Ridgeland High School senior KiA Wiepert loves science and plans to major in forensic science in college.
Would she consider teaching science? No way.
"I'm hoping to become a criminal investigator and work in a lab," said the 17-year-old.
Ms. Wieper's choice is not surprising.
Last year, Georgia public universities graduated a total of three physics teachers, highlighting a national trend - it's hard to find new, qualified science teachers.
It's a problem facing educators in both Georgia and Tennessee.
Georgia Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox recently said that, by 2012, the state will need more than 1,000 new science teachers, but in 2007 only 97 graduated from the University of Georgia.
In its 2005 strategic plan, the University of Tennessee set a goal of having 20 percent of its students graduate with science, math and engineering degrees. But last year, only 12.5 percent of the graduates from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and 19.5 percent of the graduates from UT had degrees in such fields, according to Times Free Press archives.
Walker County, Ga., schools spokeswoman Elaine Womack said her county isn't currently experiencing a severe shortage but, like many area counties, the push to find science teachers is in preparation for future growth.
Larger Georgia counties, such as DeKalb and Fulton, need about 150 new math teachers, said Donna Llewellyn, director of the center for the enhancement of teaching and learning at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
"We are not producing that many," she said. "They are recruiting across state boundaries, from India, anywhere they can find them."
Educators and administrators said interest in science from K-12 students is sporadic, and those who pursue a degree in the field often seek out higher-paying jobs, which include being a biochemist or physicist at commercial companies.
If they aren't seeking out higher pay, they may want a seemingly more exciting career - such as one in forensic science, like they see on shows such as "CSI."
"Teaching is a calling," said Gloria Ramsey, president of the Tennessee Science Teachers Association. "You have to know science and you have to be able to relate to students. That is a big challenge to a lot of people."
Maria Zacharias, spokeswoman for the National Science Foundation, said pay is another reason for the deficit, a concern echoed by some area teachers.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed the problem last week when he spoke at the National Science Teachers Association conference.
"Science education is central to our broader effort to restore American leadership in education worldwide," he said, according to a transcript of his speech.
He also said that he supports higher pay for science teachers, upgrades to science curriculums and increased teacher training.
The recently approved federal stimulus bill will bring $100 billion to education across the country, which will help keep science teachers in classrooms and labs, Mr. Duncan said.
Programs to attract more teachers
In addition to federal help, Georgia and Tennessee leaders and educators have developed programs to attract and retain science teachers.
Georgia's House of Representatives passed Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposal to provide pay incentives for science teachers. The Senate made changes to the proposal and sent it back to the House this week.
If the measure eventually passes, new middle or high school science and math teachers would start with the same pay scale as a teacher with five years experience, said Burt Brantley, Gov. Perdue's spokesman. That's a boost of about $4,561 to $37,985 a year, under the state salary schedule, according to The Associated Press.
Under the proposal, elementary school teachers also would be eligible for a $1,000 bonus if they pursue extra training to teach science or math.
If the legislation passes, these incentives would be implemented during the 2010-11 school year, Mr. Brantley said.
"If there is something we can do that makes it a little more attractive to be a teacher and remain a teacher, we think that is a good policy," he said.
Georgia Tech also is developing a program that makes it easier for the school's students to get a teacher certification. Students cannot be teacher certified at Georgia Tech, but historically the school produces students who eventually become teachers, said Tech's Ms. Llewellyn. The new program will help students interested in teaching find an easier path to that goal, she said.
Gov. Phil Bredesen's Teach Tennessee initiative is the state's premier program to attract science teachers, said Becky Kent, director of the program.
The program challenges midcareer professionals, retirees and others to teach. It is designed for those who already have a bachelor's degree and provides an quicker path to a teaching license. Selected candidates attend an intensive Teach Tennessee Institute, accompanied by a mentoring program once they enter the classroom.
"They come in with their content knowledge," Mrs. Kent said. "We need to teach them how to teach."
Since 2005, when the program started, Teach Tennessee has produced 167 teachers. More than 90 percent of those were in math or science.
Gov. Bredesen agreed Thursday that there is a need for science teachers and opening up opportunities for professionals to become certified, like Teach Tennessee, is important to correcting the problem.
Educators and leaders in Georgia and Tennessee said the science teacher drought is, in part, a vicious cycle - unqualified science teachers don't inspire students to appreciate the subject, so students don't pursue it as a career.
Parents also play a part in this cycle. Those who say "I wasn't good at science either," perpetuate the negative perspective of the subject, Mrs. Ramsey said.
"We have to work on a whole attitudinal change about science," she said. "People are afraid of science. They don't understand it. They think it is some kind of magic."
Jason Wohlers, eighth-grade physical science teacher at Tyner Middle Academy in Chattanooga, said funding for teaching materials also is important. Hands-on learning can help students understand the relevance of the subject, he said.
Mrs. Zacharias said the perception of teaching prevents some from pursuing a career in education.
"I would love to see more people being given the message that teaching can be an interesting career," she said.