High school teachers can have a tremendous impact on students’ interest and performance in the sciences. Many scientists talk about an especially inspiring teacher they had in high school. High school teachers often report that former students have told them about successes in college that they attribute to experiences in that teacher’s class. “There’s very little doubt in anyone’s mind that teachers can, conceivably, have a tremendous impact on students’ interest and performance in the sciences,” said Robert Tai, an associate professor in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.
One of the questions on the NELS questionnaire has been, What kind of work do you expect to be doing when you are 30 years old? In a study published in Science in 2006, Tai and his collaborators combined the answers to this question by eighth graders with data on factors such as demographic indicators, school attendance, and results on standardized achievement tests.1 They asked whether an eighth grader who expressed an interest in a science-related career was more likely to graduate college with a degree in science. As expected, they found that students who said they wanted to be in a career related to the life sciences, physical sciences, or engineering were two to three times more likely to earn a degree in that area than students who did not express this interest.
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