Field of Science

Teaching High School Science Requires Professional Degrees - In Switzerland

1. I think a high school science teacher is one of the toughest jobs in the world, especially biology.

2. I think that we do not provide adequate education or training, and then we still expect them to do an excellent job.

Let me explain. First of all, the bratwurst is to indicate that I am in Switzerland collaborating on botanical research. And while comparing notes with a colleague, I found out about the 250 hr internship student teachers are doing at the University of Zurich's botanical garden where the institute for systematic botany is located. Their job is to learn about the research being conducted here and then communicate it to their students and the general public in a meaningful way via some type of program.

Fair enough, but here in Switzerland, to become a high school biology teacher requires not just an undergraduate degree, but a master's degree, and not just one, but two, one in biology and one in education. Yes, the Swiss treat teaching as a profession, with real graduate education and real professional status as well.

Only a fool would think that we can prune an already over subscribed undergraduate biology major down to make room for the education courses and student teaching, and still have a viable degree, one that confers competence in both teaching and biology. Several years ago I was asked to serve on a committee to suggest ways we could upgrade degrees in science education. I was the youngest person on the committee, but because no other tangible suggestions were being discussed, I suggested that our prestigious university eliminate undergraduate degrees in teacher education. In their stead, a student would major in biological sciences, as all biology majors, and then get a master's degree in education. Well, you cannot imagine the reaction, the gnashing of teeth, and out rage. "We [the university] wouldn't be competitive, and enrollment would drop." Me, "But we would graduate a better product that could out compete graduates of other institutions." Blather, blather, but no other substantive issues were raised. No one would even address the issue of whether they thought this would be a better thing to do or not.

I understand the committee continued to meet, and to no obvious tangible conclusions, but I was never invited back. This suggestion still remains an anathma even after almost 30 years. Imagine if I had suggested that teacher certification require in biology required two master's degrees!

And given the sorry state of science education, I cannot help but believe that teachers better versed in biology, in science, in research, and indeed, in education, would make a difference. And maybe if we educated them as professionals and paid them what professionals deserve for salaries, then more might be eager to get such an education. Of course, it would be nice if some of us at the university level were paid more than high school teachers too. Is that asking too much?

Lastly, it's just amazing, and a testiment to the dedication of our inadequately educated and poorly trained high school teachers, that education is as good as it is in the USA. It certainly isn't because we are doing the best job we can.


PonderingFool said...

In many states in the US that is exactly what happens. My friends in CA majored in biology for undergraduate and then earned a masters in teaching, usually focussing on science education. I think the push has been that to become the norm. Others major in a subject and at the same time earn their teaching credential. That can be a bit much.

The Phytophactor said...

No question people do get this much education before teaching, and I am certain they are better for it. But when is this going to be recognized and the educational requirements for teaching changed accordingly.