Printer Friendly

Finding future teachers from among undergraduate science and mathematics majors.

Messrs. Gafney and Weiner describe the 'Become a Teacher' Program at City College of the City University of New York a program that has far-reaching implications with regard to recruiting and nurturing future teachers.

It is no secret that the number of teachers qualified to teach secondary science and mathematics falls far short of the nation's need. This short-fall means that secondary school instruction leaves many students unprepared to study science and mathematics in college. They are thus prevented from considering careers that require expertise in these disciplines.(1) Virtually every year, another study or international test shows students from the United States scoring below students from various other nations, particularly in science and mathematics.(2)

Those who want to address the need for science and mathematics teachers must answer a number of questions. How are they to find young people with an aptitude for and interest in these disciplines? Can teaching be recommended as a satisfying career? How can preparation in the disciplines be joined with the appropriate education courses and preteaching experiences?

City College of the City University of New York has developed a program that answers, at least partially, these and some related questions. The program is not complicated, and yet it has far-reaching implications, particularly with regard to recruiting and nurturing future teachers.

The 'Become a Teacher' Program

In the summer of 1990 City College received a National Science Foundation grant to recruit and train future teachers of science and mathematics. The Become a Teacher Program, jointly sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Education, began in the fall of 1990. The program has a number of special features. First, it makes an effort to recruit from New York's public high schools. The program director and a recruiter contact counselors, make presentations at the schools, follow up with phone calls and mailings to candidates, and hold open houses at City College. At the open houses the director and others describe the program and point out to the students that, in this rapidly changing world, it is wise to consider several different careers.

The recruiter and the director also contact students who are already enrolled or about to be enrolled in City College and are majoring in the various areas of science and math, telling them about the program and suggesting that they consider teaching as a career. Students majoring in biology or chemistry, for example, are told that they can broaden their horizons by pursuing both a degree in their major and professional certification in secondary science education, a field in which there is a shortage.

A second feature of the program is the inclusion of several special support structures. There are seminars that inform students about state certification requirements for science and math teachers and that bring in speakers with specialized knowledge of public education. Tutoring is available to those who need academic help, while some of the more advanced students in the program are paid to tutor in other programs sponsored by City College.

A third component of the program is a strong problem-solving approach to the teaching of science and mathematics. This approach is conveyed through a special introductory science course, through intensive problem-solving calculus and chemistry courses, and through professional courses in teaching science and math. The education courses reflect the recent recommendations for these disciplines, especially as spelled out in Science for All Americans, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in the standards developed and published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.(3)

The First Year

The program evolved in an unexpected way. Efforts to recruit from area high schools met with little success. But students already enrolled at City College signed on in significant numbers. This development had not been anticipated, and so the program had to adapt to the students. Some of the students entering the program were freshmen, but others were ready to begin taking their education courses, and some were almost ready to begin student teaching.

Interviews with students during the first year of the program uncovered a variety of reasons for their interest in teaching. One student had been an engineering major for two years but found that she liked mathematics courses much more than those in engineering. Consequently she did not look forward to an engineering career. She liked helping other students with their assignments, and so, when she read the information about becoming a teacher, she decided to enter the program.

Several students were enrolled in the pre-med program but were not sure that they would be accepted into medical school or thought that they would like to teach for several years before entering medical school. Other students had never thought about teaching because it had never before been presented to them as a profession with stature and standing. Through the program, they realized that teaching secondary school science or mathematics was important and could be very satisfying.

Student Profiles

One of the evaluation goals in the second year of the program was to gather more detailed data about the students and their interest in teaching. For freshmen and sophomores, the Become a Teacher Program does not require an extra commitment of time or coursework beyond the requirements of their majors. Students simply indicate interest, attend relevant seminars, and keep in touch with the program director. Nonetheless, entering the program is a significant step for these students because it starts them thinking about a career in education. Juniors and seniors in the program take the appropriate education courses and do their student teaching.

In October 1991 there were 28 students in the program. By the spring of 1992 a few had left the program and a number of others had joined, making a total of about 50 students for the academic year. Thirty-six of the students in the program were surveyed by means of a written questionnaire, and each respondent was subsequently interviewed. Of these 36, 13 had earned fewer than 20 credits, 11 had earned more than 20 credits but were not yet taking education courses, and 12 had begun taking education courses. A large number of the students joining the program were mature, bringing useful life experiences to their teacher training. The median age of the students surveyed was 23. Six students were 30 or older, 14 were between 23 and 29, and 16 were 22 or younger.

Of the students surveyed, 89% stated that their favorite subject in high school had been mathematics or one of the sciences; 72% said that the subject in which they attained their best grades was math or science. These figures are not surprising but do indicate that these interested students were on the right track in selecting science and math as areas of concentration.

In response to a question about what careers seemed most appealing to them at the time, 31% of the students listed teaching first, 61% listed a career related to math or science, and 3% listed an unrelated career. (Five percent did not respond to the question.) Thirty-six percent listed teaching as their second choice, and 14% listed it as third choice. Thus 81% of the students named teaching as one of three career choices. These numbers do not indicate a strong tendency to choose teaching first, but they are consistent with the program goal that teaching should at least be considered as an option.

Another question asked, "In your estimation, how likely is it that you will become a teacher, at least for a few years?" Choices for answers included 1) not likely; 2) possible; 3) likely; and 4) very likely. None of the students answered "not likely," and only seven indicated "possible"; 29 (81%) indicated that it was "likely" or "very likely" that they would teach, at least for a time.

Students were asked whether they had already acquired any teaching experience. Only seven students (27%) answered no. Twenty-one students (58%) had tutored or done some classroom teaching. Six students (15%) had actually taught either part time or outside the United States.

It was interesting to note that, of the seven students who said it was only possible that they would become teachers, five indicated that they had no teaching or tutoring experience. Thus there appears to be a connection between previous exposure to teaching and the likelihood of entering a teaching career.

By establishing a four-point scale for the responses to the question about previous teaching experience and a similar scale for the likelihood-of-teaching item, it was possible to do a linear regression analysis. As a linear relationship, the correlation coefficient is 0.53. In other words, those who have the most direct experience with teaching are also the most positive about becoming teachers. This result may not be surprising, but neither is it axiomatic, especially in view of the disillusionment experienced by some young teachers.

To a question about how their special interests and personalities might help them as teachers, students generally responded that they had the ability to relate well with people and enjoyed guiding others in the learning process. These characteristics are certainly a good basis for entering the teaching profession, and attracting students with a helping instinct was one of the original goals of the program. The students' self-descriptions contrast with the stereotype of the scientist as one who is primarily concerned with "things" and equations rather than with people.

Student Reaction to the Program

Student reaction to the program has been universally positive. When they were asked what the program meant to them, students listed a wide variety of benefits they felt the program offered: help in getting started, a friendly welcome to a complex college, a boost in confidence, help getting into a good chemistry class, tuition assistance, exploration of career options, personal interest from faculty members in general and from the director of the program in particular, the opportunity to combine several career areas. and information about course requirements and what it takes to become a teacher. The student responses to this open-ended question covered most of the objectives and priorities of the program.

Students were also thoroughly positive about courses taken in the College of Education. When interviewed, a number of students mentioned the importance of the courses dealing with teaching strategies in science and mathematics and the value of the inquiry approaches that were used. They also liked being in class with practicing teachers who brought a perspective based on classroom experience. Comments about courses in learning theory, supervised case studies, and psychology were also positive.

It appears that one reason for the positive reaction to the program is that its objectives, its requirements, and the support it offers are all purposeful. That is, none of the requirements is viewed as being artificial. Each course and experience in the program has a reason for being. In addition, the students themselves, as a group, are mature and reflective. They are in this program because they want to be.

Program Impact

The experience of the first participant to enter the classroom provides interesting and useful insights into the program and how it might affect public schools. She was a chemistry major with a great deal of enthusiasm for science, for teaching, and for young people. After obtaining her B.S. in chemistry, she began student teaching in bilingual science classes at a New York City junior high. The teacher with whom she worked was very helpful but was ill-prepared to teach science. At the end of a month, the student teacher was hired to replace her cooperating teacher in the science classes.

Will the teachers from the City College program make a difference? Every time a teacher who is well-trained in science or mathematics replaces one who lacks the requisite abilities, education takes a step in the right direction. Dedicated, knowledgeable teachers are required to improve science and mathematics education.

How does the Become a Teacher Program relate to current educational issues? The voices of school reform are calling for changes in the way time and space are used, for learning that is more active and student-centered, and for greater attention to analytic and synthetic thinking as opposed to memorization and basic comprehension. These are laudable goals, but they cannot be achieved without qualified teachers in the classroom. Teachers who are thoroughly trained and confident in their disciplines will also be more effective in evaluating new programs and tailoring them to suit their needs.

Teacher Preparation and the Public Schools

Marilyn Cochran-Smith has identified types of relationships that can develop between a teacher preparation program and a school system.(4) In the relationship she characterizes as "critical dissonance," beginning teachers and their university mentors make radical critiques of the system and look for alternatives. These teachers find little or no common ground with the public schools. They are fundamentally dissatisfied and see nothing short of a thorough overhaul as the solution. The Teach For America program seems to fall into this camp.(5) This program recruits college graduates to teach for a few years in public schools. The recruits are generally bright and dedicated. But the program has sometimes taken an adversarial position toward public school systems.

A second type of relationship is characterized by what Cochran-Smith calls "collaborative resonance." Here the new teacher, supported by the university and armed with analytical skills, is able to evaluate reform strategies. But this teacher sees the school system as an ally rather than a foe. Experienced schoolpeople, new teachers, and faculty members from the university join in a process of collaborative inquiry, changing what must be changed while preserving what should be preserved. The City College program falls into this category. The science and math professors want to prepare future teachers who understand their disciplines and related problem-solving techniques. The education professors encourage active, inquiry-based learning that will stimulate and challenge students. Everyone involved in the program wants to work with the New York City schools to effect change - in the classroom and in the system - in a cooperative way.

An Untapped Resource

In the fall of 1992, the Become a Teacher Program had six student teachers. All of them were teaching in a middle school and were thoroughly enthusiastic about the experience. When interviewed, they said that they had learned a great deal about young people, about school structures, and about themselves as beginning teachers. Several said that they hoped to be part of the improvement of "our present education system." One hopes to earn a doctorate in curriculum development. Two hope to go to medical school in a few years. All were pleased with the help they received from their cooperating teachers and from the faculty of the Become a Teacher Program. In general, these student teachers are positive and optimistic about themselves, their abilities, and what they can do in a public school setting. Just a few years ago, they were not even thinking about careers in teaching.

We cannot say what is the best approach to school reform. But if you are looking for future teachers of science and mathematics, start looking close to home. You will find them in your local college or university, majoring in one of the sciences or in mathematics. These college students are bright and academically able. You may be surprised at how attentively they listen when you talk to them about teaching.

1. Ernest L. Boyer, High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1988); and Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century (New York: Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, 1986).

2. Harold W. Stevenson, "Learning from Asian Schools," Scientific American. December 1992, pp. 70-76. 3. Science for All Americans: A Project 2061 Report on Literacy Goals in Science, Mathematics, and Technology (Washington, D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1989); and NCTM Commission on Teaching Standards for School Mathematics, Curriculum and Education Standards for School Mathematics (Reston, Va.: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989).

4. Marilyn Cochran-Smith, "Reinventing Student Teaching," Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 42, 1991, pp. 104-18.

5. Marcella Spruce, "The Youthful Arrogance of Teach For America," New York Times, 9 July 1990, p. A-17; and Susan Chira, "For Freshman Teacher Corps, a Sobering Year," New York Times, 26 June 1991, p. A-1.

LEO GAFNEY, a former mathematics teacher and junior high school principal, is an education consultant in Lakeville, Conn., and project evaluator for the Become a Teacher Program. MICHAEL WEINER is a professor of chemistry at City College of CUNY and principal investigator for the Become a Teacher Program.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Phi Delta Kappa, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Gafney, Leo; Weiner, Michael
Publication:Phi Delta Kappan
Date:Apr 1, 1995
Previous Article:A thematic approach: theory and practice at the Aleknagik School.
Next Article:Teacher accountability.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |