Teaching as a STEM Career
In the work that I’ve been doing on the connection between STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and SEL (Social and Emotional Learning), I was looking for examples of STEM and non-STEM careers. In the course of doing that, it became apparent to me that many careers that weren’t STEM before are increasingly requiring the kinds of mathematical and technical facility associated with scientific and technology-oriented careers. STEM Magazine has multiple examples of this transition, including Chefs (link), Lawyers (Link), Social Anthropology (in the context of space exploration, but perhaps even with the use of sophisticated techniques to figure out how old things are). One of the examples of a non-STEM career I used was teaching. And then I started to think about it, and not just because some teachers teach STEM disciplines.
There are plenty of lists of STEM skills and many, as I explored in an article for STEM Magazine, are shared across industries and careers, STEM and non-STEM. Here are some that appear on multiple lists.
The school day is filled with problems … a child gets sick … the copier is broken and there aren’t enough materials for all the students in the class … the way the furniture is arranged in the classroom precludes certain kinds of activities … policies that were meant to accomplish one thing backfire and have unintended consequences. Some of these problems may seem small, and some are routine, with routine answers, but many or unique or require a different solution simply because of the student or parents involved in the situation. These problems require all of the skills that I teach my MBA students, how to define a problem, how to analyze the cause and effect relationships, how to develop multiple alternative solutions, evaluating those alternatives and then ultimately making and implementing the decision. An article on The Problem-Solving Power of Teachers in Educational Leadership provides an excellent example.
Today educators have access to more data than they know what to do with, but they are clearly expected to use data for decision-making. They are required to use evidence-based practices, meaning that there is data that supports the use of the practice. Teachers evaluate test data and data from a variety of formative measures to make decisions on which material needs to be presented again, on which students need which kinds of supports, and, in the context of MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support), which interventions are best-suited to address student learning and behavior gaps. Books like The Data-Driven Classroom (ASCD, 2014) reveal how crucial it is becoming for classroom teachers and building-level administrators to understand how to utilize data in making decisions.
Just as manufacturing workers have had to learn new skills because of changes in technology, teachers have are being asked to do the same, on multiple systems, with a range of devices. Teachers are required to learn massive amounts of procedures and policies, from what to do in a fire drill to how to respond in an active-shooter situation to how to handle information that a student may be the victim of some type of abuse to how to evaluate and teach social and emotional skills. Teachers are supposed to keep up with changes in their field, both content and teaching practice, and sometimes that involves a little (or more than a little) science, as when teachers learn enough neuroanatomy and neuroscience to research to understand how the brain learns. In schools across the country, every year brings new curriculum, new standards, new tests and/or new schedules, sometimes several of these all at once.
Teaching is changing from a folklore-driven profession to an evidence- and data-driven profession. As is the case for many STEM careers, there is still art involved, but there is also vastly more science and research than ever before. The good news is that teachers’ own experience with STEM skills will be extremely valuable when it comes to teaching those skills to students and preparing them for their future STEM careers.