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Advice for aspiring high school teacher

  1. Jul 2, 2013 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I've got a lot on my mind and I would really appreciate any advice. I'm entering into my senior year of college in the Fall and for about a year now, I've been set on becoming a high school physics teacher because I'd like to maybe make a dent in education problems in the U.S., either one classroom at a time and maybe beyond that eventually. I also think teaching is a noble profession, and I would love to be that cool,skilled high school teacher in kids' lives (I had a pretty cool one, and that's a big reason why I chose to study physics). There appear to be multiple ways to become a high school teacher, and I'm planning on earning a Master's in Physics before applying to pathways to get certification.

    My current problem is deciding what kind of physics program to apply to for grad school. I originally thought Master's was good because it's a more definite/shorter time frame and I didn't have any interest in doing research. But after getting a taste for independent work through an advanced lab course, I was surprised to see I liked doing the labwork. Sorta figuring things out on your own was actually fun because for the first time I wasn't all anxious about time constraints and following the recipe to the letter (I was shocked, I had actually taken something away from these labs). Now, okay that's not actual research maybe, but for me, it opened me up to the possibility of doing a little research.

    So my stats: I see myself as an average physics student on paper (3.6 GPA, unfortunately no research experience, 1-2 pretty solid recommendations). I'm currently at a state university in NY, not really a top physics program or anything.

    So right now I'm thinking: what would an ideal physics teacher do, what path would they take? Master's or PhD in physics? I'm hesitant to even apply to PhD programs because I don't have particular interest in specific research - my interest is in education. But I'd like to be well rounded so in my head it feels like an absence of any research experience is a weakness. Also, I'm not even sure how many Master's programs would be interested in investing in someone who wants to be a high school teacher. And funding is another real concern.

    In the end, I'd like to believe what matters is the work I put in, wherever I end up. I would just appreciate some advice on maybe what program(s) you think would be a good fit because where I do end up going will certainly play a big role in my growth. Any thoughts or advice are welcome!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 2, 2013 #2


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    Education Advisor

    Have you considered a PhD in physics education or a PhD in physics with a dissertation in education? I heavily advised against going to graduate school for a subject without an intent of doing it professionally, because the workload and the sacrifice required can be quite tedious without a deep burning desire to learn the material for one reason or another.

    Since it seems like your goal is to be an educator, why not focus towards that goal, learn more advance physics while at the same time learning how to improve how physics is taught. An old friend from high school, did the same thing for Chemistry and teaches at a high school near our old school. She teaches a class or two semester, but she also has the ability to help redesign how courses were taught and how labs were conducted.
  4. Jul 2, 2013 #3
    A PhD in physics with a dissertation in education eh? I never heard of that but it does sound like something to consider actually - I'll definitely look into it. Part of my heart drops at the thought of not picking up higher level physics but I do sort of feel like a lot of the work will be self-study so it'd just mean it falls on me to pursue it on my own. Thank you for the input.
  5. Jul 8, 2013 #4
    You don't need a masters degree in physics to teach high school physics.

    You should get a job easily, that masters degree only helps with the pay. I would make it a goal to teach AP physics. AP-b physics is in a state of flux, I would try to start an AP-c class in a high school that does not have a program. If you are good, build from there. States that require physics to graduate for H S students will be easier to get a job. But the classes will most likely be watered down.

    And the biggest prerequisite for teaching is patience. Also be humble. Just because you know the subject, does not mean you can get the ideas across. If you were good at helping your friends understand any subject, you got a leg up on most people who know the stuff, but have no idea how to transfer the art of learning the stuff. Some students get very frustrated when they have relied solely on memory to get through HS. Others will love it as they see it as a game using math.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2013
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