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Are 'Qualified' Science Teachers Culturally Competent?

The Commentary editors asked six education, business, and STEM leaders to respond to the following question: What is missing from the discussion around ensuring all students have access to well-trained and qualified science teachers? To read other responses, please visit OpEducation's Science Learning: Under the Microscope.

Christopher Emdin

In discussions about well-trained and qualified science teachers, experts often focus on how much science content teachers should learn and whether or not teachers meet the ever-shifting criteria for certification. While these factors are important, the discussion often misses the fact that a qualified teacher is not necessarily an effective one and a well-trained teacher for one context can be ineffective in another.

Though expectations must remain high across settings, and ensuring that "all students have access to well-trained and qualified science teachers" is a lofty goal, the discussion requires shifting philosophies, policy and practice in science education to reflect more complex understandings of the learner. Rather than ask how we can ensure that teachers who are "well-trained" and "qualified" can be in all classrooms, we must ask what evidence we have that those who we perceive to be "well-trained" and "qualified" are prepared for students who may not look like them, or who may not share the same culture. 

Christopher Emdin is an associate professor of science education at Teachers College, Columbia University and director of science education at college's Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education. He is also the associate director of the college's Institute for Urban and Minority Education.

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