A STUDY OF SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS AS SECOND-CAREER
SECONDARY TEACHING PROFESSIONALS
Carol C. Johnston,
Jeanne M. Grier,
The continued need for math and science secondary teachers has led to several programs to recruit scientists, engineers and mathematicians (SEM professionals) into teaching. Second-career SEM professionals have prepared to teach through completion of both traditional and alternative certification programs. This qualitative study follows three such second-career professionals in a post-baccalaureate university certification program to learn how to better meet their needs as they prepare to teach. It was found that second-career professionals had much the same needs as their younger post-baccalaureate peers in terms of learning about students, student learning and K-12 school culture. However, the second-career professionals felt they differed from their younger peers in their abilities to tie personal and professional experiences to their teaching of science and math.
The shortage of math and science secondary teachers in the last decade has led to several incentive programs to increase the number of teacher candidates in these fields. Recruitment of science, engineering, and mathematics (SEM) undergraduate majors and second-career scientists, engineers and mathematicians has ensued. Initially, many of these programs attempted to recruit retirees from science and engineering fields, particularly from military and aerospace. However, these programs expanded to include second-career professionals such as those downsized in a changing economy.
While it is realistic to believe that taking second-career mathematicians, scientists, and engineers will result in a pool of candidates with strong content knowledge, it is not reasonable to believe that they can make the transition to the classroom without more traditional pedagogical training. Earlier studies, such as by Kirby, Darling-Hammond, & Hudson (1989) support in their findings that these nontraditional recruits from second-careers experienced "reality shock", finding discipline and motivation of students to be more difficult than expected. They also found that these candidates were not necessarily as strong in content as assumed.
The nomenclature in the literature regarding this population transitioning from science, mathematics, and engineering careers into teaching varies from “mid-career teachers” to “transitioning professionals” to “second-career teachers.” For the purposes of this paper, we are calling the second-career SEM professionals “second-career professionals” even though, for some, it may be a third career. The use of “second-career professionals” also acknowledges these individuals as still being in the “learning to teach” process as well as recognizing teaching as a career and a profession.
to Teaching" (Boss, 2001), the Science Teacher Scholarships for Scientists
and Engineers Act (NSF, 2001) and the California Mathematics and Science
Teacher Corps Project (Ludwig, Stapleton, & Goodrich, 1995) are among the
several programs that offered grants and other financial incentives for SEM
majors and second-career professionals. The origins of these programs were
supported by beliefs that the prestige of scientists working in education would
provide positive outcomes toward the professionalism of education (
Second-career professionals decide to teach for a variety of reasons. According to the National Teacher Recruitment Clearinghouse (2005), the five major reasons for teaching were: to give back; to put their experiences to use; to change the meaning of "work"; to follow one successful career with another; and to share knowledge and passion. All of the programs for second-career professionals attempt to make this transition successful.
teacher certification paths, ranging from traditional to alternative programs,
have been available to second-career SEM professionals. Many of these
certification paths are similar to fifth year post-baccalaureate university
teacher credential programs as are typical in
In general, second-career professionals, typically older than traditional teaching candidates, were more accustomed to environments where their authority was rarely questioned (Curley, 1998). Therefore, they tended to be more outspoken and critical of credential programs. In addition, Haury (1998) suggested that the desires of second-career professionals differed from needs suggested by teacher educators.
Mid-career students want certification programs to be individualized and quick, while educators assume that mid-career students need the same program content as traditional students. Also, the older students in mid-career and second-career programs tend to: (a) have stronger, more confident voices than traditional students, (b) recognize inconsistencies in program requirements, (c) have strong beliefs about learning, and (d) surprisingly, seem more "fragile" than traditional students in their views of themselves as teachers and their expectations of the instructional setting. (p. 8)
Interestingly, the maturity level of the second-career professionals presented both advantages and challenges. Their maturity level was attributed to their professionalism and eagerness to learn (Ludwig et al, 1995). However, some reported that they were often older than their mentors in the K-12 setting and were thus expected to "know about how schools worked" without being briefed on procedures (Johnson & Birkeland, 2002). Some frustrations with the other students in the credential courses were also uncovered. There were some beliefs that the traditional students were only willing to do the minimum amount of work required to get through the credentialing program, thus detracting from the potential learning community (Risacher, 1998).
While some program faculty feared that too much theory might lead to attrition from credential programs, second-career professionals often had a greater degree of interest in theory than their traditional colleagues (Curley, 1998). The second-career professionals in the study by Kirby et al. (1989) felt that their greatest needs from a credential program are for gathering a multitude of strategies and ideas for presenting science content to students. Segrest (1998) reported that second-career professionals appreciated courses in science content, methods, evaluation and mainstreaming. They also needed courses on management and school culture, which was often much different from the familiar climate in industry (Ludwig et al, 1995).
Second-career professionals also grappled with strategies for motivating all students, particularly with regards to getting students to do any work outside of class. These candidates were hardworking and dedicated, and expected the same from their students (Curley, 1998). The second-career professionals were very receptive to discussions about students and motivation, but were quick to challenge assumptions that ran counter to their beliefs.
As was found in the study by Kirby et al. (1989), these second-career professionals had strong backgrounds in science, but were specialists in particular areas. Not unlike their more traditional peers, these teachers often found themselves learning science content while developing lesson plans and teaching these concepts to their secondary students. However, they were confident in their ability to learn and understand science and math content.
One argument for immersing second-career professionals into traditional programs is indicated by studies that showed that non-traditionally prepared former scientists and engineers did not necessarily fit in with school cultures and colleagues (Curley, 1998). Darling-Hammond (2001) also pointed out that recruits from short-term alternative programs had difficulty with curriculum development, methods, management, and motivation. In addition, critiques of alternate certification routes suggest that science and math teachers from traditional recruitment pipelines were more likely to remain in teaching after their first few years (Johnson & Birkeland, 2002). However, it is likely that these traditional programs will still need modifications for second-career professionals.
The Single Subject Credential Program
To provide a context for the
curriculum and course of study these transitioning professionals are
experiencing, a brief description of the credential program is provided. CSU
Channel Islands is a new start-up university that has been enrolling students
since 2002. The Single Subject (secondary) program enrolled the first cohort of
students in Spring 2004. The credential program is typical of many
A cohort model is used in the program for full-time students. Students in all subject areas enter the program each semester and take classes together with the exception of the two subject specific methods classes, which are separated by discipline. Part-time students begin two courses with one cohort but overlap courses with other cohorts to complete the program. Students can complete the program full-time in two semesters or part-time in up to six semesters. Students who are hired to teach in local schools without a credential are called teaching Interns and can complete the program in as few as three semesters. Students may begin the program as full-time or part-time students and then be hired as an Intern while completing the credential program or come into the program with a teaching position already secured. For the first semester as an Intern in the credential program, the student is required to be part-time and take only two classes and a supervised field placement.
Research Questions and Methodological Design
The following research questions guided this study: What are the perceived needs of second-career SEM professionals as they complete a teacher credential program? In what ways do these individuals view themselves as having the same or different needs from their first-career peers?
our intent is to identify the needs of second-career science and math teachers,
the research we are conducting is qualitative in nature and consists of
interviews, field observations, and analysis of curriculum products for each
participant. This study uses a design that is qualitative and naturalistic (
Data were collected using a variety of qualitative methods including open-ended interviews and non-participant observations. Participants’ background information and their perceptions of teaching, the credential program and students were collected during one in-depth interview each. Three to four field observations during either student teaching or participant/observations were conducted for each subject. In addition to the audio-taped interview and field notes from observations, the following data are included in the analysis for each subject: lesson and unit plans, teaching portfolios (including employment resumes), and academic transcripts. Several program faculty and field supervisors were also interviewed about each participant to provide additional insights into their program of study and as a method of data triangulation. It should be noted that the two authors of this study contributed data as both faculty and field supervisors.
Qualitative data for each subject were analyzed by organizing the data into topics, codes, and then categories based upon predetermined themes from the research questions and emergent themes from the data set. The categories were analyzed further for patterns and then used to create a case for each second-career professional. The cases were then combined and compared for similarities and differences.
The participants in this study come from various backgrounds, but all have strength in science, engineering, or mathematics. Wendy (pseudonyms are used for the three participants) has had a varied career path, including work in the aerospace industry as a chemical engineer. She completed the credential program as a high school chemistry Intern, graduating in June, 2005. Daniel, also interested in teaching high school chemistry, has a degree in enology and experience in food science. As a part-time student, he is currently beginning his first student teaching in the program and plans program completion in December 2006. Connie began her career as a solar panel engineer and is currently completing her second student teaching in mathematics as an Intern and will be completed with program requirements in June 2006.
The three transitioning professionals who were chosen for this study met the criteria of having a previous career in math, engineering, or science and being enrolled in or recently completing a secondary-level credential program. The second-career professionals were at very different points in the program and in the credentialing process. While this diversity in perspectives provides a rich range of data, this also limits our ability to identify the specific source and experiences of these teaching candidates to draw broad conclusions.
We have divided this section into three sections: A case description on each of the three second-career SEM professionals in this study (Wendy, Daniel, and Connie). Each case presents their background, stated reasons for making a career change into teaching, and describes their perceived needs and their perceptions of the needs of their peers.
Wendy completed the credential program in June 2005 for teaching chemistry and mathematics (up through algebra). She began as a full-time student in the first cohort of secondary teachers in the education department for this new university. She completed student teaching in the middle school setting during her first semester, and worked as a full-time teaching Intern in chemistry as she completed her two final semesters. She is currently in her first year of a two-year induction program. Before becoming a teacher, Wendy earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and worked in that field for several years. She later became a business owner and instructor for her own martial arts school. In addition, she worked for eight months in a sheriff's office crime laboratory.
Reasons for change
The career change to teaching was viewed by Wendy as a logical way of blending the things that she liked about all of her previous jobs. "I taught martial arts and I missed the intellectual challenge of just doing calculations and thinking about science, chemistry, and mathematics. And so, I decided to combine my love for teaching and my interest in science and math.” After examining her desires to become a teacher through tutoring work at a local community college, she entered the credential program.
Wendy is confident in her content knowledge and in her people and management skills, which she attributes to her previous experiences. She credits the education program for improving her pedagogical knowledge and in helping her to teach science. “I think the credential program helped. It taught me a lot about inquiry and that process--I mean, teaching science.” She also stated that "I needed to understand the [National and State Science Teaching] Standards and how important they are, and I needed, the same as everyone, to understand the structure of the administration, and the teachers and the support staff.” She cited the methods courses as being the most helpful, especially the emphasis on using "hands-on" activities when teaching science. She was less interested in the more theory-oriented courses. "Theory was interesting, but working full time and then taking classes at night--I really didn't have time to investigate it. I guess that if I were to get a Master's [degree], I would enjoy it.”
Wendy was a very confident learner and viewed the challenges of teaching as the ability to break concepts down into manageable pieces. She was also aware of the differences between school science and "field" science, and struggled to bring to her students some of the realities of field science.
I love science, but I find the
process of working as a scientist, or learning how to do science, can be very
messy. The way our information is presented to our students in high school from
the state of
Teaching the top students in her advanced placement classes was not an issue for Wendy. Her challenges came from finding ways to reach the lower level students in her general chemistry courses. Identifying herself as having a very high IQ, she believed that her job was to help students by challenging them without leading them toward discouragement.
…things come incredibly easy for me in all fields. So to try to teach the top students--it's a piece of cake. But, everyone else--I've had to go back and think about how I learned it so that I can break it down into baby steps. I didn't need baby steps. I started running. So that was the challenge to me... I want to challenge them, but I don't want to discourage them. And I think that a lot of the current standards for high school students are very discouraging.
In the formal interview and in brief discussions following classroom visits, Wendy does not talk about the connections between science content and her previous experiences. Interestingly, when discussing how her background helps her in aiding student learning, Wendy ties her previous experiences to her skill of managing people rather than her knowledge of content, despite her very strong science background from her previous employments. When asked about the impact of her previous experiences on her teaching, she replied, "I did learn how to manage 30 or 40 people. And I can translate that [into teaching high school].”
Consistent with her emphasis on people and management, Wendy viewed the role of a teacher as caring for her students as people. When asked what it means to be a good teacher, Wendy replied, "To care about my students, to care about their success. To care about their understanding of the material, but, even more, just to care about them--as people. I think a good teacher is enthusiastic--is happy--to be there.”
Views of Peers
Wendy viewed her needs from the teaching program to be somewhat different than her peers. "Classroom management was an issue for them, but not for me.” She commented upon how management might be more of an issue for her peers because "most of them are in their early 20's…it's going to be hard to establish--not so much authority, but to carry yourself to deserve respect." On the other hand, Wendy also believed that her needs from the credential program were much the same as her peers with respect to learning about the importance of standards and the structure of schools. However, Wendy often expressed frustration to her instructors after class when her peers spent too much time discussing concepts she viewed as “easy” or concepts she felt they should have understood from the course readings.
Presenting in front of peers was another area in which Wendy differentiated herself from her classmates. Wendy credited her experiences in presenting to large groups of customers with her lack of nervousness. "I don't have any fear of talking to people. Just because of my experiences. I've noticed that they, the other people [in the credential program], seem to have a nervous quality."
Daniel is a part-time student in the credential program. He is currently in his third of the four semesters planned for completion of the program. He is taking methods courses and has not yet started his formal student teaching. Daniel earned a Bachelor of Science degree in fermentation science and enology and a Master's degree in food science with a specialty in sensory evaluation and a minor in statistics. He spent several years in the food industry working with clients from major food and beverage companies. While working as a consultant, he traveled extensively and was often engaged in public speaking.
Prior to returning to school to obtain his teaching credential, Daniel had left the food industry and had devoted his time to raising his young children and volunteering as a coach and scout leader. He described how his role as a stay-at-home parent had given him a different perspective. "I guess that I would describe it as I have a more feminine outlook than I did before, in terms of just kids and how cool they are. And, I have had a lot of interesting experiences with coaching and that kind of thing--and scouts.”
Reasons for Change
Much of the decision for a career change came from his recognition that his "broad experiences [gave him] an interesting perspective of how important education is." His years as a stay-at-home parent enhanced his desire to become a teacher. In addition, he received much encouragement from family and friends, particularly from friends through scouting, to consider teaching.
Daniel also relied on his strength and enjoyment of public speaking as a determinant for entering the credential program to become a teacher. As a research and development consultant he often held three to four seminars each year giving presentations on the latest products and technologies to international clients. He enjoyed “teaching” in these settings. “Those were really fun and they were pretty easy. And, no grading!”
Daniel is confident in his content knowledge and identifies the strengths from his previous experiences as people skills and as "understanding the big pictures." Although preparing to teach chemistry, Daniel does not describe his previous job as being a chemist.
If you had asked me, how do you identify yourself as a scientist? I don’t think I would have said chemist, I think I would have said sensory scientist, or statistician, or a market researcher or a consumer scientist. Because those were the things I was doing.
Daniel’s view of his own content knowledge in science is not a contributing factor that he believes would influence his teaching. He shared his belief that all science teachers would essentially teach the same content. However, it was in the ways that the teacher brought in their unique experiences that they could affect student learning.
The content knowledge—that—stays the same. It comes out of me but it also comes out of a book--it comes out of content standards. So, from a certain standard I guess you could say that it is kind of static. It's that knowledge. You could take [any other student teacher in chemistry] and the content would be, I would hope, pretty much the same. But, the bigger variable there would be the person and what you bring from your personal experience in terms of who you are, more than anything else seems to be a determinant.
What is more important to Daniel is his connection to and interaction with people—especially his students. Thus, his emphasis on and enjoyment from teaching tends to be related to viewing students as people. “It is fascinating because they are in such an interesting time of life and everything is so new to them, and so its just so new and fresh and its really cool. It really is invigorating.”
Daniel takes very seriously his relationship with his students and this is reinforced by his cooperating teacher’s comments to him.
[My cooperating teacher] has told me that one of the things that he likes about my teaching and the way I carry myself is that the kids can tell that I think they are interesting and that I care about them. And that means a lot, I mean, I really think they are cool. I was really surprised. I was pleasantly surprised at the observation and the interaction that I had with kids. It was just a very fulfilling experience.
Even in his descriptions of himself as a scientist, Daniel emphasizes his relationships with other people as being of great importance. In discussing his work experiences, he talks about personal conversations with other scientists and developing working relationships. He has developed the same type of relationship with this cooperating teacher. Daniel believes that he can learn from his cooperating teacher the content knowledge and style for teaching that will leave him well-prepared for the challenges that lie ahead in his life as a teacher. During the fall semester he put in classroom hours beyond what was required by the program in order to maintain contacts with students and teachers at a school where he knew he would be doing his spring student teaching. Daniel justified his extra hours as an opportunity to tap into the expertise of his cooperating teacher, whom he will potentially be replacing after he retires at the end of the semester. "…if I get a job in chemistry, then I'm going to be really set and it will be easy because I'll already have what's going on from a guy who has been doing it for 38 years.”
Motivating students to want to learn is important to Daniel and he is tied to his desires to build others up. Rather than emphasizing classroom control, he worries about how to motivate students and relates that challenge to why he is happy in his choice to become a teacher. "Well, I'm going to be a chemistry teacher, but after last night [in his special needs learning class in which a guest speaker prompted a discussion on motivation and the teacher allowed the "teachable moment" to override the planned lesson], I am more convinced that it's more about learning. It's less about the chemistry and more about the learning for me.”
Daniel loosely ties his theory of motivation to issues of classroom management. He tries to identify forces within and outside of his control that could have an effect on student motivation. He talks about this within the context of the credential program curriculum:
How can I understand them [the students]? And, how can I control them? Or, can I control them? We talked a little bit about it in every class [so far] and I think everybody tries to because they realize that it [student motivation] is important.
Daniel is anxious to begin his sequence of content methods classes as he looks for direct application to his teaching. He describes his approach to learning in the credential program and its impact on his teaching.
There have been two or three times in every class where I was like, “Gee I didn’t think about that.” I found it really easy to say “gee this is interesting.” I kind of make that decision before I enroll, and say, “Okay, look, we are going find out about this and that’s going to be interesting.” So I go through classes and I’m constantly trying to figure out how does it relate to me? And you know how does its relate to what I have done before, how will it relate to what I’m going to do in the future?
When asked about his biggest obstacle or challenge in the credential program, Daniel identified childcare as his biggest issue. As the primary care-giver at home for two children, ages nine and thirteen, and a spouse that travels three days a week, Daniel struggles for finding appropriate activities and locations for his two children while he attends evening classes.
Daniel shows his appreciation for what he describes as being in a good place in his life. He cites his previous experiences as showing him the privileges he has had related to education.
I think a lot of experiences, kind of like a lot of broad experiences, give you an interesting perspective of how important education is. You certainly get to see a lot of sharp people, and people, like me, who have had a lot of privilege in terms of kinds of education that they have had and the kind of experiences, like job experiences, and things like that. So, I think it's really powerful from that standpoint. Plus, a lot of it is maturity--I think it gave me a lot of time to mature as a person. I kind of feel that I don't whine as much as my peers right now. Just because I know it doesn't do any good.
Views of Peers
Daniel believes he has the same basic needs “for the mechanics of teaching and basic grounding in the theories” as do his peers in the program. He has confidence in their content knowledge of science as he does his own. He respects the fact they are just starting out on their first career after college and he remembers how tough things could get sometimes—especially financially.
He differentiates himself from his peers in the credential program because of his life experiences. He doesn’t think maturity is an issue because he views many of his peers as “mature and pretty savvy.” He states, "I sort of feel a little bit less riled than they tend to be….I’m in a different point in my life, entirely, than most of them. But the whining thing they do, it makes me angry.” However, overall, Daniel has enjoyed his peers in the program.
I look at the people who are my peers and there have been little things like the complaining and stuff like that, but it has been very minor. They have been, almost a hundred percent, interesting people and have been thought-provoking at one time or another at least once.
His stated needs from the education program are mostly related to classroom management, understanding student learning, and pedagogy. He shares that he has the same basic needs from the education program as his peers in terms of grounding him in theories and providing the tools needed for effective teaching.
Connie started the credential program in Spring 2005 as a full-time student. She was hired as an Intern to teach mathematics at a local high school after completing her first semester of high school student teaching. As a part-time student in the third semester of the program she has one course and her second supervised student teaching experience remaining to complete the program.
Connie completed her Bachelor of Science degree ten years prior in Science & Engineering from a prestigious west coast research one institution. She spent seven years as a solar-panel engineer for a company that made space craft solar cells for extraterrestrial applications. Many of the panels were used in the Mars Pathfinder program, the Hubble telescope, and other NASA related missions.
Five years into her position as a solar cell engineer, Connie was encouraged by the company’s Chief Scientist to enter the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) Solar System Ambassador’s Program. This program wanted public speakers to share their knowledge and excitement about space exploration to various audiences. Connie decided to apply to the ambassador program in the hopes of inspiring the laboratory technicians and operators who displayed low moral at her company.
I became a Solar System Ambassador so I can let everyone in the company—especially those who need to feel proud of what they do….They are only a part of this tiny section of the entire process—from making the cell to putting it into a panel. I want them to feel proud and know ‘this stuff I’m doing here is really part of space exploration history.’
Connie was accepted into the ambassador’s training program and learned about all of the different space missions. She began to be invited into 5th grade classrooms to talk to students about the solar system and said she had “the best feeling in the world” interacting with the students and seeing their enthusiasm and excitement over what she considered to be “simple things.”
During this time in the ambassador’s program Connie made the transition in her company from technical engineering to marketing. This transition in her job left her feeling uneasy and unsatisfied with her new position. Coupled with the feelings she was experiencing as a Solar System Ambassador in the schools Connie decided to be a teacher. She admits that this was not the first time she had thought about becoming a teacher.
Thinking back even when I was working as an engineer when times would get tough you know I would think about teaching and I actually had a study booklet that I bought and it was sitting on my bookshelf for many years. Every time I would get sad I would think “maybe I should go into teaching.” But I was enjoying making things so much with my hands that I never really mustered up enough courage to make that quantum leap. But, I guess transition into marketing was kind of a blessing in disguise, I hated it so much that it gave me the courage to say, “let’s give teaching a try.” So, that is why I am here.
Connie is confident in her content knowledge and strives to keep her “finger on the pulse” of the latest developments in the space and semi-conductor industry. She feels this helps her develop professionally as a teacher. She said, “I cannot be disconnected from the real world because my students are stepping into the real world. It is to their benefit that I am up on what is going on out there.”
Connie draws upon her professional experiences as an engineer when planning her lessons. Because engineering trained her to think sequentially, she creates her lesson plans in a flow chart manner. “I start off with one process and I weigh the response, think about the consequences of doing this first and doing that last.” This type of sequential thinking also translates into issues of lesson and classroom management for Connie when paired with learned reflection skills.
At the end of the day or at the end of the class to just have that reflection of going back and saying “where in my process do I need to modify?” That’s an area where my engineering experience has helped me tremendously in thinking quickly. The next class is coming in and I have two minutes. How am I going to revise this lesson? Because students behave more or less like a chemical reaction. Their behavior in class is a reaction to your own action so I really had to evaluate “okay, what did I say to set them off in the previous class?” or “maybe I shouldn’t have passed out the dry ease marker before I made the announcement” so its kind of more unpredictable than your chemical reactions.
Classroom management is an area of needed improvement for Connie, especially now, as a teaching Intern.
Classroom management has never been my forte. I’m so used to working with adults-- people with PhD degrees who are very responsible. I didn’t have to deal with behavioral issues in the production line. If they had a problem, we fired them. It’s really difficult for me because I am dealing with the low performing math students who, most of them, have behavioral issues.
Connie struggles to understand and connect with her high school students. During her student teaching of pre-calculus and algebra at another high school she was quite excited to bring in real world problems from her work as an engineer. Five minutes into an example of how fiber optics work she realized she had lost the attention of the entire class. She said of the seniors who were in the pre-calculus class:
I was under the assumption that everyone was taking physics because I took physics when I was in high school and by the time I was a senior in high school I had two years of chemistry, one year of biology, and I was taking physics. I thought everyone in a higher-level math would be also on the same track so, apparently, I need to make realistic assumptions as opposed to [making assumptions] based on my own school experience.
In her current Intern teaching position a great number of students are considered “lower performing.” Many of Connie’s students passed Algebra I with “D’s” and “D-‘s” and she is still finding it challenging to bring in applied math into the classroom because they do not grasp abstract mathematical concepts and even basic computational skills. Connie expresses her frustrations but also sees the benefit of utilizing her engineering background.
It’s really hard for me to bring in real life examples where they can [see] the real life applications of these basic math skills. Because everything I have done in engineering [is] taking integrals and derivatives, working in imaginary numbers and complex analyses. When I’m talking about secondary derivatives that probably won’t go so well with the students that can’t even add integers. So, that’s has been the greatest obstacle, but I do realize those are the students that really need to see math out in the real world because they need to see that connection.
As a teaching Intern, Connie is beginning to recognize the needs of her students as being very different from her own experiences. It is important to Connie that her students develop not only basic mathematical computational skills but also life long learning skills such as problem solving and how to plan for their future. She created a four-part year-long project for her algebra students that asks them to “fast-forward” in time to when they are thirty-five years old. They get to create their life situation and begin to make budgetary decisions, design the floor plan of their home, and compute their car payments.
I’m hoping to teach them to start thinking about the responsibilities that come with being an adult. Teaching them life long skills to help them succeed in life takes precedence over the fact that they need to know 20% of $250.
Connie identified several elements in the credential program that she believes have been useful to her development as a teacher. With respect to teaching math content she identifies a number of activities from one of her methods courses that encourage students to think about abstract concepts in very concrete ways. One particular paper folding activity made a great impression on Connie as she was struggling with how to teach her algebra students about exponential functions.
It’s easier when you are talking about linear functions … but exponentially then you have to talk about population growth or radioactive decay. For some algebra students, especially middle school students, they don’t even know what radiation is. That is really hard for them to say, “Oh yea! That is what happens when you have one gram of uranium or plutonium.” With the paper folding activity …students can visualize when you have a stack of 128 layers of paper you are trying to fold so they can visualize exponential growth. Activities like that is what these algebra students need.
Other courses in teaching English language learners and special needs learners proved to be useful for Connie in her current teaching environment. She designed a Total Physical Response (TPR) math activity to assess her student’s understanding of like terms before proceeding on to polynomials. The students were given different terms on index cards and asked to move around the room and find their “like term” partner. Connie received very positive feedback from the students about that activity but she is still hesitant to do these kinds of activities more frequently because of her uneasiness about her own classroom management skills.
It turns into chaos very quickly. I’ll have students that are off task, they are scribbling on my boards with the dry erase markers, there are just trying to be lost amongst the crowd trying to hide so it’s the biggest challenge to introduce alternative teaching strategies. It all comes down to classroom management.
Connie feels like she has learned some valuable lesson planning tools in the program that have helped her in her current position. When she did not have the time to plan her lessons and used the textbook as her sole means of planning the lesson she found that she often had to spend more time on the topic the next day.
I need to start with the objectives and plan my lesson around that and make sure the examples I’m showing in class are relevant to the objectives and how I’m supposed to assess them. Because if you don’t you are going to pay for it the next day and re-teach what you originally intended to teach the day before. Given the pacing calendar I don’t have that luxury.
Connie wishes she had more opportunities to observe in classrooms before her student teaching. She wanted the time to build relationships with the students and learn the classroom routines before taking over someone else’s classroom. During her first student teaching, she felt she could not appropriately design lessons because she really did not know her students. As a full-time teacher she is enjoying all aspects of teaching and being able to design lessons specifically for her students.
As a professional engineer transitioning into the teaching profession, Connie at times feels like her credential program should be separate from the “traditional” credential program that attracts students right out of their undergraduate degree. However, her reasons are not due to the content or pedagogical content offered in the program because the program “offers all the knowledge and the tid-bits and words of caution amongst all students equally. We all still need to know how to manage a classroom and how to write a lesson plan.” Connie’s reasoning for splitting the program stem mainly from her own learning style and needs as compared to her younger peers.
I guess the advantage of being freshly graduated from the undergrad program, is that you are so used to studying and writing papers and taking care of all of that academic stuff. It did take some time for me to re-teach myself to do such things and maybe that would be the need for someone coming in from the industry. “Ok, how do I write academic papers?”
Connie also considered maturity and work ethic as factors for having separate programs.
There were some classes where us, the more mature adults, were completing our assignments, really doing our work to make sure in class we have a fruitful discussion. There was one class [in particular] where people were not doing their assignments so when we got together it was a waste of time. I mean times like that I really wish that we could just segregate the professionals in one class and those coming from another.
Connie also recognizes that the two groups of students can learn from each other and that would not happen in separate programs.
We do benefit from each other because we do see that this is how we used to be and the traditional students from undergrad also benefit from us because we do have the experience. So there is some, I guess, synergy happening.
The three second-career professionals in this study are scientists or engineers who are transitioning into the teaching profession through a fifth-year secondary credential program. They each came into the single subject program with a range of backgrounds and life experiences and, as individuals, perceived that they had needs that were both the same as their peers and different than their peers because of their previous experiences. A comparative analysis of their cases from the primary data sources: open-ended interviews, field observations, and classroom documents, revealed three main themes identified through the cross-case analysis of these transitioning individuals that impact their learning and development as future teachers: Previous Career/Life Experiences, Student Learning, and School Culture.
Previous Career/Life Experiences
All three transitioning professionals valued their prior work and life experiences and recognized ways they were different from their younger peers in the program. They were very much aware that their younger peers did not display the same level of trust and maturity toward program requirements. Daniel was especially appreciative of the opportunity to change careers at this point in his life and thought a few of his younger peers were taking their education for granted.
Wendy, Daniel, and Connie were excited about learning to teach and committed themselves to do the work required by the program (Ludwig et al, 1995; Curley, 1998). This is not to say that Wendy, Daniel and Connie accepted all program elements and requirements equally. They each expressed a degree of concern over the need for theoretical foundations at this point in their teaching career but no more so than their first-career post-baccalaureate peers. They all trusted that the program had their best interest in mind toward their development as a beginning teacher. All three expressed frustration with their younger peers’ lack of motivation and constant complaining about program assignments and requirements.
Confidence and Content Knowledge
Wendy, Daniel, and Connie felt, as individuals, that their life experiences gave them a greater level of confidence in performing tasks in the program and in teaching as compared to their first-career peers. This was consistent with the findings of Ludwig, et al (1995) and Kirby, et al (1989). For example each had many opportunities for public speaking in their earlier careers that made them more comfortable in presenting content to their peers and their students.
Additionally, their success in their previous careers gave them confidence in their ability to learn and/or relearn the science/math content needed to teach in high schools that was beyond their specialization (see Kirby, et al, 1989). Daniel, in fact, was confident in his peers as well. He expressed the belief that the content doesn’t change and that most anyone can pick up a book or find the standards and figure out what to teach. Both Wendy and Connie expressed similar beliefs about their abilities to learn content but were more adamant about staying current with new trends and discoveries in their fields—traits they expressed as not being valued by all of their peers.
Daniel and Connie, because of their transition between careers believed they had much different needs entering the credential program as compared to their younger peers. Connie was often frustrated because of the time it took her to re-develop the study skills required to keep up with the program and desired a program or a set of courses specifically for second-career professionals that was separate from the rest of the program. Very often she was disappointed in the lack of time her peers put into preparation and class discussions. She believed her learning opportunities could be better without their interference (Haury, 1998). However, Connie did conclude that there are benefits—for all involved—from interacting within the cohort.
Daniel, very much valued interacting with all of his peers in the program. However, Daniel’s desired accommodations stemmed more from his personal and family needs regarding childcare during evening classes and daytime student teaching. Daniel perceived that his first-career peers did not have the same level of responsibility in their lives as did he, although he recognized that they each have their own personal struggles.
When asked what program elements she would change or wish she had more exposure to in the program, Wendy did not mention needing any specific personal accommodations to her credential program of study because she did not view herself as being “deficit” in any area. Her first suggestions on making changes to the program were directed toward activities that would help her peers be more successful by exposing them to more opportunities for public speaking. Wendy realized this would also be a benefit to her because she desired being exposed to different teaching approaches, methods and styles.
All three second-career professionals entered the program with unrealistic assumptions about students and student learning. Although in different phases of the program all three entered the program believing that their students would learn how they learned best in school. They each stated that they now realize that all students do not learn in the same way and are not necessarily motivated as learners as they each were as students. However, they each have varying degrees of these realizations. These findings contradict earlier studies (Haury, 1998) that second-career professionals have strong beliefs about learning. Wendy, Daniel, and Connie were very receptive to information about student learning and were not tied to their original learning assumptions.
Connie, in particular, began recognizing the diverse needs of the lower level students during her first student teaching and compared their abilities and academic background to her own. She quickly realized these students were nothing like the student she had been in high school. Wendy, on the other hand, was teaching advanced placement students and felt many of them were like her but acknowledged that she needed to break the content down into smaller chunks for all of her students to understand. Despite being in a school population with a high percentage of English Language Learners, Wendy relied on her unchanging assumption that all of her chemistry students were English proficient. Although each didn’t specifically state that their assumptions about students and student learning were different from or the same as their peers, their comments are consistent from what we would expect and have heard from other credential students in the program.
The second-career transitioning professionals understood the need to connect subject matter content to the lives of their students. They each believed that they were better able to do so than their younger peers because of their previous life and work experiences.
Wendy used many examples and stories from her chemical engineering job during her two student teaching experiences and her full-time teaching position. Connie was especially passionate about providing real-world examples from the space industry when teaching her algebra students in both her student teaching and Intern positions. She also attributed her ability to think quickly during or between classes to her training as an engineer. This allowed her to make immediate adjustments to her lesson plans to better meet the needs of her students.
Wendy, Daniel, and Connie each saw the need to learn about the school policies, administrative structures, and procedures in general and at their specific school sites. Each believed this was common information that all potential teachers needed to know and thought enculturation into the school community was an important aspect of becoming a teacher. This is consistent with the findings of Johnson and Birkeland (2002). Daniel, in particular, was very aware of the necessity to “get along with” his cooperating teacher and the other teachers in the science department because he wished to be employed there as an Intern for the next fall. Wendy didn’t see the need to “make friends” with the other teachers during her Internship but was especially mindful of the paperwork that needed to be completed as a full-time teacher.
All three second-career professionals mentioned the State Academic Content Standards (SACS) as being an important component of K-12 school culture as well as a needed (and wanted) outline for their curriculum and their content knowledge. The schools and districts where each of these second-career professionals were placed for student teaching or were hired as Interns displayed a strong culture of making the standards explicit to the K-12 students for each lesson. Each were proficient at aligning their lesson plans with the SACS as a result of their course assignments in the program. These individuals were very cognizant of the importance placed on the standards and student performance in their schools.
We found it interesting that they all three so willingly accepted the standards as mandated—either through the use of district curriculum guides or their own reliance on the standards in their own planning—rather than relying only on their own ideas as professionals in the discipline about what should be taught. However, they did not accept the standards without question. During their supervised field and student teaching experiences they each were able to negotiate with their cooperating teachers and address the standards yet bring in their own ideas and examples to enhance the curriculum and make connections to real world applications. The standards, in a sense, provided a safety net of sorts for Wendy, Daniel and Connie in their daily planning while taking some of the pressure off of them for long-term planning.
Connie and Daniel both felt the need to develop their classroom management skills during their time in the credential program because none of their prior experiences prepared them to deal with adolescents (see Ludwig, et al, 1995). Of the three, Connie taught students who were in either remedial or low performing classes. She expressed the greatest need in developing classroom management skills. Daniel was concerned with student motivation and felt he could learn about behavior management by watching his cooperating teacher. Daniel “copied” many of his cooperating teachers' policies as well as behaviors in the classroom as a mechanism for learning to teach. Wendy felt she did not require instruction or theory in classroom management because of her training in martial arts—not because of her experience as an engineer.
Looking through the lens of the program, all three transitioning professionals have had common experiences regarding curriculum, field experiences and program requirements even though each is in a different stage of program completion. Each identified program elements that they valued, however, each individual stated there were elements of the program they “did not need” because of their previous work and life experiences. However, all three transitioning professionals were enthusiastic about the credential program and what they could learn. These findings do not agree with Haury’s (1998) conclusions that second-career professionals desire individualized and speedy certification pathways.
The main conclusion of this study is that the second-career professionals perceived themselves as different from their younger, fresh out of undergraduate school peers in many areas. However, they also recognized that there are certain elements in learning to teach that are the same for everyone—no matter where they are in life. What is different in these three second-career transitioning professionals is the confidence and solid work related content experience they bring with them into the credential program and their willingness to learn enthusiastically. As teacher educators, we desire these qualities in all of our students.
It is important, however, to acknowledge the frustrations expressed by the three transitioning professionals regarding their perceptions of their first-career peers in the program. Consistent with the findings of Risacher (1998), it was not a surprise that Wendy, Daniel, and Connie expressed concerns over their peers’ behavior because as instructors we can sympathize with the lack of preparation and planning for occasional class meetings of many of our students. It was enlightening and simultaneously disappointing to discover how students’ behaviors affect one another and interfere with their perceived learning needs at the post-baccalaureate level. However, we are heartened by the fact that these three second-career transitioning professionals ultimately valued their interactions and relationships with their younger peers.
Another significant finding of the three second-career professionals was their acceptance of and attitude toward the academic content standards. Wendy, Daniel, and Connie all readily deferred their content knowledge expertise as SEM professionals to the content standards mandated by the state. This lack of resistance to mandated content was surprising in that it made their perceived needs regarding the content standards the same as their younger peers who have never been employed in SEM positions. Further research is necessary to determine if this deference to academic standards is a result of program coursework, the influence of local school culture, or from some other source.
We are in dire need of math and science teachers in schools. The population of transitioning SEM professionals is a viable pool of potential teachers. But, their ability to transition to being a student again may be a bigger hurdle than transitioning into teaching. With the right kind of support this population has the potential to impact K-12 student learning in a way that teachers who have never been scientists, engineers, or mathematicians ever could.
Based on this initial study, we cannot recommend that second-career transitioning professionals be separated into their own credential program because the advantages of combining the populations far out-weigh the disadvantages. The diversity of experiences and perspectives enrich the credential program for all involved—including the instructors. Therefore, we are designing an orientation for transitioning professionals to assist them with the intersection of becoming a student again and preparing for a new career in teaching.
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