Saturday, March 23, 2013

Smart students begin with smart teachers.

It began with nazis. Fermi split an atom, Hitler captured France, and the best nation in the world freaked out.

It continued with Sputnik. The Russians beat us to space, put the first dog in space, and then there was that Yuri guy that only us science teachers remember.

What followed both of these events were national demands on learning science.

In the 40s, universities were raided for their best graduates, drafting then into the manhattan project, putting them in secret towns in New Mexico where the brightest scientists in the country could collaborate and learn from each other.

In the 60s, it was a race to build the best rockets. We took enough shots to the chin, that in a comeback move only rivaled by Rocky Balboa, we strapped on our big boy boots and planted them firmly them on the moon.

If the driving force behind this push was national pride, the vehicle was education. We needed the best and brightest in the world, here making these discoveries. We valued education because it was the means for reaching our goals.

My high school physics teacher was a product of this time. He brought expertise and experience to the small village of Monticello, encouraging the 92 kids who graduated in my class to think, reason, and problem solve. His masters degree was in physics, earned through programs left over from the Sputnik scare. In the 70s and early 80s, there was still this belief that teachers should know science. All this went away in the 80s. We became more concerned with self image in our students, nurturing their thoughts of self worth instead of scientific principles.

Today, it is almost impossible to get an advanced degree in science, unless you count it's slow cousin "science teaching." My masters degree is in instructional design and telecommunications. It was close, cheap, and offered its classes on the weekends and at night. Unless I wanted to take a year off, there was no degree at any university within a hundred miles of me that offered classes in the summer time. Summer time is when professors did a majority of their research, brushing off those annoying classes they have to teach between publishing papers.

This is a problem, and I am positive it is not just a science thing. Teachers want degrees that matter, they want something that will help them be the best at what they do. Unless you want to be an administrator, the pickings are slim for grad programs.

NASA is cutting all their educational programming! I know! If you don't believe me, read this posting (

What does this day about where our nation puts its priorities? Perhaps making fuel efficient cars is not as sexy as going to the moon, or blowing up Japanese cities, but I can argue that it is more important. We hear our leaders preaching about STEM, but when push comes to shove, do they support it? We spend millions put technology into our kids hands but don't train teachers in its appropriate use. You can't buy an education with trinkets, it has to be earned. The first step in supporting our students is supporting our teachers.

I am a firm believer that teaching is 30% content knowledge, 20% pedagogy, 20% an art form, and 30% grit and determination. (Somewhere in there I should include politics, paperwork, and vodka)