Other teachers agreed.
“I have discussed possible STEM careers with my students, but this is usually done one-on-one before or after school,” said Donald Worcester, mathematics instructor and curriculum leader at Winter Park High School in Florida.
“Very seldom do I discuss STEM careers, or any careers, during the class period. The problem is time. There is already a limited amount of time in the school year to cover the mathematical content that needs to be covered, and reducing this time [to cover] ‘extra’ content is difficult to do.”
Another challenge is that teachers themselves might not know about the many STEM career options that are available.
“I’m not sure teachers are aware of the number of opportunities that are open to students,” said Crystel Bloemen, a Colorado junior high teacher and Coalition for Space Exploration board member.
When students think of science careers, Bloemen said, they typically think of the medical field, biology, or engineering—and the average science teacher doesn’t always know about the vast variety of STEM career opportunities.
“Many teachers who teach science enjoy their content and kids and have found teaching to be the best way to marry their two loves; therefore, they haven’t looked beyond their field to see the opportunities awaiting their students,” she said. “Also, engineering is considered for the very gifted of math students and is not encouraged for the ‘average high-achieving’ student.”
Audrey Ettinger, associate professor of biology at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa., said many students interested in science arrive at college thinking that medical school is the best career option.
“I suspect that both high school teachers and the families of these students see medicine as a high-prestige, high-earning potential career track, and suggest this option to bright students. However, medicine is only one option available to these students, and [it] involves a wide skill and interest set that only partially overlaps with an interest in science,” she explained.
“Even within the health professions, there are many options besides the traditional MD track that can be better matches for a student’s interests and abilities.”
Ettinger said teachers also are trained primarily as educators, and not as scientists.
“Their undergraduate majors in science may include a research experience, but they are unlikely to have conducted research at the graduate level,” she said. “While they have an excellent understanding of their fields and how to teach them, they are less likely to have personal experience with working in academic or industrial research labs. Many high school teachers, then, simply don’t have a strong understanding of the many laboratory based and non-laboratory based careers that scientists can choose, and then they can’t pass them on to their students.”
Also, schools and teachers might not have enough resources at their disposal to interest students in STEM careers.
Rose Lounsbury, a science teacher at the Charter School of Wilmington, Del., said the challenge of exposing students in an inspiring way to STEM careers comes from a lack of resources, such as high-quality lab equipment and skills development projects.
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