Christchurch trainee teacher takes Nasa knowledge to classroom

Rob Fuller at age 19, right, working with the US Air Force operating satellites monitoring for nuclear explosions around ...
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Rob Fuller at age 19, right, working with the US Air Force operating satellites monitoring for nuclear explosions around the world.

A former US Air Force and Nasa engineer is halving his wage to inspire Kiwi secondary school students.

Christchurch trainee teacher Rob Fuller, 50, is a rare find among a growing shortage of specialised teachers as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) graduates get "hoovered up by big businesses".

The teacher shortage was described as a "perfect storm" in May, when a Post Primary Teachers' Association survey found high school students were being taught by teachers without specialised skills as schools struggled to fill jobs.

Rob Fuller, an ex-Nasa and US Air Force engineer, is training to be a NZ teacher.
DAVID WALKER/STUFF

Rob Fuller, an ex-Nasa and US Air Force engineer, is training to be a NZ teacher.

Fuller, a New Zealand Graduate School of Education student, said after 25 years in the information technology (IT) industry, he wanted to give something back by becoming a secondary school teacher in physics, science, computer technology and maths.

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"All of those are in demand and I enjoy [them]."

With a father who worked for the Apollo programme as an electrical engineer, Fuller took a similar path with the US Air Force operating satellites monitoring for nuclear explosions around the world.

He also worked with Nasa at the space centre in Florida, working on hardware and software projects for the International Space Station and Shuttle programme.

"It was fun. I got to see [satellites] all the way from the lab to talking to it while it was in orbit."

But the glory soon wore off, and a move from America to New Zealand four years ago made teaching more appealing. "It seems like [teaching] is a bit more valued here than in America.

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"You don't do this career for the money, you must have other reasons. I have to go back to school for a year, just to cut my pay in half.

"I have experience and stories and ways to apply this stuff, because some of these topics can be boring to some kids."

Christchurch Boys' High School headmaster Nic Hill said the supply of maths, physics, technology and commerce teachers was the biggest issue facing teaching.

He had discussed the option of building a lecture theatre so multiple classes could be taught by one teacher if they struggled to retain or attract enough specialist teachers.

"At the moment we have four physics teachers, but what if we can't get enough?

"It's one thing we could do, but in some ways it would be a backwards step.

"But we don't want physics to die."

Digital technology was now an Ara Institute of Canterbury course, after the school failed to attract its own teacher.

Canterbury University acting head of teacher education Dr Stuart Wise said STEM teacher supply was a very real issue "not only in New Zealand but worldwide".

New $10,000 scholarships for STEM trainee teachers were yet to make a difference, but the engineering and maths departments were also helping advocate for students to move over into education.

"We're marketing internally very hard but the simple fact is the grads in that space get hoovered up by big businesses."

 - Stuff

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