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Physics Teacher Education Coalition recognizes Graduate School of Education for 8th consecutive year

<p>Distinguished Professor of Science Education Dr. Eugenia Etkina initiated the program 15 years ago and has been leading it ever since.</p>

Distinguished Professor of Science Education Dr. Eugenia Etkina initiated the program 15 years ago and has been leading it ever since.

The Rutgers Graduate School of Education (GSE) has consistently been recognized by the Physics Teacher Education Coalition as one of the top schools nationwide for output of physics teachers. The GSE has been inducted into “The 5+ Club,” which honors institutions that produce five or more physics teachers in a given year, nearly every year since its inception in 2012. 

The club was initiated to address the severe shortage of physics teachers that there currently are in the United States. Those inducted into The 5+ Club receive grants from PhysTEC to reform their programs in order to produce more physics teachers. 

The majority of institutions graduate less than two physics teachers a year, with the most common number graduated being zero, according to an article on Rutgers Today. In 2018-19 nine universities produced five or more physics teachers, and Rutgers was the largest producer of physics teachers nationwide in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 years.

The physics education program in the GSE was initiated approximately 15 years ago by Distinguished Professor of Science Education Dr. Eugenia Etkina. She has led the program since then and has prepared more than 160 physics teachers over the years. 

“I dedicated my life to the preparation of physics (teachers),” Etkina said, “If it were not for me, (the program) wouldn’t be here.”

Dr. Wanda Blanchett, dean of the GSE, said that it is very important to have such an outstanding leader, like Dr. Etkina, in this program.

“There are a whole lot of people out there doing work in physics, but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone more respected, more well known [than Etkina] for their effectiveness in helping to advance ... the learning in physics education,” Blanchett said. 

Etkina said it is not only the current students that play a role in the program, but also the students who have graduated the program. She said it is like a family. 

“We have a community,” she said. “We stay together on Facebook and we meet once a month on Fridays for 3-4 hours ... people come after teaching all week, driving an hour, an hour and a half to be here.”

Etkina said a lot of her time has gone to these Friday meetings, but it is something she is willing to do for her students.

“I (have) probably spent between 500 and 600 hours, on top of my job, with just Friday meetings,” she said. “But I do it because without a community, they (students and graduates) will quit.”

Blanchett said that physics teachers are often isolated, so this community is important for them all to network and share their ideas. She said no matter whether they are a novice or a veteran, the past and present students continue to learn from each other.   

Etkina said the course work in the program is intense. Students have to complete six three-credit courses, as well as one six-credit course, all highlighting how to effectively teach physics. In addition to this, the students are also out in the field teaching for all four semesters either at Rutgers or with the graduates of the program. 

“This is the program that has the most graduate level content methods courses in the United States,” Etkina said, “It produces the most prepared physics teachers and it also has the most clinical practice.” 

She said having the students teach University courses, in particular, is what makes the program unique from others. Etkina also said the way they teach physics at Rutgers is different.  

“(We treat it) not like lecture ... but as a process of discovery and self-discovery,” Etkina said, “That's why the program attracts so many people.” 

Blanchett said that just because someone understands physics does not automatically make them an effective physics teacher. Their technique is what makes them a good educator. 

Etkina said physics is considered a difficult subject, often due to the poor way it is taught, and there is not a large interest in it. Even when there are people interested, teaching is not an option they are attracted to for reasons including poor benefits and pay compared to other jobs in the field. 

“Education is the one profession that touches and trains every other profession,” Blanchett said, “So as a country we ought to put a lot more emphasis on teaching and we ought to share with our educators how much we appreciate them.”

Blanchett said the GSE is proud of the work that they are doing to prepare some of the nation's best teachers, along with producing great numbers of them. 

“I think that what makes us unique is the quality of the teacher candidates that we prepare here, and then secondarily would be the number in the physics education program,” Blanchett said. “It really is remarkable. Most programs never hit five (graduates), and if they hit five they hit it once, but most don’t hit it.”

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