It’s an issue of increasing interest - math and science education in our nation’s schools. President Barack Obama has urged America’s youth to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This path to innovation begins with great teachers, yet the U.S. is facing a critical shortage of math and science educators. Helen Snodgrass, a biology teacher and Knowles Science Teaching Foundation Fellow at YES Prep North Forest in Houston, recently examined high-achieving women’s perceptions of the teaching profession. Her findings were published in the “New Educator Journal” and offer possible solutions to attract talented candidates to teaching.
HOUSTON WOMAN: Why did you become a teacher?
HELEN SNODGRASS: I have always loved finding new ways to explain something. Once I fell in love with biology in college, I saw teaching as the perfect way to unite my passion for science with my love of teaching. I get to spend every day helping 75 ninth graders see themselves as scientists and become as excited about science as I am.
HW: How long have you been teaching at YES Prep North Forest? What do you most like teaching at a charter school?
SNODGRASS: This is my first year at YES Prep North First and actually the school’s first year, as well. Everything I love about teaching at YES is really about the organization itself and not about it being a charter school, since there is a very wide range of charter schools. I love how small the school is — it means I know all of the teachers, administrators and students really well. This really helps build personal relationships with students, which translates into their work in the classroom, when you see them at breakfast, lunch, on college trips and field trips, and at school and grade-level meetings, not just for 50 minutes a day in your classroom. I also love that every single person I work with is dedicated to the same things I am — helping all of our students succeed, both at our school and in college, and constantly trying to be better at what we do. YES is very focused on improvement at all levels of the organization, and the teachers are always thinking about how we can work together to offer the best instruction to our students.
HW: How did you view the teaching profession before entering it? Have your views changed much now that you’re in the classroom?
SNODGRASS: I knew it would be difficult, but it was not until I began teaching that I fully realized the complexity of the profession. I am blown away by the dedication, talent and passion of teachers I have met and those I have been lucky enough to work with.
HW: What has been your worst and best moment as a high school science teacher?
SNODGRASS: The stresses of a frequently changing schedule, large classes, and getting down the basics of classroom management while working very long days made for a challenging beginning. This helped me understand why so many teachers leave in their first few years of teaching. I’ve also had so many great moments that I see how I could love being a teacher for the rest of my life. Seeing my students grow academically and personally has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. I cannot wait to see them all graduate in three years and go on to the college of their dreams.
HW: You’ve done research on high-achieving women’s perceptions about the teaching profession. Why this topic?
SNODGRASS: As I became focused on teaching as a career, I constantly came across people who wanted to know why someone with a good education and a background in science would pursue teaching instead of science. I also realized that very few of my peers were considering teaching. This piqued my interest in understanding people’s perceptions of teaching that might either attract them to the profession or make them choose other careers, with the ultimate goal of thinking about what we need to do to attract more high-achieving men and women into the classroom.
HW: Were you surprised by your findings?
SNODGRASS: I was surprised and saddened by how many women were interested in teaching but turned away from it. Compared to other jobs they were considering, teaching paid less, had a much lower status and level of respect, and was perceived as difficult and stressful work. Most of these women’s peers and families discouraged them from entering the profession, as some of mine did. All of this led women to consider teaching as a heavy sacrifice.
HW: How can we recruit more skilled women into the teaching profession?
SNODGRASS: To attract skilled women into teaching and to keep them there, we need to address the perception of teaching as a personal sacrifice.Teaching has to compete with other professions that women consider with respect to salary, professional development and support. The Knowles Science Teaching Foundation is one organization working to keep talented and passionate teachers in the profession.
HW: What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in the teaching profession?
SNODGRASS: If you are passionate about teaching, do not be deterred by some of the apparent negatives or what others might say. Speak to teachers to find out why they love what they do and continue to do it year after year. Then find a school and a district that will provide you with the support, collaboration and professional development to help you love your work and become the best teacher you can be. It’s going to be hard in the beginning, but stick it out and you will never regret your choice!