Do secondary school teachers affect career choice? ([1])

 

S. Albero-Carbonell, M.J. Boyero-Granados, J.A. Cobo-Sirvent,

N. Esclapés-Álvarez, A. Gras-Martí([2]), C.A. Izquierdo-Alisente,

J. Martínez-Torregrosa([3]), P.D. Sepulcre-Javaloyes, F.M. Serrano-Valverde

 

DFA—Dept. de Física Aplicada, Facultat de Ciències,

Universitat d'Alacant, Apt. 99, E-03080 Alacant, Spain

 

We have analysed via a questionnaire survey some factors that influenced the choice of a career in Chemistry among first-year undergraduate students. The main emphasis is in evaluating the positive (or negative) influence of secondary-school science teachers in the choice. We also compare classroom practice with currently favoured learning and teaching models of science. The findings agree with other studies in that the science teacher is only one among other equally (or more) influential factors.

 

Introduction

The reduction in the fraction of the student population that take up science studies is felt as a cause for concern world-wide. To this trend contribute aspects that range from the socio-economic to the educational. We have undertaken a study of some factors that influenced the choice of a career in Chemistry. The main emphasis is in sorting out the positive or negative influence of secondary-school science teachers in career choice.

Several related studies have been reported in the literature. A US cross-country survey among high-school and college students [1,2] showed that the influence of high school teachers on subject choice came in second and fourth place, respectively. A very exhaustive analysis with younger students [3] concludes that the extent of the effect of the advice offered by the teachers was not considered to be very great, either by pupils or parents (less than 20% of subject choices were said to be influenced by the teachers). Furthermore, among 18-year-old students who had the intention of studying either science or engineering [4], the quality of the science teachers (respectively, extracurricular activities) was an encouraging factor for career decision for future scientists (respectively, engineers).

The present report is based on a questionnaire survey answered by first-year undergraduate students of a four-year career in Chemistry in our Campus. We analyse student responses in view of currently favoured theoretical models of teacher performance in the classroom. First we discuss shortly the methods followed to prepare and conduct the survey, and then some results are presented and analysed.

The questionnaire

The questionnaire [5] was passed near the end of the second semester (although before the final exams were taken), so that some less motivated students had already dropped regular course attendance. The questionnaire contained three parts, A, B and C.

In batch A three questions on the influence on career choice (of the proximity to the University of the students' family, the parents, and the inaccessibility to other studies with more stringent entrance requirements), accompanied the central question: the eventual teachers' influence. Once part A was completed, parts B and C were given to those students who had declared a strong, a very strong or a negative influence of the science teacher in career choice. Part B was an open question, where the memories of the students were elicited on the specific topic of the science teacher's influence. (The results of part B will not be commented here for lack of space). Finally, in part C, eighteen questions had to be quantified by the students, concerning the performance of the influential teacher. Twelve questions tested classroom practice in two opposed teaching approaches that we termed "Traditional" and "Innovative" (the latter based on the constructivist approach to teaching and learning [6,7]). Four questions referred to "Common" practices that could equally describe aspects of either method. Then, a couple of questions made reference to the personal attitude of the science teacher towards the students. The eighteen questions were interspersed and the students did not have any hint as to the groups of teaching practice that they referred to.

Part A was filled in by 131 students (about 82% of the number of registered students); parts B and C were filled in by 39 students (about 30% of the sample).

Results and discussion

Table 1 gives the overall responses to part A of the questionnaire. Surprisingly, the same number of students (10) declare a very strong and a negative influence of some science teacher on career choice. If one adds up the first two columns, indicating a strong or very strong influence on career choice, then out of the 131 responses the proximity of the University to the family's home comes up first (61), followed by the impossibility to take up another career (35) —because of the higher entrance requirements based on high school marks; in this respect, a good 40% of the students declared to be studying a career that they had not chosen in the first place of the University application list—. The teacher influence comes in third place (29), and parent's influence appears to be negligible (8), but other various factors are important (34).

Factor / Degree of influence Þ

very strong

strong

little

none

negative

Your residence in Alacant or nearby

12

49

31

36

1

Some secondary school teacher(s)

10

19

28

64

10

Impossibility to study another career

20

15

23

62

9

Your parents advice

8

33

85

3

Other various factors

19

15

4

9

1

Table 1: Degree of influence of some factors in career choice. (From a total of 131 students).

 

In looking at the individual questionnaires one finds that among those 10 students who declare a very strong influence of some teacher, that one is the only (very) strong influence for four of them; the second determining factor is the place of residence (for another four).

  

We have collected in fig.1 the responses to two items in part C of the questionnaire by those students who declare a very strong influence on career choice of some secondary school teacher. The results corresponding to a strong and a negative influence —not shown— will be commented upon. According to the results in fig.1, some sort of innovative practices (active student involvement, constant motivation) is carried over to the classroom often or always (61%), whereas more traditional practices (passive note taking, rote learning) add up to 47%. Among students with a negative influence of the teacher many more always or often responses are associated with the traditional teaching-learning method (38%) than with innovative practices (20%). This trend repeats itself in the survey, indicating a correlation between teacher's practice and student perception of their influence. Furthermore, teacher's availability and extra-lecture-room interest with students are highly valued teachers' characteristics by those who declare a very strong influence on career choice.

 

 

Fig. 1: Traditional and innovative teaching practices of those who influenced career choice very strongly. (A: always, O: often, S: sometimes, R: rarely, N: never)

 

 

Conclusions: (1) the influence of the secondary school teacher is only one among several equally (or more) influential factors; (2) the implementation of non-traditional, less passive teaching and learning practices affects positively students' response to the scientific subjects. Altogether, although our findings agree with other studies, the science teachers' influence on career choice turns out to be smaller than would perhaps be desirable.

This project was partly funded by the Spanish DGICYT (project no. PS93-0341). We thank all first year students who kindly provided the raw data essential for this project.

References

[1]      B. George, V.P. Wystrach and R.I. Perkins, Why do high school students choose chemistry?, J. Chem. Educ. 64 (1987) 431-432.

[2]      B. George, V.P. Wystrach and R.I. Perkins, Why do students choose chemistry as a major?, J. Chem. Educ. 62 (1985) 501-503.

[3]      A. Cryrie, A. Furst and M. Lauder, Choices and chances: a study of pupil's subject choices and future career intentions, The Scottish Council for Research in Education, SCRE publication number 71 (1979), 140 pp.

[4]      B.E. Woolnough, Factors affecting students' choice of science and engineering, Int. J. Sci. Educ. 16 (1994) 659-676.

[5]      The 3-page limit for this poster contribution does not allow us to give here more details of the results nor the questionnaire that was used for the present study; both may be obtained from the authors.

[6]      D. Gil and J. Carrascosa, Science learning as a conceptual and methodological change, Europ. J. of Sci. Educ. 7 (1985) 231-6.

[7]      R. Driver and B. Bell, Students' thinking and the learning of science: a constructivist view, School Sci. Rev., March (1986) 443-5.

 



([1]) Presented at the 3rd ECRICE (European Conference on Research in Chemical Education), Lublin-Kazimierz, Poland, September 25-29 (1995).

([2]) Author to whom all correspondence should be addressed.

([3]) Dept. d'Educació Artística i Orientació Didàctica, Universitat d'Alacant.