AAPT.org - American Association of Physics Teachers

Summer 2003 Executive Officer's Report

Note: An updated list of co-signers to the Statement on the Education of Future Teachers (seen below) is available online.

Bernard Khoury
Announcer, Vol. 33, Iss. 2

Teacher Preparation: What Role for Physics Departments?

A while back, AAPT joined with several other physics-based associations to develop and endorse a resolution encouraging physics departments to take active roles in the improvement of teacher preparation programs across the nation. In doing so, we were joining a national chorus of concerns about the state of K–12 education, especially education in math and science at those levels. However, we went further than a mere expression of concerns by urging members of our physics community to get involved in the solution of the underlying problem.

This is the resolution along with the names of the associations that joined with AAPT in its endorsement.

Statement on the Education of Future Teachers

The scientific societies listed below urge the physics community, specifically physical science and engineering departments and their faculty members, to take an active role in improving the pre-service training of K–12 physics/science teachers. Improving teacher training involves building cooperative working relationships between physicists in universities and colleges and the individuals and groups involved in teaching physics to K–12 students. Strengthening the science education of future teachers addresses the pressing national need for improving K–12 physics education and recognizes that these teachers play a critical education role as the first and often-times last physics teacher for most students. While this responsibility can be manifested in many ways, research indicates that effective pre-service teacher education involves hands-on, laboratory-based learning. Good science and mathematics education will help create a scientifically literate public, capable of making informed decisions on public policy involving scientific matters. A strong K–12 physics education is also the first step in producing the next generation of researchers, innovators, and technical workers.

American Association of Physics Teachers
American Physical Society
American Astronomical Society
American Institute of Physics
Acoustical Society of America
American Association of Physicists in Medicine
American Vacuum Society

We all know of physics departments that play an active and successful role in the preparation of teachers. (As members of AAPT, those college and university faculty reading this issue of the Announcer are likely to be affiliated with one of those active departments.) Many of us know also of physics departments that do not play such active roles, treating with apathy and maybe even in some cases with disdain educational efforts in schools of education.

In an effort to encourage active consideration of the role of physics departments in the training of prospective teachers, AAPT recently joined with our sister associations, the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Physics, to bring the above resolution to the attention of all physics departments and to encourage their faculty to endorse the national resolution adopted earlier by the associations.

Why are we interested in having physics departments adopt such a resolution? What good can be gained by consideration of such a statement of principle?

What we want to do is to encourage physics departments to consider what kind of role and responsibility they have with respect to the preparation of K–12 teachers, including those who will teach little or no physics. While some physics departments already pay lots of attention to prospective teachers, meaning those who are in pre-service programs, many other departments see a minimal role for themselves, often isolating their activities from teacher prep programs in their schools of education. In this latter kind of department, the physics faculty might bemoan the sorry state of K–12 education in the country, but they accept little or no responsibility for that problem or for its solution.

So our first intent is to stimulate such conversations, even if it turns out that the conversation reaffirms a department’s practice to give little consideration to such issues.

Another intent is to see how many departments “buy into” the resolution that was adopted by the national organizations. If lots of departments support this statement, which is clearly a statement of principle rather than a promise to take any specific action, we hope to publicize that fact. If very few departments agree with the statement of principle, that might mean that the problem is as intractable as many suspect; or it might mean that any solution will not involve the efforts of physics departments.

Basically, we would like to encourage more awareness and involvement in teacher prep issues by physics departments across the country. Consideration and endorsement of a resolution seems like a direct first step toward this end, and our letter to all physics departments is trying to stimulate such involvement.

Not unrelated to this effort to have departments consider their role in teacher prep is a parallel effort within AAPT to encourage our Sections across the nation to engage in discussions of teacher preparation issues, especially as they impact their own state and regional practices and standards. (See the AAPT statement sent to all Sections.)

While there are many teacher preparation issues that can be reasonably discussed from a national perspective, there are very important teacher preparation issues that vary from region to region, state to state, and school district to school district. For example, local certification requirements, curricula, textbooks and examinations are often based on statewide standards. In these and other ways, discussions and actions about teacher preparation and the success of teachers in their classrooms are very much local and regional issues. AAPT Sections that engage such discussions will be assisting members and other teachers to address these important topics.

Getting physics departments to consider and articulate their roles in teacher preparation and encouraging our sections to provide opportunities for teachers to discuss the preparation and professional development of teachers are two important ways that we want to engage our community in the nation’s most significant long term priority: high quality education for all of our children and all of our students. If your department is inattentive to these issues or if your Section does not plan a discussion of teacher preparation, you should speak out to stimulate such attention.