Parents and Educators: Stay Away from STEM Teaching Careers

Feb. 19, 2016
Though a large majority of parents and educators are gung-ho about their children pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math, the same cannot be said for their desire to see their kids instead teaching those subjects. Should we be surprised?

As we head into National Engineers Week next week, it might be a good time to celebrate not only the engineers that make everything work, but the educators who teach, nurture and inspire them as well. That said, our future engineering teachers aren’t going to get much encouragement from the parents and teachers who are there to guide them.

A new Harris Poll finds some interesting results about the value that adults put on our education system. Dishearteningly unsurprising, perhaps, but interesting nonetheless. What the survey found is that—though 90 percent of parents would encourage their children to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), 87 percent would be concerned if their children decided to pursue a career as a K-12 STEM teacher.

The results are stark. But should we be surprised? Our K-12 teachers—regardless of subject matter—are paid a pittance, get very little respect, work longer hours than many people will acknowledge, get blamed when students don’t perform well on standardized tests, have little in the way of job security, and have to deal with all the politics that go along with these issues. Is this the career we want to lead our children into? Not so much.

So yeah, not too terribly surprising that only 9 percent of the 644 parents surveyed said they would actually encourage their children to pursue a STEM teaching career.

Harris Poll conducted the survey on behalf of the American Society of Quality (ASQ). ASQ also conducted a separate survey of K-12 educators, finding them to be (perhaps understandably) more open to a career in education. In that case, 29 percent of educators would encourage their own children to pursue a STEM teaching career. But meanwhile, 74 percent of educators would encourage their children to pursue engineering, 44 percent would encourage a career as a scientist, and 33 percent would encourage a computer/IT analyst career. The Harris Poll found that the top three careers parents would desire their children to pursue were engineering (50 percent), doctor (41 percent) and computer/IT analyst (27 percent).

ASQ has more than 14,000 member engineers who say they are concerned about ensuring a highly skilled workforce and educated engineers for the future. Industry as a whole bemoans the lack of skilled personnel to fill the many spots made available by retiring Baby Boomers, and often it’s the education system that gets the brunt of the blame for not properly preparing kids for these careers. Now, we can argue whether there’s really a lack of trained engineers or whether in fact the manufacturers just aren’t willing to pay enough. But that discussion is immaterial to this post here because, let’s face it: They’re surely making more than the teachers that helped get them there.

In fact, according to the Harris and ASQ surveys, the three biggest concerns among both the teachers and parents about their children pursuing STEM teaching as a career were all related to income. Some 70 percent of parents and 77 percent of educators were concerned that their children might not make enough money as a teacher; 69 percent of parents and 82 percent of educators were concerned that STEM teachers might not be compensated enough for their heavy workloads; and 65 percent of parents say that a STEM teaching career might not be worth the cost of a college degree. Educators were also concerned about opportunities for career advancement, at 67 percent.

Apparently, a higher income level could be enough to turn the tide. According to the surveys, 55 percent of parents and 67 percent of educators would be more likely to encourage a STEM teaching career path if it paid better. Also, 51 percent of parents could be swayed by more college scholarships being made available for students pursuing STEM teaching degrees.

But along with more money, STEM teachers would be expected to be better educated themselves in the materials they’re teaching. According to the ASQ survey, 80 percent of educators say they strongly believe that a math or science degree should be required for teaching those subjects in K-12 classrooms; and 84 percent said that having a specific STEM degree would improve the quality of K-12 STEM teaching.

Through the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, President Barack Obama aims to recruit and prepare 100,000 new effective STEM teachers by 2021 in order to spur higher science and math achievement among American K-12 students. If he’s going to get buy-in from the parents and teachers so instrumental in developing those interests among our kids, things are surely going to need to change for teaching careers in general.

As ASQ CEO William Troy says, “While STEM careers like engineering and software development are getting more well-deserved attention in recent years, it’s STEM teachers who will equip our youth with the knowledge and skills to gather and evaluate evidence, make sense of information across a wide range of fields, and solve tough problems.”