Thanks for sharing highlights from the recent “Science & Engineering Indicators” (SEI) (C&EN, March 10, page 29). I am a big fan of those reports and spent many hours analyzing the data in them in my past career in science policy. The statements about K–12 teachers in particular caught my attention because about one year ago I made the decision to change my career and become a high school chemistry teacher.
I am now among the data—part of the 82% of high school teachers with a science degree (I have three, including a Ph.D.). I am also aware of the high percentage of teachers who quit in their first few years of teaching (especially those teaching secondary math and science), given that I am struggling to make it through my first year of teaching high school.
I want my fellow chemists to know that teaching high school is an extremely hard job—harder than any job I have ever had. Teaching chemistry is about half of what I do; the other half involves keeping teenagers awake and on task in addition to endless administrative duties. On the other hand, becoming a high school teacher is a decision I don’t regret for a minute. I have some of the most supportive, hardworking, and dedicated colleagues (teachers and administrators) I have ever had and many wonderful students who keep me on my toes and put a smile on face at the end of every day.
Although the SEI data are interesting and paint a rather negative picture of the status of K–12 education, I urge readers to look deeper at the individual data points. If you have been considering changing your career to teach high school chemistry, please know that it is truly rewarding, that you are needed, and that you will make a difference. You can do your part to help increase the percentage of teachers with science degrees and also hopefully decrease the percentage of teachers who leave within the first few years of teaching.
Tina MasciangioliI think Dr. Masciangioli makes an interesting point -- that if you become a high school chemistry teacher, lots of your time will be spent managing behavior of teenagers. I'm not sure that I would be up for that, to be honest. The last time I was engaging teenagers, I found myself more irritated than anything else.
Nevertheless, "truly rewarding", making a difference and being needed are all things that make for a happy career -- I'd say that this is a pretty strong endorsement.