If you have any desire to be a math or science teacher in California, there is no shortage of programs to help you achieve that goal.
In an effort to lure more people to the profession, the California Department of Education, California State University, the University of California and nonprofits such as 100Kin10 have all created programs to entice college students and mid-career professionals – especially those in the math and science fields – to become teachers.
100Kin10 organized 30 of its partners to collectively develop a web site, “Blow Minds: Teach STEM,” that connects undergraduates with teacher preparation programs in the so-called STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. And college campuses are plastered with “Teach Math!” and “Teach Science!” posters aimed not just at those majoring in math and science, but students interested in social justice as well.
Even NASA has gotten involved. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has given California State University $2.5 million in grants over the past six years to link teachers with NASA field research, as a way to encourage young scientists to pursue teaching.
Loan forgiveness and scholarships are available for those pursuing math and science teaching credentials, and another program, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, helps laid-off teachers start over as math and science instructors.
A California Department of Education website offers a step-by-step guide to becoming a teacher in California, complete with personal career plans, profiles of inspirational teachers and news about community college programs and financial aid.
Another website, www.cateachercorps.org, offers information about California’s 100-plus alternative teacher credential programs for professionals looking to change careers.
All this effort has paid off, at least a little. Cal State saw its math and science teacher graduates double since 2002, even though the overall number of people entering its credential programs has declined. In 2002-03, Cal State produced only 750 math and science teachers but in 2014-15 graduated 1,504.
Still, the shortage remains dire, and the number of math and science teachers without full credentials continues to climb. According to a February report by the Learning Policy Institute and the California Commission on Teaching Credentialing, 16 percent – or 1,646 – of the temporary credentials issued in 2015-16 were for math, science and engineering teachers. By comparison, only 181 art teachers had temporary credentials, and 200 Spanish teachers. Only one dance teacher had a temporary credential.
In all, California has about 300,000 K-12 teachers, and about 12 percent have single-subject math and science credentials to teach in high schools and middle schools. (Elementary teachers also teach math and science, but have multiple-subject credentials, not single-subject, so they’re not counted in the 12 percent.)
Teachers enrolled in intern credential programs receive intense training for several weeks before taking over a classroom. They continue to attend evening, weekend and summer teacher preparation classes for about two years until they receive their preliminary credential. For many aspiring teachers, these programs – which allow teachers to get paid while still enrolled in a credentialing program – are the only way to launch their education careers without going into debt.
So considering the math and science teacher shortage, should California continue to expand these programs? Should the state remove even more barriers to becoming a teacher?
The answer, according to Talia Milgrom-Elcott at 100Kin10, is no.
“There’s a long-standing desire to get people with expertise in a particular subject, like STEM, into the classroom even if they don’t have credentials,” she said. “But there’s an expertise in teaching that’s not at all related to the subject area. You need an ability to connect with kids, make a lesson plan, manage a classroom. You can’t learn those things managing a tech company.”
Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, assistant vice chancellor of teacher education and public school programs at California State University, agreed.
“To be a good teacher, you need to have knowledge of the content as well as the pedagogy,” she said. “Just because someone is really steeped in engineering, for example, doesn’t mean they can teach engineering. You need to know how to manage a classroom, how to make sure students are actually learning.”
Lowering teacher-training standards isn’t a long-term solution, but simplifying the process and lowering the cost of training would help, according to a 2016 report by the Learning Policy Institute. Among the report’s other recommendations: higher salaries, especially for teachers at high-needs schools; housing incentives, loan forgiveness and scholarships both for initial teacher training and ongoing professional development; fewer barriers for teachers who move to new districts or across state lines; earlier hiring processes, so schools have fall staff rosters in place by the previous spring; and surveys of teachers to find out what they need, why they’d consider quitting and how the administration can better support them.