Science Group Bids To Boost Physics Teachers Last year, Georgia universities graduated a total of three physics teachers, highlighting a national trend. The National Science Foundation has a plan to boost the ranks of physics teachers, in Georgia and in other states.
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Science Group Bids To Boost Physics Teachers

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Science Group Bids To Boost Physics Teachers

Science Group Bids To Boost Physics Teachers

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Like many states, Georgia has a shortage of teachers, and when it comes to science teachers, that shortage looks more like a drought.

Last year, Georgia's state universities graduated just three physics teachers. Now, the National Science Foundation says it's time to do more. From Georgia Public Broadcasting, Susanna Capelouto reports.

SUSANNA CAPELOUTO: Principal Shirlene Carter(ph) is serious about growing the next generation of scientists. She runs a science and engineering academy at Maynard Jackson High School in Atlanta. But she has one problem: finding physics teachers.

Ms. SHIRLENE CARTER (Principal, Maynard H. Jackson High School, Atlanta, Georgia): Oh, physics, oh my goodness. It's very hard to find a physics teacher that's totally in that area.

CAPELOUTO: Just a few miles from her school is Georgia Tech, one of the nation's leading science and engineering universities. There, Pablo Laguna is teaching a relativity course.

Dr. PABLO LAGUNA (Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology): The frequency at the tail of the rocket or…

CAPELOUTO: This is rocket science, and two dozen students scribble down formulas from the chalkboard. One of them is Aaron Weaver(ph).

Mr. AARON WEAVER (Student, Georgia Institute of Technology): My physics teacher in high school was a coach who they convinced to teach physics.

CAPELOUTO: Weaver's experience is typical of many Georgia students. The senior began at Tech as a chemist and switched to physics. He likes science but isn't ready to return to high school.

Mr. WEAVER: I've thought about the possibility of teaching physics, and my mom's a teacher in Georgia high schools, but it's not something I really want to do necessarily because it doesn't satisfy that need to go out and learn more, which is really what I think motivates a lot of physicists.

CAPELOUTO: But the National Science Foundation says it's time scientists take responsibility for the next generation. The Foundation has given money to six schools, including Georgia Tech, to encourage universities to turn out more teachers. Jim Hamus(ph) is with the NSF.

Mr. JIM HAMUS (National Science Foundation): So when a young person choose those fields, they think about answering some sort of question in the discipline. That's what they're trained to do. Now we're saying that in addition to doing that, even if you're going to be a scientist, you have a role to be an educator.

CAPELOUTO: At Georgia Tech, the program is called Tech to Teaching. Administrator Donna Llewellyn hopes to turn out 50 teachers a year. She says one of her biggest challenges is to fight the stigma on campus that teaching is only a fall-back for students, not a career.

Ms. DONNA LLEWELLYN (Director, Center for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning): So if they go to their engineering professor or their advisor and say you know what? I really want to be a physics teacher. They will right now get: What, why don't you want to be an engineer? You're smart enough.

Instead, we want them to get: Great, we need some good physics teachers. Here's some information, or go see so-and-so. This is how you learn more about it.

CAPELOUTO: By far, the biggest hurdle of getting scientists into the classroom is money. A starting physicist can make $70,000 a year or more. Some science teachers get less than half that. So Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue asked lawmakers to help slow a projected shortfall of 1,800 science teachers next year.

Governor SONNY PERDUE (Republican, Georgia): I'll propose a bill that will pay new, fully certified, math and science teachers to begin as fifth-year teachers.

CAPELOUTO: That might mean Georgia would pay starting science teachers as much as $50,000 for a nine-months teaching job. Those new recruits would be welcomed by Maynard Jackson Principal Shirlene Carter.

Ms. CARTER: Money is always a motivator, especially in this economy. So I think the incentive, more pay, will motivate teachers to come to Georgia. And if they come here, it will be even better.

CAPELOUTO: Experts predict the number of science teachers will go up in the next year. That's because a slowing economy may force more out-of-work scientists into the classroom. For NPR News, I'm Susanna Capelouto in Atlanta.

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