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Essays on Teacher Preparation by Workshop Participants

Nate Shotwell

Mills E. Goodwin High School
Richmond, Virginia

As a third year high school Earth Science teacher I come to the table with a different background and interpretation on the questions at hand. I will reflect on the questions at hand from the perspective of a practicing teacher first with respect to recruiting new teachers and second with respect to improving teacher retention and support.

It is important to note that future Earth Science teachers will likely fall into one of four general categories.

  • Individuals who know they want to teach when they arrive at college and come to the realization that geoscience is their field of choice.
  • Individuals who enter college with a desire to study the geosciences and while in college realize that that they would like to work in the field of education.
  • Individuals who graduate with a degree in the geosciences and upon graduating realize that they would like to enter the field of education.
  • Individuals who are certified to teach other science but did not study the geosciences in college, however, because of the critical shortage of teachers in the geoscience field are asked to teach out of their area of expertise to accommodate the need.

Teacher Recruitment

Geoscience educators in the community of higher education can make the most measurable contributions to the number of qualified K-12 geoscience educators by directing their efforts at the first two categories of college students.

In order to recruit teacher candidates it is imperative that geoscience departments devote their strongest faculty members to teaching introductory level classes. This ensures that all students will have a positive first impression of the geosciences and be more likely to enroll in additional courses. Introductory classes should avoid rote memorization whenever possible and focus on real world issues in order to engage students at a higher level of thinking.

Motivated college students who know they want to teach will also take advantage of, and thus be attracted to departments which offer them opportunities to participate in the teaching process early and often. Geoscience departments should strive offer interested students the opportunity to assist in introductory labs as teaching assistants. Additionally, while it does require significant planning as well as a budget, strong faculty guidance, and significant student man-hours the implementation of an outreach program in partnership with local elementary and high schools provides a wonderful opportunity for students to develop and practice teaching skills. William and Mary has a strong program in place called Geology on Wheels that does just this.

One of the strands we have been asked to reflect on is the role of student research in preparing future teachers. I do consider the Geology senior project I wrote as an undergraduate as invaluable to me as an individual and scientist (a research thesis approximately 15 pages of original research). I also completed a senior project through my college's education department (an original thematic unit in my field of study). I must say that as a teacher I have not had significant opportunity to reflect on or use my research experience in my classroom, while the unit I developed has been quite useful to me (though it lacks scientific rigor). Geoscience departments that require undergraduate research or senior projects should strongly consider offering students enrolled in the college's teacher preparatory program the opportunity to complete an alternative, equally rigorous project designed to develop units, labs, or technology projects that they will be able to use in the classroom. The completion of such a project under the supervision of the geoscience faculty would ensure a modern scientific foundation and scientific rigor that exceeds the level which many education departments require. This would ensure that sound pedagogical ideas and strong scientific rigor are making their ways into high school classrooms together.

Teacher Retention and Support

As a third year teacher who works very close to the college from which I graduated I have become quite dependent on William and Mary for support and help. Supporting practicing teachers is just as important as recruiting new teachers. Geoscience department members there have been very helpful to me in a huge variety of ways. They have been open to answering questions that have come up in my class that I don't know the answers to and haven't been able to find on my own. I have been included in professional conferences, online discussions, and email list-serves. I have been allowed to borrow lab supplies from the department that are not traditionally available to high school teachers. I have also had the opportunity to teach using the W&M Virginia Geology site to teach regional geology, a concept that is not covered in any high school textbook but state education standards mandate we cover. The W&M Geoscience department has also actively worked with other departments to offer workshops and seminars to local high school science teachers connecting them to modern research and providing them activities and resources for use in their own classroom.

Online databases of classroom activities are readily available but are often under utilized. Teachers have limited time and tend to use what is familiar to them, encouraging use of such databases might best be accomplished by encouraging teacher submission to such databases. One other resource that is more difficult to line up but could prove very successful is the creation of a local "speaker's bureau". Faculty members, practicing geoscience professionals, or students who have conducted interesting research could be included on such a list. These individuals could speak to interested classes in order to provide a concrete connection to the real world for high school students.