Career Practitioners Should Advocate for Maths and STEM Educators

Career development practitioners (CDPs) should play a vitally important role in the Australian Government’s “innovation agenda” and the focus on careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). CDPs’ current contribution to the innovation agenda is, however, marginal and unheard. The insignificance of the contribution is not for want of interest nor trying; for it is the case that the CDPs make a very contribution to the lives of students of all ages and education sectors. What is missing is a strategy for research and development for STEM careers, which is an irony given the R&D focus of the innovation agenda.

Here we argue that CDPs can speak to that agenda but only as an outcome of making a substantive contribution to solving crucial problems that cause diminished interest in STEM careers.

Much of the rhetoric of urgency in the innovation agenda echoes Australia’s performance on benchmark tests of literacy and numeracy (OECD, 2016) and hyperbole that Australia is “falling behind” its global competitors. In fact, the differences between the average of Australian students and the averages of some other industrial nations (e.g., Germany) may not be all that meaningful beyond statistical differences; however, quite marked differences are present in comparison with nations that have a central role in the economy of Asia Pacific (e.g., Korea, Japan). The blame for Australians students’ relatively weaker performance is sheeted home to teachers along with accusations that teachers are not sufficiently prepared to engage in the teaching of mathematics, which is the inherent language of science, technology, and engineering. Indeed, without M in the STEM, there is no S, T, and E.

Professional Standards for Teachers

Successive federal and state governments, on both sides of politics, have attempted to redress the numeracy (and literacy) of graduate teachers because of public disquiet and evidence that Australian students are not performing as well as students in comparator nations (OECD, 2016). Yet, teachers and teacher educators continue to resist government interference in their profession, as they should; however, the reality is that schools and teachers in this country are a political football, partly because the teaching profession is not autonomous of government. Consider that the author and custodian of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL, 2016b) is a “funded by the Australian Government and the Minister for Education and Training is the sole member of the company” (AITSL, 2016a). That is, a single government official, none lesser than the Minister, owns the company.

It is, nonetheless, reassuring that AITSL has stipulated one professional standard devoted to numeracy, “know and understand literacy and numeracy teaching strategies and their application in teaching areas.” And, that is as good as it gets. Fortunately, accreditation standards for teacher education degrees require that pre-service teachers’ numeracy levels are within the top 30% of the population (AITSL, 2015) and AITSL has led the introduction of compulsory tests of literacy and numeracy for pre-service teachers. Ostensibly, it would seem that things are going in the right direction.

Where teachers and teacher educators fail on their own merits, however, is an apparent reluctance and resistance in some quarters to accept this regime of assessment of pre-service teachers’ numeracy. Australian teachers and teacher educators are the first to opine in the media that there are insufficient public funds (i.e., taxpayers funds) invested in teacher education and teachers’ professional development, and there may be some truth in their assertions that Australian teachers receive less public investment than their international counterparts (Dabrowski, 2016). Ironically, it seems that their complaints of lack of public funding and demands for more only serves to bolster government control of the profession—“he who pays the piper calls the tune”.

Beyond the politics and power plays of funding, implementation of professional standards, and testing pre-service teachers’ numeracy, we want to know the causes of their reluctance to engage with mathematics. It is heartening that leading scholars in the field of teacher education (e.g., Dinham, 2016) are turning their attention to teachers’ themselves and their attitude toward mathematics. Is it possible that a cause can be found in the psychological makeup of teachers’ themselves? We think so.

A Social Cognitive Perspective

Social cognitive career theory (SCCT; Lent & Brown, 2013) applies well to teachers’ career satisfaction (Duffy & Lent, 2009). Self-efficacy is central to the SCCT and research shows that teachers’ self-efficacy is crucial to their teaching performance, engagement and retention in the profession, and their students’ learning outcomes (Zee & Koomen, 2016). Research demonstrates an association between pre-service teachers’ self-efficacy and anxiety about mathematics (Hoffman, 2010).

Avoidance is an all too common defence against something that produces anxiety. Parents with “math anxiety” (Maloney & Beilock, 2012) transmit their fears onto their children who consequently learn less mathematics (Maloney, Ramirez, Gunderson, Levine, & Beilock, 2015). Could it be the case that teachers with lower self-efficacy for mathematics unwittingly avoid mathematics in their lessons as a way to manage their own anxieties? Could be it be the case that teachers’ anxiety and avoidance may be transmitted onto their students (Maloney & Beilock, 2012)? A single teacher could change the career trajectory of a child.

We propose that there is a pressing need to conduct research into the career development of teachers and their self-efficacy for mathematics not only for their sakes but also for the futures of their students. The SCCT is an ideal framework for such research because of its empirical track record and the centrality of self-efficacy to its tenets and hypotheses. Research that demonstrates how teachers’ self-efficacy for mathematics influences the career development of their students could be used to inform teacher education degrees, professional learning programs, and professional standards. After all, it is the students who ultimately lose if a teacher who unconsciously diminishes their students’ self-efficacy for mathematics curtails their awareness, aspiration, and achievements toward a STEM career.

CDPs as Advocates for STEM

As educators, counselors, and leaders, CDPs are in an influential position to add a different perspective to current public debate about teachers’ professional standards. CDPs have the professional legitimacy to dispassionately advocate for R&D that enhances teachers’ self-efficacy for mathematics because of the two-fold focus on teachers’ career development and their students’ career development. Such advocacy would be a useful contribution to the innovation agenda because it would go toward alleviating the cause of the problem.

CDPs also have a critical role in leading educational interventions and programs designed to increase interest and broaden participation in STEM careers. For instance, the Australian Government’s “Restoring the focus on STEM in schools” initiative proposes to pilot the US-based “Pathways in Technology Early College High School” (P-TECH) model. The P-TECH model is an education-industry collaboration that provides students with an industry-supported pathway towards attainment of a STEM-related diploma, advanced diploma, or associate degree. The model foregrounds dynamic collaboration between education and industry sectors, hands-on work-experience, and industry-based mentoring for participants. A second aspect of the Government’s initiative is the provision of STEM enrichment summer schools for high achieving students. Both these initiatives seek to enhance STEM-related self-efficacy, expectations, and interests, which are related to STEM career participation. CDPs may be involved in (a) identifying students most likely to benefit from these initiatives, (b) pinpointing and negotiating potential industry partners, and (c) jointly developing, alongside teachers and industry-based personnel, appropriate career development resources that aim to sustain interest and participation in STEM careers.

Along with these novel initiatives, traditional activities, such as university fairs, work experiences programs, and field days, remain in the remit of CDPs. Taken together, these traditional activities and new initiatives position CDPs at the forefront of an innovation agenda that seeks to produce STEM-interested-and-literate citizens by exposing them to more authentic STEM learning experiences—CDPs can lead the way.


AITSL. (2015). Accreditation of initial teacher education programs in Australia: Standards and procedures. Melbourne, Australia: AITSL.

AITSL. (2016a). About us.   Retrieved 22 March, 2016, from

AITSL. (2016b). Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.   Retrieved 22 March, 2016, from

Dabrowski, A. (2016). Australian teachers get fewer training days than in other countries and turn to online courses for support. The Conversation.

Dinham, S. (2016). Why is it so hard to recruit good maths and science teachers? The Conversation.

Duffy, R. D., & Lent, R. W. (2009). Test of a social cognitive model of work satisfaction in teachers. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 75(2), 212-223. doi:

Hoffman, B. (2010). “I think I can, but I’m afraid to try”: The role of self-efficacy beliefs and mathematics anxiety in mathematics problem-solving efficiency. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(3), 276-283. doi:

Lent, R. W., & Brown, S. D. (2013). Social cognitive model of career self-management: Toward a unifying view of adaptive career behavior across the life span. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60(4), 557-568. doi: 10.1037/a0033446

Maloney, E. A., & Beilock, S. L. (2012). Math anxiety: who has it, why it develops, and how to guard against it. Trends in cognitive sciences, 16(8), 404-406. doi:

Maloney, E. A., Ramirez, G., Gunderson, E. A., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2015). Intergenerational Effects of Parents’ Math Anxiety on Children’s Math Achievement and Anxiety. Psychological Science, 26(9), 1480-1488. doi: 10.1177/0956797615592630

OECD. (2016). PISA: Programme for International Student Assessment. from /content/data/data-00365-en

Zee, M., & Koomen, H. M. Y. (2016). Teacher Self-Efficacy and Its Effects on Classroom Processes, Student Academic Adjustment, and Teacher Well-Being: A Synthesis of 40 Years of Research. Review of Educational Research. doi: 10.3102/0034654315626801

This blog article is an extract from:

McIlveen, P., & Perera, H. N. (2016). Career Practitioners Should Advocate for Maths and STEM Educators and Education: Without M, there is no S, T, and E. Australian Career Practitioner. Autumn, 10-15. Adelaide, Australia: Career Development Association of Australia.

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