CER in Teacher Prep Positions

by Michelle Dean, Kennesaw State University

I am now three years into a position as an Assistant Professor of Chemical Education and taking on teaching, research and service activities I absolutely love and three years ago would have never imagined I would be doing.  Upon completing my undergraduate degree I changed my career trajectory from secondary education in chemistry to that of a chemical education university faculty member.  This change was not initiated by a horrible student teaching experience, but rather simply learning that such a profession existed.  I graduated with my undergraduate degree from an institution where if chemical education research was taking place it did not readily involve student researchers or shared with students, and therefore I was clueless about this alternative career path which blended two things I had a passion for: chemistry and education.

I again found myself in a similar position as I completed my Ph.D in chemical education.  I envisioned landing a faculty position where I could continue my graduate research on modeling and visualization in organic chemistry.  My research plans strongly reflected this too.  However, as I began searching for jobs a few popped up that seemed to fit all my interests without allowing me to leave anything behind:  an assistant professor of chemical education whose focus would be on teacher preparation.  Today I teach courses in our chemistry and chemistry education degree tracks, work with local teachers, visit high school classrooms regularly to coach pre-service teachers, and research how modeling practices are implemented in the high school setting.  Could it get any better?

Yes, I think it could.  It would be wonderful to have a strong community of CER members who are active in teacher preparation collaborating and shedding light on related issues such as how to effectively recruit secondary chemistry education students and support them during their induction phase.  However, the number of us involved in discipline-specific teacher preparation is limited, but the need for faculty in these positions is growing as evident in the number of job ads that have appeared over the past couple of years. This is likely due to numerous changes in K-12 education, including but not limited to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)1 and Common Core Standards2, as well as a push to evaluate the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs, a product of Race to the Top Initiatives.  As more faculty positions target chemistry teacher preparation it is imperative that the CER community is doing what it can to help CER graduate students gain experiences that will allow them to be marketable for such a position.  Upon completion of a few faculty searches, a mix of successful and failed searches, a few characteristics have stood out about making a candidate more marketable for a position of this nature. 

  1. One of the strongest attributes that one can bring to this type of position is gaining time in the high school classroom.  The structure of high school administration and the day-to-day schedule is often quite different from that at the college-level.  Although, a graduate student may not be too far removed from their high school days as a chemistry student, one does not fully understand the operational agenda until they are on the other side of the fence.  This experience will also allow one to gain an understanding of the governing notions that affect classroom practice, such as curriculum mapping and pacing guides for the semester. 
  2. As mentioned before, with the numerous changes that are taking place in K-12 education at the national level it is causing many states to rethink their standards and grade assessments.  Since the changes occurring at the national level were not initiated by federal agencies, states are not mandated to adopt the changes.  Therefore, it is most helpful to understand the position the state in which you are applying takes on these changes.  A better understanding of this will allow you to discuss in an interview how you will build effective instruction to prepare new teachers to meet the demands of the changes within that state.  
  3. Develop a well thought out research plan that could lead to new findings that may be related to areas such as chemistry teacher preparation, chemistry teacher recruitment, chemistry teacher induction, or chemistry teaching in the high school setting.  Although, you may find my story contrary to this I was able to adapt my research plans to address modeling in the chemistry high school classroom, which I am currently working on now.  When proposing this type of research agenda it is important to consider the special measures that need to be taken if minors will be included in a research study.  Also, since two agencies will be involved in the research a separate IRB is often required by the school district.  It is also helpful to do some research on local and state education funding agencies, as their programs will vary from state to state.  Once you have conducted your research consider where you will disseminate your findings.  It may not be at a tradition CER venue such as the Biennial Conference for Chemical Education (BCCE) or a National American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting, but instead at the National Association for Research on Science Teaching (NARST) Conference or at an Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE) national conference.  Similarly this goes to publications too.

Addressing these three points certainly allows a candidate to be set apart from the rest of the pool and will put you in contention for landing that dream job. To catalyze your progress once in the position it is helpful to get involved in student teaching observations and other field placement work as soon as possible.  This will allow you to quickly create strong working relationships with the chemistry teachers in your community and build an understanding of the state chemistry standards..  In the area of education, service is vital to maintaining a strong community of practice between your college teacher preparation program and local teachers.  However this can quickly overshadow your research and teaching, which are often valued more in a tenure decision.  Therefore the best advice that I received from a colleague as I took the position at Kennesaw, was to turn your service into research.  This will allow you to make the most of your valuable time as a new faculty.

1.  Next Generation Science Standards:  http://www.nextgenscience.org/
2.  Common Core State Standards Initiative:  http://www.corestandards.org/

yesMichelle Dean, Ph.D.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Assistant Professor
Kennesaw State University