AZ faces severe shortage in math, science teachers

February 20, 2009

By hammersmith

Arizona faces severe shortage in math, science teachers

Feb. 20, 2009, The Arizona Republic

Mark Byrne-Quinn is a new math teacher, while Daniel Bremer teaches science. One is a career-changer, the other fresh out of undergraduate school.

Both have been courted into the high-demand subjects through financial incentives and have been given mentors to consult with as they grow in the profession.

And both teachers are rare.

As in other states, Arizona schools are struggling with a critical shortage of high-quality math and science teachers. And the deficit couldn’t come at a worse time.

With the new requirement for high-school students to take additional years of math and science, the Arizona Department of Education projects the state will need an additional 400 math and 250 science teachers per year.

That’s roughly 500 more teachers than the state’s three public universities are currently producing.

Darcy Renfro, executive director of Arizona STEM Education Center at Science Foundation Arizona, said the group will announce in the next few months a major initiative to recruit and retain math and science teachers. In addition, she said, Arizona will be in the running to receive new federal education grants for STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math.

Some district officials said the state numbers aren’t as bad as they look on paper and that some teachers who are certified in only one field such as biology are transitioning into more difficult fields such as chemistry.

Other people with science backgrounds in the private sector are also embarking on new careers as teachers.

A former executive for tech companies, Byrne-Quinn once earned a six-figure salary with a degree in engineering and an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management. After a downturn in the industry, he saw teaching math as a more fulfilling option and then came across Teachers in Residence, a partnership between Mesa Public Schools and several colleges, in his case, Rio Salado College.

He now teaches high-school math at Red Mountain High School in Mesa. After taking a math exam to gauge his ability, he was hired at the school and enrolled in the educational online program.  “Teaching full time and being a first-year teacher and taking a full course online, my weekends are very busy, as are my days,” Byrne-Quinn said.

One of the district’s challenges will be to keep teachers like Byrne-Quinn in the profession.

Mesa Assistant Superintendent Janice Ramirez said most teachers who leave the profession do so for reasons other than pay. Often, she said, they leave because they feel isolated, or the working conditions in their school are poor, or they start to see it as a professional dead end.

To combat those issues, Mesa Public Schools, like other districts around the state, came up with programs with incentives and mentors to help attract and retain teachers in the high-demand subjects.

Other programs are aimed at teachers like Bremer, who teaches science to seventh- and eighth-graders at Rhodes Jr. High School in Mesa.

Although he took a more traditional teaching path than Byrne-Quinn, graduating in 2008 from Arizona State University in education, Bremer took an alternative route into the classroom through Teach for America.

The national program places teachers in high-need schools, while giving teachers $5,000 annually to earn a master’s degree.

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