Researchers Identify Best Strategies for Supporting New Science Teachers

Posted: August 28, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jennifer Edgerly

With a nationwide shortage of science teachers and plummeting student test scores, many school districts are forced to hire teachers with science degrees but little training in education or experience teaching. Without proper support, research shows that 66 percent of these new teachers will quit the profession within three years.

Donna Sterling
Donna Sterling

Now, new research from Mason’s New Science Teachers’ Support Network (NSTSN) has identified the most vital forms of support for new science teachers — providing them with in-classroom support and quality courses in how to teach science.

The NSTSN was created by researchers at Mason’s Center for Restructuring Education in Science and Technology (CREST) with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The network has chronicled the experiences of uncertified teachers in three Virginia school districts and the people supporting them to determine how the new teachers’ needs were addressed as well as to assess the consequences of those actions.

“Teachers have a daunting task. They must be instructional leaders, curriculum and assessment experts, special needs advisors, cheerleaders, educational visionaries and change agents,” says Donna Sterling, founder of NSTSN.

“Growing expectations for teachers to successfully teach a broad range of students with different needs and steadily improve achievement mean that classrooms and teaching typically must be redesigned rather than merely continuing as in the past.”

Working with middle and high school science teachers, the NSTSN research revealed that students enrolled in classes with teachers who received the support of retired science teachers as in-class mentors and a science teaching course performed significantly better on standardized tests and had better science grades than students enrolled in classes taught by a comparable set of new science teachers who did not receive the in-class support from retirees or a science methods course.

Also, by enlisting the help of retired science teachers, new science teachers were able to perfect their teaching and enhance student learning.

Wendy Frazier
Wendy Frazier

“Retired master science teachers are one group not to overlook as a source of support because many have the skills, knowledge and time to work with new teachers,” says Wendy Frazier, associate director of CREST and program manager on the NSF grant. “Not only can retirees observe classroom teaching and provide support throughout the school day, but they can identify when a teacher is being treated poorly and serve as an advocate.”

Free from the constraints of teaching their own students, retired science teachers are able to help new teachers plan effective lessons, identify strategies and organizational ideas for laboratory activities, and model effective teaching techniques during a lesson.

In addition, the NSTSN makes the following recommendations.

  • Assign new teachers only one course so they have time to reflect and revise lessons between class periods to perfect their teaching skills.
  • Provide new science teachers their own classroom so they don’t have to float between classrooms with a cart.
  • Establish a plan and identify a person or team to provide a new teacher orientation familiarizing them with the school, policies and procedures.
  • Provide teaching resources, including teaching supplies, computer equipment and science equipment, along with a trainer to demonstrate effective equipment use.

“As school districts continue to hire uncertified science teachers, clearly there is a need for a more thorough understanding of how effective support programs targeting this special population of teachers function, so that replication is possible,” says Frazier.

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