organized professionals, who must be creative and resourceful to get the job done. However, administrative leaders must allow them the time to get oriented to the subject matter. Protocols specific to science teaching should be in place before The New Science Teacher is hired.
What’s more, the research conducted in Supporting New Science Teachers: What School Leaders Can Do by Donna Sterling and Wendy Frazier from George Mason University outlines in detail what school leaders can do to offset a growing shortage of science teachers. Their recommendations are admittedly several years old, but bear repeating:
- Pay attention to working conditions. Hiring and assigning classes early helps teachers prepare before the start of school. Don’t wait until August, if you can help it. Give science teachers their own classroom; do not have them float between classrooms with a cart.
- Provide a supportive culture. Identify a person or team to provide new teachers with an orientation to the school, policies and procedures. Demonstrate the proper use and maintenance of science materials.
- Give in-class support. Designate a coach/mentor who also teaches/has taught science to be present in and out of the classroom. Perform experiments with new science teachers prior to use with students.
- Ensure quality training. Make sure you train the coaches and mentors as well as the teachers, for consistency. Partner with a local college or university that has course offerings to help new science teachers.
There are more and more indicators that teacher support is incredibly important. National education philanthropist The Wallace Foundation put out a lengthy report last year on effective principal leadership. Its findings point to supporting teachers well and “cultivating leadership in others” as central to being a great leader. The more support we give to our teachers, the better prepared our students will become.
So, principals, colleagues: keep doing what you can to encourage those brave new science teachers to hang in there. We’ll do what we can, too. Let us know what you think.
New to science teaching or teaching in general? Don’t miss our webinar The New Science Teacher: Tips and Tricks and Tips to Thrive in the Classroom. Register now, and be on top of your game for fall!