Readers: Studies show that the single most powerful way to increase math and science proficiency is by providing quality, effective training for teachers. Yet we know that our nation urgently needs more teachers who can inspire future engineers and innovators. Some estimates say we’ll need more than 100,000 additional math and science teachers by 2020 if our students are going to be globally competitive in these critical subjects.
ExxonMobil took the lead in establishing the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) six years ago to help provide training opportunities for teachers as well as to develop new generations of highly qualified teachers. In observance of National Teacher Appreciation Day, I have asked Sara Martinez Tucker, the initiative’s new president and CEO, to offer some thoughts on the importance of teachers in preparing students to aim successfully for careers that leverage math and science skills. – Ken
Access to quality teachers is critical for all students—it was critical for me growing up in Laredo, Texas, and it’s central to the goals of the National Math and Science Initiative. Every day we ask so much of our teachers to ensure that all students have a chance like I did. So it’s proper that today, National Teacher Appreciation Day, we offer them our sincere, heartfelt and unqualified thanks.
Exceptional teachers believe in us, keep us stimulated and push us to expect more of ourselves. At the National Math and Science Initiative, we work to help educators with teaching strategies and content knowledge – especially in math and science – in order to get students ready for college.
Over the past six years, we have trained more than 60,000 teachers nationwide. That has had the effect of dramatically increasing Advanced Placement (AP) exam pass rates in science, math and English in some of the nation’s most resource-constrained schools. And by 2020, we will have recruited more than 10,000 math and science graduates into the teaching field, bringing specialized training and deep content knowledge into the classroom. Millions of American students will benefit.
Enabling teachers to close achievement gaps in math and science for low-income students in particular lies at the core of the mission at the National Math and Science Initiative. Why? Because students who pass AP exams are three times more likely to earn a college degree than those who don’t. African-American and Hispanic students who pass an AP exam are four times more likely to graduate with post-secondary education. What never ceases to surprise me is how dedicated teachers are and how hard they work to reach the most vulnerable and isolated kids.
We should acknowledge, not just today but always, how much we need highly qualified teachers, and how teachers with a deeper knowledge of their subjects should be accessible to everyone – especially in the science and math fields.
At the K-12 level, it is these teachers who often put kids on the trajectory of becoming innovators, scientists and engineers. As we look at the challenges in the years ahead, we will need more scientists and engineers in our workforce. Yet 63 percent of public high school students enrolled in physical science classes, and 31 percent of math students, are taught by teachers who do not hold degrees or certification in those subjects.
The numbers are even worse in public middle schools, where 93 percent of students studying physical science and 69 percent of students studying math are taught by teachers without degrees or certification.
That’s why one of the initiative’s core programs, known as UTeach, helps encourage math and science undergrads to go into teaching.
Being the first in my family to attend college was the key for my future success. Providing opportunity to others like me – giving them the chance to gain the confidence they need to believe in themselves and their potential – has become my goal.
The best tool we can give a child is a great teacher, because if a teacher believes in you it is impossible not to believe in yourself. Take some time to thank a teacher in your community and help us build the future our kids and nation truly deserve.