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From Students to Teachers: The Role of Work-Based Learning in Nurturing STEM Educators

Recently, my colleague Sarah Bowen, Program Manager for the Future Ready program, and I participated in the EdTechWeek Conference. For almost a decade, the conference has served as a gathering for nonprofits, educators, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students, all coming together to explore the intersection of education and technology. In collaboration with The League of Young Inventors, an ExpandED partner, we were part of the panel discussion titled “Growing the STEM Teacher Pipeline: Training High School Students in Elementary Classrooms.”

Across the nation, we’re grappling with a critical shortage of teachers. In New York City, those numbers are particularly striking. As reported by Chalkbeat last month, the number of teachers “dropped below 76,000 last fall – the biggest reduction in recent years.” The deficit is even more pronounced when it comes to STEM teachers.

The situation becomes more intricate with the upcoming mandate to maintain class sizes at 20 students for kindergarten through third grade, 23 for grades 4 to 8, and 25 for grades 9 to 12. Adding to the challenge is the fact that approximately two out of every three public schools report their “biggest challenge in hiring teachers is a lack of qualified candidates,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

During our discussion, we explored a promising solution that is being explored by NYCPS’ Future Ready initiative and ExpandED Schools: supporting and expanding work-based learning opportunities geared towards future educators. This would provide young people with opportunities to explore teaching as a potential career path. As a panel, we delved into the importance of establishing robust partnerships with industry stakeholders who can offer valuable support in nurturing the next generation of teachers, especially in STEM fields. 

The active involvement of young voices enhanced the panel’s exchange of ideas. Among them were students and alumni from Pathways in Technology High School (P-Tech) in Brooklyn, namely Serita, Jayden, Bumee, and Kenneth.

These young people were part of a paid work-based learning program, which allowed them to earn academic credits while acquiring valuable professional skills and expertise. They then used this knowledge to teach younger students during the summer, illustrating the viability of this program as a sustainable pathway for nurturing future teachers.

Thanks to the League of Young Inventors, who sponsored the hour-long discussion, the ed tech community was able to hear directly from students about their journey, from their curriculum-based professional development to real-world teaching opportunities that could change the landscape of teaching. 

Serita and Jayden delivered an engaging 10-minute demonstration of a modified marble run lesson they taught during the summer. Their enthusiasm highlighted the program’s potential as a promising career trajectory for future educators. It is clear that their involvement in these programs assists students in bridging the divide between their interests and exploring potential careers.

For more information about our work-based learning program, visit our website.