Who Will Teach?

We need science and technology teachers—and the money to pay them

Bill Gates recently asked the LinkedIn community, "How can we encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology?" Thousands responded.

Inspired by those responses, I asked industry leaders a similar question, but with this twist: How can we encourage young people to pursue teaching careers in science and technology?

All of us have been influenced by great teachers. My math suggests that one great young science teacher, over the course of a career, has the potential to encourage hundreds, if not thousands, of young people to pursue careers in science or technology. With nearly two-thirds of the 3.2 million teachers in America slated to retire or leave the profession within 10 years, we are going to need plenty of new teachers in the pipeline.

The responses to my query can be grouped in several categories. Topping the list was higher compensation levels for teachers. The question is, Where will we get the money? A new report from Stanford University and the University of Munich suggests the annual GDP of the United States would be nearly 1 percent higher each year if the science and math skills of American students matched skills of other nations. That would add $80 billion every year to our GDP and, yes, that could help raise pay for teachers.

Public relations and media improvements were also mentioned. The media often portrays science and technology professions as geeky and male-dominated. That stereotype must end. And what must start is true leadership from Washington calling for more science and technology educators, not unlike the call to join the Peace Corps in 1961.

A third grouping of responses suggested recruiting "graybeards" with undergraduate degrees in science and technology to teach in America's classrooms. The idea is similar to IBM's "Transition to Teaching" program and programs at Teach for America. One response, perhaps my favorite, shared an ancient Sanskrit saying, "Gurur Devo Bhava," meaning "Teachers are respected as God."

All in all, a good collection of suggestions. Those interested in getting a PDF version of the Stanford GDP report, send me an e-mail.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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