Join us in professionalizing the career

September 2014 JCE cover

Hi everyone, I’ve spent much of my time over the past 10 years since moving from high school to college chemistry teaching thinking about whether I made the right choice in doing so.  On one side of the internal conversation is the perspective that in the high school environment, since so much of my daily work was spent in direct contact with my students, I felt that I could have a larger role in influencing their intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual development.  That opportunity, often perceived as an obligation or responsibility to give back to the youth of the generation to come, often drove me to great lengths to bring my very best to school each day. I wanted to be a role model, I wanted to teach well and inspire them, and I wanted to show them the beauty I saw in how nature was designed and worked together to display all its many complexities and processes.  I didn’t touch every life the way I intended to, but seemed to enough of the time that I hardly ever felt like I was wasting my talents or efforts on fruitless labor.

On the other side of that self-talk was the reality that I felt an increasing level of demands and constraints placed on me from all kinds of entities from outside me…it was suffocating at times…it was department chairs and school counselors and psychologists, the principal and school board and parents, state legislatures and departments of education, accreditation agencies and even other teachers.  Every year it seemed like less of my time was spent thinking about the time with my students and more about what i needed to do to ignore or placate the interests of all the other ‘voices in my head’.

What I’ve experienced at the university level has been in many ways a shift in the opposite direction, now generally feeling that I’m treated as a professional, left to myself and my colleagues to decide what and how chemistry should be taught, using our experience, training, and research literature to inform most of what we decide to do.  My perceived sphere of influence has increased and I rarely feel ‘burned out’ and that I need to constantly talk to other colleagues for impromptu therapy sessions.  My work is sustainable, relevant, and rewarding almost all of the time.  At the expense of this healthier state of mind comes the reality that 2 hours a week with 50-100 students in a large lecture hall simply cannot substitute for the hours spent with those teenagers experiencing the pain of divorce; the loss of loved ones; the fear and doubt about their future and whether they were good enough to do x or y; the joy of realizing that they were much more capable and beautiful than they thought.

So, is there a point to all of this rambling? I hope so.  For me, my recent striving is to see those two worlds collide…where my high school teacher colleagues experience the satisfaction of feeling like and acting like a professional, and for my university work to have the impact on lives that was so rewarding during my many years in the classroom.  As an associate editor with Deanna Cullen for the Journal of Chemical Education, we’re often given opportunities to interact with our colleagues in ways we hadn’t before, such as realizing this vision of ChemEdX and a AP Chemistry Special Issue devoted specifically to high school chemistry teaching.

Another way is to see high school teachers play a larger part in determining what goes into the professional literature about the best practices and ideas about how to teach chemistry at the precollege level.  So much of what is published about how we should teach is written and reviewed by university professors rather than those that live and breathe it every day.  I think that should change, and I hope you will help us see that high school teachers contribute to these conversations most consistently and in greater numbers than we’ve seen previously.  Two simple activities that you can join us in to make this a reality is by reviewing precollege submissions to the journal as referees, where you share your professional opinion and perspective on how novel, effective, and useful are the ideas shared in articles, and what could be done to make sure they’re of the highest quality and represent the best of what we know and should be doing in our classrooms. The other activity is to author your own manuscripts, which can be done alone or in partnership with other colleagues, faculty, or even Deanna and myself. Many of you that participate at ChemEdX have REALLY GOOD IDEAS and we’d love to see them shared out more broadly with the teaching community around the world.  Perhaps you can help shape how we think about and practice our craft in the next 5, 10, 20 years? If you are interested, go to our journal submission site and set up a quick account, then let me or Deanna know what areas of chemistry or chemistry teaching you feel comfortable with reviewing and we’ll start including you as we can. You might also check out the Info for Authors and Reviewers page.



Join the conversation.

All comments must abide by the ChemEd X Comment Policy, are subject to review, and may be edited. Please allow one business day for your comment to be posted, if it is accepted.

Comments 4

Erica Posthuma's picture
Erica Posthuma | Sun, 10/19/2014 - 23:15

If you are a k12 educator and have any desire to join these professional discussions I HIGHLY recommend takng Greg up on his offer to become a reviewer for JCE.  I've been working with Greg and the JCE for over a year and the experience I've gained as a reviewer has helped me to understand the process of publishing in a journal as well as helped me to improve my own writing.  Greg and Deanna are willing to guide you and offer their expertise if you have any questions along the way.  You're already reading ChemEdX, perhaps you've even commented on some articles - consider doing the same for the Journal!

David Licata's picture
David Licata | Mon, 11/03/2014 - 22:03

Greg Rushton has asked me to review two articles over the past three months. He requests a two-week turn-around, which is no problem for me as I am now retired. But, having been a chemistry teacher for not quite 40 years, I was happy to help out. It is a great experience for any teacher. And input from the currently practicing community is essential to keeping the Journal the current and vital publication it has been for so many years. To be honest, I am still waiting for Greg's input on the reviews I prepared, but I am going to take the view that no news is good news. I am sure that if you volunteer to review, and if you have a specific question either Greg or Deanna will get right back to you. I have been working with Deanna on an extensive submission for ChemEdX shortly and she has been wonderfully helpful as well as encouraging.

So please, get involved! I know that Greg and Deanna will do everything they can to make sure that reviewing does not become a burden. And I can assure you that it really is a valuable experience.

greg rushton's picture
greg rushton | Tue, 10/21/2014 - 08:58

David, you're right...your review was fine and I really appreciated your candid response to the manuscript!  I hope you'll continue to work with us in the future too!



Bob Worley's picture
Bob Worley | Fri, 11/07/2014 - 02:49

Yes Greg there is a world of difference between the 2 areas of education. We have two main journals in the UK which include Chemistry teaching. School Science Review is published by the Association for Science Education and Education in Chemistry published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Both suffer from the fact that only a minority of Science teachers receive these journals because they are expensive. The ASE had many more members when I started teaching in 1970. The SSR contained many short chemistry notes on how to do experiments and demonstrations both practical and using models. It was written nearly always by teachers in the classroom. Chemistry notes became science notes and the numbers fell from about 30 notes per issue to less than 5 an issue. There were also extended articles on new areas of science, industrial connections and teaching models. They have rescued the periodical to some extent by dedicating an edition to a certain topic, eg, energy.

Education in Chemistry is sent to every school free of charge and then it all depends how the senior teacher deals with it. It costs £73 to me as a RSC member and about £290 for your University library. So I don’t buy it but enough leaks on to the web for me to get the idea of what is happening.

So here is a question for you; what percentage of chemistry teachers in the USA are members of the various professional bodies/ChemEd exchange/AACT. BCCE2014 and ChemED2013 our ASE Annual meeting and some others in the UK, usually run by enthusiasts, are really fantastic meeting because everyone is an enthusiast. I sometimes think well why didn’t the other 9x% want to come.

(I notice that about 220 read your blog so what percentage is that?)

Writing for a Journal is a long and tiresome business and school teachers do not have the quiet time for long periods of solitude required for this. You cited all the interruptions (which I totally agree with, it happens in the UK) and you need to add for family life/house maintenance/hobbies/sport etc. It is noticeable that the writers in the SSR and EIC are nearly all consultants/advisers/ educational academics/research students. I hate the research that says “I did a test and the students were rubbish”, “I carried out interviews”, “The students results were much better in the next test”. Well they would, wouldn’t they; it is called teaching but I cannot try that on a class of thirty, five of whom do not want to be there!

It is not helped by the constraints imposed upon the writer by a Journal. It is a maze with hurdles. Writing for the web though, appears less hassle and here are some comments:

  • I can write in the active voice.

  • I can use creative writing.

  • I can use anecdote and stories.

  • I can cite failures as well as successes without feeling inadequate

  • I can write it in a day, do necessary alterations, send it in (on another day), get edited/reviewed for content very quickly.

  • I can write a short article.

  • I can ask the editor to correct/add something or make a reply to a question as I am doing to you and you no doubt will do to me.

However, I will not have the kudos of a Journal behind me and I and my establishment will not gain “brownie” points to cite in external audits. On reading some articles I can only think this is the only reason for writing for large Journals. I understand why journals do this because of their standards and I get a lot people asking me to write and then pay them for publishing. But I do think they need to simplify the process as much as possible.

An example; I found an article in JChemEd on making a colorimeter with LEDs and Lego. I tried it. It works. It is fantastically cheap. I contacted the author in Norway to congratulate her with my further observations and uses and was the only one to do so. Every AP student could make this and use it for less than $20 (if that). We at CLEAPSS are trying to design a version of this without the Lego bits. Lego is fun but you have to search for the right bits. (See J. Chem. Educ. 2014, 91, 1037−1039).

By the way look the Hazards section in this piece: I wonder if you would put in the J ChemEd “A Bunsen flame/hot plate can cause burns.” This is a Journal for professionals, not for 14 year old children for which any teacher would write these warnings. The Hazard section (by the way it should be “Risk” section) is the most awful bit of the Journal as many of the Hazards are wrong or irrelevant. Why give the Hazards of solid sodium, hydroxide (corrosive) when 0.1M solution, which is an irritant to the eyes and skin, is cited in an article. Why regurgitate a MSDS sheet? I feel the hand of lawyers at work.

So I wonder how many chemistry teachers are reading my “surely its banned” article. Never mind, I enjoyed writing it and yet you cannot say writing for a Journal is an enjoyable experience. I tried to write some of my microscale science up for the JChemEd but rules were impenetrable so I started my own website (; much more fun.