Book Release: Recruiting and Educating Future Physics Teachers: Case Studies and Effective Practices

Cody Sandifer and Eric Brewe

Effective Practices book coverTo solve the dramatic shortage of well-prepared high school physics teachers, it is essential that physics departments play an active role in recruiting, advising, and supporting prospective teachers. With the number of high school students enrolled in physics doubling in the last 20 years, the need is especially critical now for the physics community to step up to this challenge. With this in mind, we are pleased to announce our new edited book published by the American Physical Society: Recruiting and Educating Future Physics Teachers: Case Studies and Effective Practices.

Three years in the making, Recruiting and Educating Future Physics Teachers is a peer-reviewed volume sponsored by the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) that provides a practical guide to innovative, state-of-the-art programs. It includes papers in the following areas:
  • Preparing Future Physics Teachers: Overview and Past History
  • Case Studies of Successful Physics Teacher Education Programs
  • Recruiting and Retaining Future Physics Teachers
  • Structuring Effective Early Teaching Experiences
  • Preparation in the Knowledge and Practices of Physics and Physics Teaching
  • Mentoring, Collaboration, and Community Building

The book contains both invited and contributed chapters. Beyond descriptions of teacher education programs and activities, there is a strong emphasis throughout the book on implementation advice, ongoing challenges, and lessons learned. The book’s intended audience is physics department chairs and faculty, as well as education faculty who are engaged in physics teacher preparation. The book is freely available for download at:

Invited Book Sections
We begin by providing summaries of the first two book sections, which primarily consist of invited chapters.

Section 1: Preparing Future Physics Teachers: Overview and Past History
The book begins with the overview article “Characteristics of thriving teacher education programs,” by Stamatis Vokos and Ted Hodapp. In this comprehensive summary, the authors argue that physics departments play a critical role in teacher recruitment and preparation. The authors draw on their combined experiences as chair of the Task Force on Physics Teacher Preparation and director of the PhysTEC project (2004–2014), respectively, to outline eight key components of highly successful programs. These components emerged from 15 years of ongoing site visits to successful secondary physics education programs throughout the nation. Detailed examples from universities across the United States are provided to exemplify each component.

Many of the program revisions chronicled in the book are grounded in the authors’ participation in the PhysTEC project. In the second article in this section, “Physics Teacher Education Coalition,” Monica Plisch—the current director of PhysTEC—describes the purposes, structure, and necessary activities of the project. The third and final paper in this section is a contributed paper, “The roots of physics teaching: The early history of physics teacher education in the United States,” by Amanda Gunning and Keith Sheppard. This is an enlightening synopsis of physics teacher education from the post-Revolutionary period to the Second World War.

Section 2: Case Studies of Successful Physics Teacher Education Programs
It is common practice in the education field to select an institution (“case study”) and thoroughly document its successes, failures, key personnel, program structure, and institutional context. In reading such articles, members of the community can scrutinize the case study and decide whether the institution’s programs and activities might be adapted for use at their home institutions.

We took a case study approach in this book by inviting authors from respected physics departments at Seattle Pacific University, the University of Arkansas, and Middle Tennessee State University to publish the case studies of their teacher preparation successes. Healthy enrollments in their preservice teaching programs and impressive graduation rates provide convincing evidence of the success of their reform efforts.

The case studies are strikingly similar in that all three institutions experienced long droughts of student interest in their respective secondary physics education programs, after which programmatic changes, attitudinal shifts, increased communication, and concentrated recruitment efforts led to dramatic upswings in physics majors choosing high school teaching as a career.

Contributed Book Sections
We outline below the common themes in the remaining book sections, all of which contain contributed chapters.

Section 3: Recruiting and Retaining Future Physics Teachers
A secondary physics education program cannot thrive without active recruitment and retention, both of physics majors and physics education majors. The articles in this section serve to emphasize this point. It is not sufficient to hope that students will find their way into a preservice teaching program, or be retained in such a program, without help or guidance. Strong recruitment and retention measures must be put in place, or an institution’s preservice physics teacher programs will fall short of faculty and administrator expectations.

The contributors to this section suggest that recruitment and retention activities should include expected advertising avenues, such as posting flyers in hallways and classrooms, but also novel approaches that include physics course reform, the creation of physics-specific teaching methods courses, early teaching opportunities, collaborations with area schools and teachers, an increased focus on teaching-oriented advising and mentoring, and the hiring of faculty and staff—including current or retired high school teachers—whose primary responsibility is to support the teacher education program.

Section 4: Structuring Effective Early Teaching Experiences
This section reinforces the idea that early teaching experiences (ETEs) can be used to recruit and retain future high school physics teachers, and can benefit the sponsoring physics department in terms of increased student learning and incremental course reform. ETEs can be structured in a variety of ways, and no single structure works for all physics departments. ETEs can be embedded in both classroom and non-classroom contexts, for instance, and can be organized as Learning Assistant programs, teaching institutes, and early teaching courses that place interns (potential teacher candidates) in different K-12 teaching environments.

Common themes include the observation that the ETEs should be led by physics department personnel, rather than led by outside departments or organizations, and that successful ETEs tend to share common characteristics: careful and in-depth lesson planning, intern participation in “active learning” lessons, explicit reflections on teaching and learning, the involvement of practicing or retired master K-12 teachers, and close faculty or staff supervision.

Section 5: Preparation in the Knowledge and Practice of Physics and Physics Teaching
It is essential to avoid a common pitfall of teacher education reform, which is to assume that the extent of the physics department’s involvement in teacher preparation begins and ends with ensuring that a sufficient number of physics course credits are included in the secondary education track or concentration. While content preparation is a crucial component in the preparation of preservice teachers, the authors in this section share a common vision that other factors must also be considered. These factors include the manner in which core physics courses are taught, student participation in physics research and scientific practices, the connections between content understanding and effective instruction, and the respecting and fostering of genuine scientific curiosity and creativity.

Section 6: Mentoring, Collaboration, and Community Building
This section begins with a compelling summary of the powerful roles that Teachers-in-Residence (expert high school teachers) can play in reinvigorating teacher education programs, and continues with persuasive descriptions of how far-reaching mentoring practices, faculty-sponsored learning communities, and a series of physics-specific teaching methods courses can positively impact preservice physics teacher education. Also suggested are steps that research-intensive institutions might take to enrich and expand their physics departments’ teacher education efforts.

We thank the chapter authors for sharing the wonderful teacher education activities occurring at their home institutions. It is their dedication to the recruitment and education of future physics teachers that made this book possible. Some information in this book will be surprising, and some will be applicable to your physics department (or not) depending on your institutional supports and constraints—but hopefully each article will be thought-provoking and useful in your mission to address your local physics teacher education needs.

Dr. Cody Sandifer is a K-16 education specialist in the Department of Physics, Astronomy & Geosciences at Towson University, Maryland.

Dr. Eric Brewe is a Physics Education Researcher in the Teaching and Learning Department and STEM Transformation Institute at Florida International University.

Disclaimer – The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.