GSE Leads Nation In Producing Physics Teachers

February 20, 2017

Rutgers Graduate School of Education’s Physics/Physical Science teacher preparation program graduated the most physics teachers among all university-based programs in the United States in 2016. The GSE’s ten graduates are all working and teaching physics and chemistry, according to Eugenia Etkina, GSE associate professor and director of the program.

“This is remarkable because typically an average American university graduates one physics teacher per year,” stated Etkina.

For this success, the American Physical Society’s Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) recognized the GSE program as an inductee into “The 5+ Club”. This is a group of institutions graduating five or more well-prepared physics teachers in one year. Rutgers GSE was one of only nine schools across the nation to make PhysTEC’s 2015-16 list, and also made the list in 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14.

This achievement for the GSE and the program comes at a critical time for physics education in the country. The National Task Force on Teacher Education in Physics reported in 2012 that only 35 percent of 1,400 new teacher hires for high school physics have a degree in physics or physics education. In their 2014 report, the American Association for Employment in Education found that physics had the worst teacher shortage out of 59 education fields.

Against the backdrop of this nationwide physics teacher shortage, and with only roughly 80 physics majors in the physics department at the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences per year, from which to draw prospective physics teachers, Etkina and the program have maintained a high output, graduating five to eight physics teachers each year.

“The GSE program is also unique in that it has six courses at the graduate level in which pre-service teachers learn how to teach physics, extensive clinical experience that spans two years, and a thriving community of graduates  – there is no other program like this in the country,” said Etkina.

PhysTEC endorsed the program as an exemplary site in 2010.

Matthew Blackman is an alum of the GSE’s physics teacher preparation program. “Rutgers GSE is one of the few graduate schools in the United States that offers a focus in physics education.  While in the program, I was inspired and captivated by the level of dedication and rigor that Dr. Etkina infused into the courses,” said Blackman. “Her vision of teaching students how to think scientifically, design ways to test their ideas, and truly construct knowledge based on observation and experiment, awakened in me a passion for education that I had never thought possible.”

Blackman further stated, “When I graduated in 2009, I left Rutgers GSE fully prepared, and extremely enthusiastic, to begin my career as a physics teacher. By the time students walked into my classroom on the first day of school just a few months later, I felt confident and excited to give them the best education in physics that I possibly could. Eight amazing years later, I still carry with me the most important lesson that I learned at the GSE: Never stop chasing the passion for knowledge and understanding that the best teachers wish to inspire in their students.”

Etkina’s work in Physics Education Research focuses on how to help students learn physics in ways that mirror scientific practice. She is the recipient of the 2014 Millikan Medal from the American Association of Physics Teachers, the highest award a physics educator can receive in the country. She received her B.S., M.Sc. summa cum laude, and Ph.D. in physics education from Moscow State Pedagogical University.

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