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Educating Educators is an Important Part of STEM Success
By John Freeman Posted:September 27, 2013 0 Comments
For the last decade, many people have striven to close the STEM education gap in America. However, while some progress has been made, many metrics still show that students are not gaining the proficiency in science and mathematics that will make them competitive in the modern information workforce. While community organizations, nonprofit foundations, and education experts have all proposed and implemented various reforms and extracurricular functions to help get students back on track, others are focusing their efforts on teachers. By giving teachers better resources and STEM education, they can in turn better pass on this knowledge to the students they educate.

One primary method for teacher education is being revamped while teachers are still in school. Special grants like the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship hope to attract individuals that have prior experience and education in the STEM fields into becoming K-12 teachers in the American public school system. These recruitment efforts hope to channel this passion for the subject matter into tangible benefits for students in the STEM subjects. However, recruitment is not the only area undergoing change in the education-training world. Many education programs are now allowing teachers to be educated in a more immersive environment that places future teachers in the classroom while they are still learning. Further, these innovative programs partner new and upcoming teachers with more experienced mentors that can help guide them on their professional paths. In fact, these more immersive programs are becoming the standard in teacher training, accounting for over 40 percent of the science and math teachers currently being educated. By better preparing teachers for the classroom, students can be better prepared for success in the STEM workforce.

However, education does not end after a teacher graduates. The huge American educator workforce has a vital role to play in getting kids back on track in STEM education, and educators are receiving extra training from a variety of sources. For instance, one Program at the University of Hawai'i Manoa College of Education allows teachers to attend a STEM Institute that places a special emphasis on engaging students in math and science in ways that allow these concepts to be adapted and used outside of the classroom. By offering this program for free and prioritizing the acceptance of K-12 public and private school teachers, this program offers a continuing education opportunity for educators that want to improve their students STEM learning outcomes. This is just an example of one program, though. Some individuals choose to go back for a specialized master's in education to improve their teaching skills. Others live in states that are hosting single and multi-day conferences that allow educators to network and communicate best practices in STEM education, like the recent STEM Educator Fair that took place in South Carolina.

Why is it so important for STEM education to make sure that teachers are properly trained and motivated? The level of skills a teacher brings to the classroom is one of the major indicators of a student's probable performance and a gauge for the amount the student will learn. Some education experts posit that a good teacher can fit 150 percent of the year's required information into a school year while a bad teacher can only cover 50 percent of the material. This translates to an entire year's worth of education lost to those students who had the misfortune to be put in the struggling teacher's classroom. With only 26 percent of high school seniors being proficient or better in math, this may be a major contributor to this burgeoning skills gap. However, this by no means indicates that teachers are either "bad" or "good". Typically, teachers get better with more experience. They have greater subject knowledge, classroom management skills, and instincts about how to reach students.

However, not all teachers have the opportunity to gain this experience. Almost 50 percent of all teachers leave the teaching profession after five years. Why is this? A combination of lack of support, lack of preparation by the teacher training system, and a job that is often hard and thankless. By giving teachers additional training and resources focused around STEM education, school systems can provide a better support system for educators in these subjects who may be struggling. After all, if a teacher is struggling, is it any wonder that the students they teach will struggle as well?

Although the responsibility for education lies with students, parents, the community, and the entire education system, the classroom is where it all comes together. By improving the skills and education of STEM teachers, students will reap the benefits of their enhanced knowledge. Better teachers create more passionate, more curious, and more engaged students, and these benefits cannot help but to increase test scores and increase the number of students interested in the STEM fields. By not neglecting teachers, the STEM education movement can gain valuable, powerful allies in addressing the STEM education gap.