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STEM Grads Won't End Teacher Shortage

The demand for teachers who have majored in science, technology, engineering and math is huge, but no more so than in California ("Can Scientists Help End the Teacher Shortage?" The Atlantic, Jun. 14). That's why it's heartening to learn there has been an increase in the number of highly educated workers in labs who have switched careers to become public-school teachers.

Of the 10,136 teachers with provisional credentials in California, 1,646 were in math, science, and engineering in the 2015-16 school year.  That is more than twice the number issued four years ago, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.  Yet California will need 33,000 new math and science teachers over the next decade.

But the inchoate trend from the lab to the classroom may be less than it initially appears.  I know what most of these teachers say: They want to make a difference, particularly in the lives of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.  I commend them for their decision.  Yet I wonder how many will still be in the classroom five years from now.  I know few, if any, new teachers who don't express elation and excitement when they get their first classroom assignment.  Everything is new, and everything seems possible.

However, the initial euphoria soon wanes when reality finally sets in.  Teaching five classes a day five days a week eventually becomes too much to handle.  These teachers typically transfer to suburban public schools, or to private or religious schools.  The rest quit to return to the labs in the private sector.

Yes, there will always be a few teachers who remain in their original classrooms teaching students from chaotic backgrounds.  But they are outliers.  I hope I'm wrong, but the evidence is anything but encouraging.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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