Teacher Pathways and Developing STEM Expertise


As a University faculty member for more than 25 years, one of my greatest pleasures was teaching future teachers. They are among the most rewarding individuals one could ever teach because they are passionate about learning – especially about learning how to become world-class educators.

When I taught future teachers, I shared my own sense of the extraordinary excitement of STEM, giving them practicum experiences in after-school programs where they could work with children in authentic, hands-on science and in its real world applications.

For many, this early opportunity to work with children and turn them on to STEM had the effect of turning THEM, as teachers, onto science and STEM.

That’s one of the reasons that, today, STEM Teacher Pathways are such important programs.

STEM Teacher Pathways are vital because they are the route of entree for new math and science teachers from diverse backgrounds to enter the teaching profession, and California needs at least 33,000 new science and math teachers in the coming decade.

Multi-year Teacher Pathways provide the opportunity for future teachers to experience the sense of wonder children have when engaged directly in STEM. These new teachers learn from their students in early Pathway experiences what it is to be a great teacher of STEM disciplines – one who is an excited explorer and discoverer along with their students.

In too many classrooms across California, students learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics from teachers who have little or no specific STEM preparation.

But with the growing demand for STEM expertise in California’s workforce, it is more important than ever that the our state’s Teacher Preparation and Credentialing process include specific attention to the STEM disciplines for all teachers.

STEM Teacher Pathways projects are located on several California State University (CSU) campuses. They are focused on creating a STEM teacher track for elementary teachers through the CSU system and providing a paid apprenticeship program that offers these future teachers STEM expertise through the clinical practice of working every day with students from high need communities in after school programs.

Over the course of a four-year degree program and by the time they receive their teaching credential, they accumulate up to 3,000 hours in after-school and classroom settings, many spent in STEM activities.

Another highly significant Pathways program – the Alternative Induction Pathway (AIP) – responds to the needs of teachers who have been affected by lay-offs, typically beginning teachers, and enables them to develop STEM expertise.

Until the AIP was approved this past year by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, being regularly employed as a classroom teacher was a requirement to participate in California’s required induction program.

Now, the AIP enables teachers who are unemployed due to lay-offs to complete the two-year induction program required by the state, and to attain their clear teaching credential. At the same time, they are able to participate in training programs to earn second credentials in the high-demand fields of science and math. New state legislation ensures that they can receive unemployment insurance benefits at the same time, thereby addressing their critical financial needs.

This program uniquely allows beginning teachers – those most often affected by lay-offs due to typical Last In/First Out (LIFO) practices in California and elsewhere – to enter a STEM teacher pathway as they continue in the teaching profession.

It’s a win-win – addressing the state’s need for teachers in STEM shortage fields and providing dignity and stature to outstanding new teachers affected by lay-offs because attaining credentials in STEM fields are recognized as being of singular importance.

There are already early indicators of success in the first programs, which were implemented in Long Beach in 2011-12. There, more than 50 laid-off beginning elementary teachers participated in Foundational Level General Science and Foundational Level Math Credential programs. Approximately 95% passed the California Subject Exam (CSET) tests required to earn these credentials, and the vast majority are now teaching full-time or for many hours a week as substitute teachers.

Early achievements like these point to exceptional new opportunities for our state’s teachers and students through support of Pathways to excellence in STEM teaching.

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