MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University is hoping to ‘get the facts out’ to help reverse high school math and science teacher shortages in West Virginia and nationwide.
According to a university press release, WVU has been selected by the Get the Facts Out (GFO) leadership team, which is comprised of experts from science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) societies nationwide, the university is one of six research study sites across the country to pursue a new project. The project notes that highly prepared math and science teachers are the driving force behind the scientific advancements that change the world every day, and yet, there’s not enough of them in classrooms to instruct the next generation of experts in STEM fields.
It’s so crucial in West Virginia that it’s nationally a recognized problem that there aren’t enough highly qualified math and science teachers to really make sure that every student gets access to that kind of preparation that opens up for them the possibility of STEM careers, which are the fastest growing and highest paying career sector.Gay Stewart – Director, WVU Center for Excellence in STEM Education
Stewart said research shows that half of STEM majors in college have had an interest in teaching at some point during their college career but very few actually pursue that interest. One of the reasons for this, she said, is due to the fact that many students are misinformed about the field and a lot of the time that misinformation is fed to them by university faculty.
Some of the misinformation is around how much teachers are paid, but what teachers actually get paid and what students aim to make are comparable, Stewart said. However, those pieces of misinformation cause students to worry about retirement, sending their kids to college and other financial concerns, straying them away from becoming educators.
Although people bash the field of teaching, Stewart said, polls show that educators rank high in job satisfaction, second only to medical doctors.
Stewart said the idea behind GFO is to not twist students’ arms into working as high school STEM teachers but instead to make sure they don’t avoid the field because of misinformation.
“If just half of the kids that show up at college wanting to be a STEM major — if half of them actually graduated with a STEM degree then we would have the workforce in our country we need to keep our international advantage,” Stewart said. “And again those kids that do graduate with a STEM degree have access to careers that are significantly better financially on average. But in West Virginia for instance, we have students that show up to the university that — I mean they had fantastic teachers who loved and supported them, but they might never in their entire high school career had a single highly qualified math instructor, someone who had a deep understanding of mathematics.”
“When we get those students here who do not have some preparation and background even if they think they want to be an engineer or physicist or a computer scientist they are significantly less likely to graduate with a degree in those disciplines. They either leave the STEM discipline or sometimes they just leave the university altogether.”
Stewart said students who arrive at WVU after being taught by highly qualified STEM instructors go on to graduate at a much higher rate in the field than others who did not have that level of instructor. Again, she reiterated, the goal is to not force people to teach or to work in STEM, but just to realize the advantage of having highly qualified teachers in high school.
It creates a cycle of success that West Virginia and many other states around the nation could benefit from.
“Get the Facts Out is not everything because we need to attract lots more new math and science teachers, we also need to do things to support the wonderful teachers that are in the classroom who maybe didn’t didn’t have that math and science preparation because they can be fantastic teachers too,” Stewart said. “And so at WVU we have –, we’re trying to look at every possible way to either support teachers who are in the classroom, as well as develop our next generation of the best math and science teachers that we can.”
According to the release, the GFO project, supported by the National Science Foundation, is jointly led by the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, and Colorado School of Mines. The research study sites include West Virginia University, Brigham Young University, California State University, Long Beach, Chicago State University, Colorado School of Mines, and the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.