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Wanted: More science and math teachers in the US

School officials hope financial and training incentives will help fill the need for 200,000 new teachers.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 29, 2008

Hands-on teaching: Eighth-grade science teacher Jeremy Kennefick in New Bedford, Mass., helps students Megan, Aubrie, and Indira figure out how to label the parts of a cell.

Sarah Beth Glicksteen/The Christian Science Monitor

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New Bedford, Mass.

Jeremy Kennefick and Geoffrey Gailey are both new science teachers, one a career-changer, the other fresh out of graduate school. Both are teaching in high-poverty districts, where the needs are greatest. And both are surrounded by a rare level of support – financial incentives, mentors, and groups of other new teachers to consult with as they grow in the profession.

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It's no easy task to recruit people with proclivities for science into schools – and to keep them long enough to nurture a talent for teaching. But over the next decade, schools will need 200,000 or more new teachers in science and math, according to estimates by such groups as the Business-Higher Education Forum in Washington. Already, many districts face shortages: In at least 10 states, fewer than 6 out of 10 middle-school science teachers were certified when the Council of Chief School Officers compiled a report last year.

"We desperately need more qualified ... science and math teachers, because of retirement,... overcrowded classrooms ... and people teaching out of [their] field," says Angelo Collins, executive director of the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF) in Moorestown, N.J., which offers fellowships for teachers in these fields.

The United States is not only facing a dearth of future homegrown scientists and engineers, she and others say, but increasingly, everyday citizens need science literacy.

The programs supporting Mr. Gailey and Mr. Kennefick are small, but their approach is likely to reach a much larger scale if President-elect Barack Obama is able to carry out his education proposals. He wants 40,000 scholarships to draw undergraduates and career-changers into high-needs schools. He would put special emphasis on science and math teaching. And he's praised teacher-preparation programs that offer a high degree of mentoring.

A former mortgage loan officer, Kennefick majored in psychology and has coached youth basketball leagues. He saw science teaching as a more fulfilling option, and then happened across Teach! SouthCoast, a partnership between the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, and several school districts, including that of New Bedford, where he now teaches eighth-grade science at Normandin Middle School. [Editor's note: The original version misidentified the school sponsoring the program.]

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