Lack of STEM

Illustration by Jason Gan

Lack of Stem by Jeff Fox, SED 2014

Where is everybody?

To my knowledge, I am the only one of my kind at Boston University — a dual degree undergraduate student in physics and science education. I’ve gotten used to being Mr. Education in a physics-heavy environment, and Mr. Physics around education people. But still, there’s always that question on the back of my mind. Where on earth are all of the physics teachers?

I’ve come up with plenty of excuses, of course. Being a physicist pays better than teaching, in general. There’s a higher ceiling for success doing research (last I heard, there’s not a Nobel Prize in education). And anyway, people remember Albert Einstein, not the guy who taught him.

But, wait a minute.

Research might pay better, but I’m not even a little bit worried about landing a physics teaching job, and I’m the only person I know who isn’t concerned about finding employment. Districts across the country are so desperate for qualified physics teachers that many will take even kind-of-qualified physics teachers. (That being said, please don’t be just kind-of-qualified in what you teach, if you can avoid it.)

I might not win a Nobel Prize in a classroom, but the measuring stick of success is much different for teachers. I will not gauge whether or not I have accomplished something by how many papers I’ve published or prizes I’ve won. Some may judge my ability on the test scores of my students, but I will judge my success on whether my students have learned and grown in my class. In some ways, developing basic interpersonal skills in teenagers and laying the foundations of how science works is more difficult than finding a Higgs boson. (Note: it’s hard to find a Higgs boson.)

Maybe we don’t care much about Einstein’s teachers, but I have to think that he did. Max Talmey’s Wikipedia page might pale in comparison to potentially the greatest scientist in history, but I hate to think what the world would be like if Talmey never piqued a young Einstein’s interest in the subject. Statistically, I’m not going to be the next world-shaking scientist, but maybe I could inspire him or her.

So, I really don’t know why I’m alone in my degree. I’m not asking for all physics majors to drop what they’re doing and rush to education. We need people in the labs, who redefine what is possible. We need people who dare, literally, to disturb the universe. But we also need people who can get the next generation to dare. I hope that I can be a source of inspiration to my students, but I can’t do it on my own. Who’s with me?

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