Michele J Koomen, Gustavus Adolphus College

Lynn Hartshorn, University of Saint Thomas

Luther Qson, College of St. Schloastica

Alice Guckin, College of St. Scholastica






In this paper, we report on the research findings of a longitudinal study of beginning science and mathematics teachers in Minnesota during the first three years of their teaching during the years 1999-2004. Sixty-four new teachers participated in this study involving eleven institutions of teacher education in Minnesota. The study focused on five aspects of new teachers: knowing mathematics and science; knowing pedagogy; knowing students as learners; establishing a learning environment and developing as a teacher. Data was collected using quantitative methods (survey instruments) and qualitative methods (interviews, observations and artifact analysis). Analysis of the data revealed several prominent themes: new teachers need a strong content background to teach math and science; new teachers perceive that there are constraints in the learning environment; new teachers perceive that there are few mentoring opportunities available to them and new teachers perceive that there are limited professional development opportunities available to them. The findings of the study are of interest to faculty of pre-service and in-service teacher education programs providing them with a glimpse of the current conditions beginning teachers encounter and their responses to those conditions. 



Researchers representing several Minnesota colleges and universities established the Teaching Research Network (TRN) to investigate the practices of K-12 science and math teachers in Minnesota during their first three years of teaching.  Specifically the research questions of the collaborative study are:

  • What are new teachers’ current practice, knowledge and beliefs about teaching science/math?
  • What is the context in which new teachers teach science/math?

TRN researchers initially attempted to determine the extent to which beginning science and mathematics teachers’ beliefs and practices aligned with state and national standards using instruments developed primarily for the Salish Project1.  The researchers modified these instruments in order to align them with the five major components of the Minnesota TTE (Transforming Teacher Education) Framework (Simpson and Wallace, 1995). 

  • Knowing Mathematics and Science
  • Knowing Pedagogy in Mathematics and Science
  • Knowing Students as Learners in Mathematics and Science
  • Establishing an Environment for Learning Mathematics and Science
  • Developing as a Teacher in Science and Mathematics


Study Design

The 64 subjects in the study were elementary and secondary teachers of science and mathematics in their first through third year of teaching, plus a few pre-service teachers.  Most elementary teachers in the study were assigned to self-contained classrooms and taught most or all-academic subjects; most were not specialists in mathematics or science. When feasible, researchers collected a complete set of data for each of three years for each teacher in the study.  These teachers were largely selected by virtue of having attended one of the eleven institutions in which the researchers held faculty appointments.  The schools of teachers in the study included both public and private schools located in various rural and urban settings throughout the state. The teachers received undergraduate teacher education preparation from either public or private institutions in Minnesota.

The TRN research instruments for the study of science teachers are:

Survey instruments:

    • Constructivist Learning Environment Survey 2(20) (CLES), student and teacher versions
    • Science Teacher Self-Efficacy Beliefs Inventory: Form B (STEBI)

·        Minnesota Science Teacher Observation Instrument (MNSTOI) which contains the following components:

§         A pre-observation questionnaire in which the teacher describes the objectives and plan for the lesson and students in the class

§         An observation form providing a series of specific prompts organized around the five characteristics of quality teacher preparation identified by the TTE Framework to guide the researcher

§         A post-observation questionnaire in which the teacher reflects on the success of the lesson and includes suggestions for further instruction.

    •  Science Teacher Interview Instrument (STII).

The TRN research instruments for the study of mathematics teachers are:

Survey instruments:

·        Mathematics Learning Environment (MLES (20); student and teacher forms

§         Mathematics Teacher Efficacy Beliefs Inventory (MTEBI)

§         Minnesota Mathematics Teacher Observation Instrument (MNMTOI)

§         Mathematics Teacher Interview Instrument: (MTII). 

The intent of the observation prompts in the MNSTOI and MNMTOI is to ensure that every researcher examines teachers in as similar a manner as possible. The prompts were modified from the assessment guide developed for the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) portfolio project (Collins, 2002).  An analogous set of instruments for study of mathematics teachers differs from those for the science teachers only in the substitution of a mathematics context for the science context, and they are not separately described below.  All instruments used in the TRN Study have been previously described. (Davis, Simpson, Johnson & Wallace; 2002) 

The research design utilized a variety of investigative approaches.  Quantitative methods were employed for the student and teacher versions of the CLES2(20), STEBI, and MTEBI. Qualitative methods were used for the MNSTOI, MNMTOI, STII, and the MTII.  The project reports perspectives of teachers, students, and researchers.  The science teacher’s perspective is presented through completion of the teacher version of the Constructivist Learning Environment Survey 2(20) (CLES2 (20) Johnson, 2002) and the Science Teacher Self Efficacy Beliefs Inventory Form B (STEBI). Pre and post-observation questionnaires, and a Science Teacher Interview Instrument (STII).  The classroom students’ perspective is collected with the student version of CLES2 (20).  Researchers’ perspective is based upon observations of two lessons using the Minnesota Science Teacher Observation Instrument (MNSTOI).  Teacher and researcher demographics forms supplied additional information regarding the context of the class.  Researchers compiled a synthesis of all three perspectives into a summary document called a teacher profile, and these profiles served as the basis for further data analysis.  Most profiles were saved in electronic form, and are now available to researchers at the TRN website (http://www.mnstate.edu/trn).

Every teacher completed the teacher version of the CLES2 (20) survey, and his/her students completed the student version of the same instrument prior to any observations or interviews.  The original CLES instrument was developed in Australia “to enable teacher-researchers to monitor their development of constructivist approaches to teaching school science.” (Taylor, Dawson & Fraser, 1995)  The CLES2(20) version, a modification of the original CLES, has the same purpose but was shortened and modified for use with younger students (Johnson, 2002).   Each teacher then completed a demographic questionnaire describing his/her school, course, classroom and students and the STEBI or MTEBI survey designed to measure teacher beliefs about his/her influence on student learning in math or science.  Each researcher completed a separate demographics questionnaire identifying the researcher’s university, role at the university, and prior experiences interacting with the teacher participating in this study (such as university courses or field supervision) and general educational background and experiences with teaching and teacher education.  Once researchers collected survey data, they administered the Minnesota Science or Math Teacher Observation Instrument (MNSTOI) or (MNMTOI) which serves as a guide for teacher observations.  Researchers asked each science teacher to choose one lesson that develops a science concept and another that represents inquiry (as he or she defines it) for the researchers to observe.   Researchers asked each mathematics teacher to choose two lessons, at least one of which emphasized problem solving.

Finally, researchers audiotaped an hour long interview with each teacher.  The Minnesota Science Teacher Interview Instrument (MNSTII) or Mathematics Teacher Interview Instrument  (MNMTII) provided the basis for this interview.  These instruments were modified from the Salish project’s Teacher Pedagogical Philosophy Inventory (TPPI) to align with the TRN research questions and consequently the standards for new teachers in Minnesota described in the TTE Framework.  The fifteen questions and associated prompts are designed to result in a guided discussion between the researcher and the teacher.  Later, the audiotapes were transcribed into print form, many of which are also available at the website. 

Analysis of Data

Individual researchers triangulated data for each teacher, for each year of the study from the student and teacher CLES2 (20) surveys, the teacher’s STEBI or MTEBI survey, two classroom observations using the MNSTOI or MNMTOI, and the MNSTII or MNMTII interview transcript.  Researchers used these results to develop the narrative teacher profile, intended to serve as a snapshot of that teacher’s beliefs and practices for that year. 

A common profile template developed by the TRN researchers followed the outline:

·        context

·        knowing science or mathematics content

·        knowing pedagogy

·        knowing students

·        establishing a learning environment

·        developing as a teacher

·        researcher comments


Consistent with the TRN instruments used to collect the data, these categories reflect the organization of the standards for teachers of science and mathematics in Minnesota described in the TTE Framework.  After the researchers wrote the profiles, the researchers grouped the profiles into the following four categories:

·        elementary (grades 3-6) science teacher profiles

·        secondary (grades 7-12) science teacher profiles

·        elementary (grades 3-6) mathematics teacher profiles

·        secondary (grades 7-12) mathematics teacher profiles. 


Some of the TRN researchers then undertook a second level of analysis that aimed to identify similarities and differences within subgroups, patterns that emerged, and any conspicuous absences.  In addition, further directions for research were identified, as were any concerns pertaining to the data collection procedures and/or the creation of the profiles.  These analysts produced draft reports that were each reviewed by two other TRN researchers and subsequently revised by the original analysts.

In January of 2003, after three years (1999-2002) of studying new science and math teachers in grades 3-12, the project had produced 100 teacher profiles and had completed three annual sets of comprehensive analyses of each of the four profile category (2 elementary math, 3 elementary science, 3 secondary science, 3 secondary math).  With this set of 100 profiles researchers elected to do an overall analysis to look for general findings that would foster a description of the practice of new science and math teachers in Minnesota.  In June of 2004, six researchers analyzed the 2002-2003 profiles.  The themes emerging from the TRN analyses are discussed in the findings of the study.


Findings of the study


Prominent themes that emerged in this study are:


·        Teachers need a strong content knowledge.  Researchers observed inadequate science and math content knowledge in a number of classes.  For example, an analysis of fourteen science elementary teachers observed in 1999-2000, showed that the majority of these teachers voiced their lack of confidence in teaching science, with the exception of three teachers who had earned a co-major in science and math together with their elementary education major, and a novice teacher who had an undergraduate degree in environmental science.  During classroom observations two teachers in this group demonstrated misconceptions about the concepts they were trying to teach, and when given a choice, teachers chose to teach science lessons in an area where they felt comfortable.  Teaching standards based curriculum presented challenges for some secondary math and science teachers, apparently because of this comfort zone issue.  A similar analysis of a group of elementary math teachers revealed that teachers with a meager background in mathematics relied heavily on the text and displayed poor understanding of mathematics in front of the class.  In contrast, a teacher with a math specialty licensure was confident of the material and able to choose appropriate materials and lessons.  Overall, the math and science content preparation of many elementary teachers appears to be inadequate.

·        Constraints in the learning environment existed.   In some cases, classroom management problems interfered with effective lesson delivery.  For instance, a teacher with a class containing several students with special needs found that many of the planned activities for that day were not possible to complete because of behavioral problems.  Another constraint researchers observed was the inadequacy of some classrooms for hands-on science activities. A third constraint was introduced by assigning new teachers students and/or teaching loads that are more challenging than their more senior colleagues.  In some districts it is the practice to give newer teachers classes of students that have already demonstrated poor academic achievement.  These constraints reduced the flexibility in teaching methods of the subject matter content and teachers tended to revert to teacher and text centered instruction.

·        Limited teacher mentoring was evident.  Researchers saw little evidence of consistent high quality mentoring programs.  Types and effectiveness of mentoring varied, though it was observed that new teachers appreciate an effective mentoring program if it is offered.  There were several examples of informal mentoring noted, such as a teacher being guided by another more experienced teacher.  Some teachers had no mentoring and felt isolated.  In some cases a grade team met from time to time and discussed the curriculum.  In a group of nine elementary science teachers investigated in 2000/2001, most had no mentors specifically assigned to them though some had found other teachers who could help them.

·        Professional development participation was limited.  Most professional development in which the teachers participated was delivered within the school and was not focused on pedagogy or content, but rather involved classroom management, reading programs, or new software training.  Moreover, there was little general administrative or peer support in professional development outside the schools.  Teachers were not encouraged to join professional associations such as Minnesota Science Teacher Association (MNSTA) or Minnesota Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM), and only one out of nine elementary science teachers interviewed in 2000/2001 had attended an MNSTA meeting.  Three of the nine had experienced no professional development at all during the year.  Exceptions were teachers who were planning higher degrees, who were more likely to seek opportunities to attend conferences or professional meetings. 

·        A disconnect exists between teacher education preparation and school culture.  Many teachers begin their careers with pedagogical training that may not be consistent with the school’s practice.  In college courses teachers may have learned about science or math standards and the pedagogy that is successful in standards-based teaching, but find that the school culture expects a different approach, or places a teacher in a situation in which it is difficult to implement standards-based approaches.  Researchers observed that beginning teachers were primarily concerned with “surviving” their first years, and taught whatever the culture of the school dictated.  New teachers struggled with classroom management particularly in student-centered environments.  Some new teachers said that their college preparation had not prepared them for the kind of diverse learning styles they found in their classroom, for example a large percentage of ELL students, or several students with academic or behavioral disabilities.  In reviewing six randomly selected profiles from the TRN Matrix, two out of the six teacher participants revealed in their interviews that issues of behavior limited their selection of activities that were more student centered.


 In the fall of 2004, TRN contacted a subset of the original teacher participants to obtain some follow-up information regarding their current employment.  We felt this was important because one of the original motivations for the study was curiosity and concern over the numbers of beginning teachers who were leaving the profession, and the data we had obtained to date did not address that question.  Of the 26 teachers contacted in the follow up, 19 were still teaching, one of whom intended to quit that year.  Two of those who were no longer teaching left as a result of job cuts.  Three, including the one who intended to quit, went to graduate school, with mention of missing the intellectual rigor of being in school.  Two “burned out”, from the school setting or classroom management issues.  Only one left solely for financial reasons, although three of the remaining teachers, when asked why they remained in the profession, indicated that they were seriously considering leaving because of pay issues.  Nearly all those remaining in teaching mention a love for teaching and/or students, several mention freedom/creativity, supportive colleagues and administrative staff, and a sense of contributing to the community as reasons for staying.  Finally, nearly all the remaining teachers had experienced assignment changes over the course of their career.



The findings of this study are of interest to faculty of pre-service and in-service teacher education programs, in that they provides a glimpse of the current conditions that  beginning teachers encounter, and their responses to those conditions.  The findings are also of interest to researchers who might wish to investigate similar issues, in that they provide possible research topics and a tested methodology.

This six-year study by faculty from eleven Minnesota institutions who observed 64 new teachers found several recurring themes that are described above. These themes are:  Teachers need a strong content knowledge” , “ Constraints in the learning environment existed” , “Limited teacher mentoring was evident” , “ Professional development participation was limited “ and “ A disconnect exists between teacher education preparation and school culture” .These common  themes were observed by different researchers in a variety of school settings.

 Initially this study attempted to shed some light on the reasons that new teachers frequently leave the profession, and some of these emerging themes suggest possible answers.  The study also brought to light some facts that might be useful for college based teacher educators, school superintendents and school principals.





Davis, G., & Simpson, P. (2000). Developing a statewide research network to conduct a qualitative study of pre-service and early in-service K-12 science and math teachers. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, Akron, OH.


Davis, G., Simpson, P., Johnson, B., & Wallace, A. (2002, January). Getting to the fourth

Year: The instruments and protocols used to study the practice of beginning Kñ12 science teachers. Paper presented at the international meeting of the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, Charlotte, NC.


Enochs, L. G., & Riggs, I. M. (1990). Further development of an elementary science teaching efficacy belief instrument: A preservice elementary scale. School Science and Mathematics, 90.


Johnson, B. (2002). Constructivist Learning Environment Survey -  CLES 2 (20). Paper presented at the international meeting of the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, Charlotte, NC.


Simmons, P. E., Emory, A., Carter, T., Coker, T., Finnegan, B., Crockett, D., Richardson, L., Yager, R., Craven, J., Tillotson, J., Brunkhorst, H., Twiest, M., Hossain, K., Gallagher, J., Duggan-Haas, D., Parker, J., Cajas, F., Alshannag, Q., McGlamery, S., Krockover, J., Adams, P., Spector, B., LaPorta, T., James, B., Reardon, K., & Labuda, K. (1999). Beginning teachers: Beliefs and classroom actions. Journal of research in science teaching, 36, 930-954.



Simpson, P. & Wallace (1995). Transforming Teacher Education: A Minnesota Framework for Science and Mathematics. SciMathMN: Roseville, MN.


Taylor, P.C., Fraser, B.J., & Fraser, D.L. (1995). A constructivist perspective on monitoring classroom learning environments under transformation. Paper presented at annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.