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Becoming a Physics Teacher

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

So I decided that I want to be a teacher (maybe high school and possibly college).

To those who are physics teachers / professors, I would like to know what advice you can give me as well as what you like about being a teacher, and what you dislike?

Thanks. :)
 

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  • #2
Stephen Tashi
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The major limitation is that you can't be a good teacher to all students. Students are too variable for one particular approach to always work - and by "approach", I include your own personality and style (e.g. whether you tend to be light hearted and sarcastic or very serious and sympathetic).

Most teachers I've known formulate a theory of what a student "ought" to be able to do and they aim to be successful at teaching that type of student. If you're comfortable making judgements like that then you'll see problems in your teaching mainly as problems with the students - which can be blamed on the student, the parents, society, etc.
 
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  • #3
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After 17 year of college teaching (Prof. of Mech Engr), you could not pay me to go back to teaching today. Today's kids are insufferable. They have been carefully taught that they are each special snow flakes, and that their needs, wants, and whims, are more important that those of the entire rest of the class, the teacher, etc. I would advise any sane person to stay away from teaching today.
 
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  • #4
symbolipoint
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Depending on qualifications, advanced degree could make someone a fit for high school or college (community colleges). A change in the general maturity and motivation is between community college and university. You have PhD? If you are allowed a position at a university, at least the students are better. Teach high school? You teach both STUDENTS and THE COURSE(s). Teach university? You teach COURSE(s). Teach community college? Not sure what you teach for.
 
  • #5
After 17 year of college teaching (Prof. of Mech Engr), you could not pay me to go back to teaching today. Today's kids are insufferable. They have been carefully taught that they are each special snow flakes, and that their needs, wants, and whims, are more important that those of the entire rest of the class, the teacher, etc. I would advise any sane person to stay away from teaching today.
Are today's kids really so different from kids from the 90's? I mean, I wouldn't know since I am one of "today's kids".
 
  • #6
Borg
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Are today's kids really so different from kids from the 90's? I mean, I wouldn't know since I am one of "today's kids".
From what I've read, it doesn't surprise me. Too many parents today focus on telling their children how 'special' they are but, Should We Tell Children They're "Special?".
there are dangers when we spend a lot of time focusing on what distinguishes our kids. Children can come to feel that they're better than others not in particular ways but in a global sense -- that's the essence of arrogance and entitlement. Children can also become brittle -- fearful and highly prone to shame-- when they sense they are not better than others.
The last couple of decades have seen the advent of "helicopter parents" who focus on seeing their children succeed at all costs - regardless of what the children actually achieve. I've read a good number of articles that all say the same thing - teaching children self-reliance is far more helpful than telling them how special they are. The examples at the beginning of this article were a real eye-opener.
Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids?
I can only imagine what the instructors for these 'special' kids have to endure.
 
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  • #7
Andy Resnick
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So I decided that I want to be a teacher (maybe high school and possibly college).
To those who are physics teachers / professors, I would like to know what advice you can give me as well as what you like about being a teacher, and what you dislike?
What I like: students often bring a certain creative/youthful energy to discussions- they are learning something for the first time, and their excitement is a positive.
What I dislike: Grading, and whining about grades.

Advice: being a good teacher requires very different skills than what is required to obtain an advanced degree in Physics (or any science), and that's especially true for High School teaching. Classroom management, developing rubrics, dealing with state instructional requirements, etc. are simply not part of science curricula. IMO, the best STEM teacher-prep programs are heavy on the STEM coursework and supplement with teaching courses, as opposed to being mostly education courses with a sprinkling of STEM-lite.
 
  • #8
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Today's students want to be spoon fed, and they have a sense of entitlement to have things done the way they want them done, irrespective of what is correct or what serves the needs of the rest of the class. They are prone to argue about grades, work loads, class attendance, homework, etc. They are so special!!

It all began to change in the '60s and '70s, and by the late '80s it had gotten bad. Administrators make things worse because they always support the student (and his tuition $$) against the teacher. They don't care about education; for them, it is a big business.

I recommend becoming a plumber or an electrician.
 
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  • #9
Today's students want to be spoon fed, and they have a sense of entitlement to have things done the way they want them done, irrespective of what is correct or what serves the needs of the rest of the class. They are prone to argue about grades, work loads, class attendance, homework, etc. They are so special!!

It all began to change in the '60s and '70s, and by the late '80s it had gotten bad. Administrators make things worse because they always support the student (and his tuition $$) against the teacher. They don't care about education; for them, it is a big business.

I recommend becoming a plumber or an electrician.
I see you are a bit disgruntled.
Well, I think I want to be a physics/math teacher even if everything you just said is true. But I can't even imagine arguing with a student over their grade. I don't think there would be much to argue about. If they don't like their grade or the workload they can just get out. Or have administrators actually put pressure on you to change based upon students' whims?
 
  • #10
symbolipoint
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I see you are a bit disgruntled.
Well, I think I want to be a physics/math teacher even if everything you just said is true. But I can't even imagine arguing with a student over their grade. I don't think there would be much to argue about. If they don't like their grade or the workload they can just get out. Or have administrators actually put pressure on you to change based upon students' whims?
High School, or College? For college students, do what you want or believe makes the most sense. Give the grade in a good systematic way, and stay with what you issue, within reason - mostly YOURS.
 
  • #11
e.bar.goum
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Today's students want to be spoon fed, and they have a sense of entitlement to have things done the way they want them done, irrespective of what is correct or what serves the needs of the rest of the class. They are prone to argue about grades, work loads, class attendance, homework, etc. They are so special!!

It all began to change in the '60s and '70s, and by the late '80s it had gotten bad. Administrators make things worse because they always support the student (and his tuition $$) against the teacher. They don't care about education; for them, it is a big business.

I recommend becoming a plumber or an electrician.
I feel like you and Aristophanes might get along.

Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.
 
  • #12
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It's great that you want to be physics teacher! I strongly believe that we need teachers who:

1) teach well (i.e. really know their material and do a good job of conveying it to others)
2) serve as a mentor to students and help them succeed
3) inspire students to pursue different subjects (in this case, physics)

I'm an undergrad studying physics and am considering becoming a teacher myself.
Check out this cool opportunity:
http://woodrow.org/fellowships/ww-teaching-fellowships/
 
  • #13
bcrowell
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I'm a community college physics teacher, and I love my job. It's a job that allows me to be creative, be almost my own boss, and do intellectually stimulating work.

The main negative would be the bureaucracy, which has gotten much, much worse since I started teaching in 1996; the California community college system seems to be emulating the worst absurdities of No Child Left Behind in many ways.

Unlike Dr.D, I have not seen a downward trend in students' behavior or abilities. There is a book called Academically Adrift that summarizes some of the research on this topic. There is objective documentation for certain downward trends, but as far as I can tell it does not support any claims of a vast change over the last 40 years. A lot of annoying student behavior is actually a rational response to the system's incentives. For example, there are overwhelming incentives for community college students to drop courses with a W and repeat them for a higher grade.
 
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  • #14
symbolipoint
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bcrowell said this:
...A lot of annoying student behavior is actually a rational response to the system's incentives. For example, there are overwhelming incentives for community college students to drop courses with a W and repeat them for a higher grade.
That is very true and not a bad arrangement. The only disagreeable part of that is a student who could earn a C might drop with a W instead of take a more manageable course load and learn the material better. At least you expect the students at your school (community college) are adults, so not as much k-12 administrative and parental interferences.
 
  • #15
bcrowell
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bcrowell said this:


That is very true and not a bad arrangement. The only disagreeable part of that is a student who could earn a C might drop with a W instead of take a more manageable course load and learn the material better.
It's a massive waste of educational resources to teach the course twice to the same student. We (department and teachers) get shamed and blamed because the student didn't "succeed" the first time. The school loves it because it means double the state revenue. We have a lot of students who can't get into classes because they're all full; they wouldn't be full if we didn't have so many students taking every class twice.
 
  • #16
symbolipoint
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It's a massive waste of educational resources to teach the course twice to the same student. We (department and teachers) get shamed and blamed because the student didn't "succeed" the first time. The school loves it because it means double the state revenue. We have a lot of students who can't get into classes because they're all full; they wouldn't be full if we didn't have so many students taking every class twice.
An amazing problem; surprising to me. The instructor, teacher, professor, should not be blamed for that. Students are trying to make their best choices. The drop with W saved me once. The students are the ones who need to earn their wanted credit. That can happen only when they do the needed learning. Teacher presents the material; teacher assigns what to read; teacher answers students' questions to help make things more clear. That is basically what the teacher can do. Students must study. Later, if student drops, this is nearly never (or usually is not) the teachers' fault.

From your own experience, you best know what the dropping students' current letter grades were. A reasonable student should drop with a W only if earning less than C.
 
  • #17
vela
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At least you expect the students at your school (community college) are adults, so not as much k-12 administrative and parental interferences.
Unfortunately, some students don't seem to realize they're expected to act like adults and take responsibility for their education. I've been mystified by some of my students this semester who don't do the homework and predictably do poorly on the tests. And this is after repeated reminders that homework is a big part of their final grade. I honestly wonder why they bothered to enroll in the course.
 
  • #18
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I love my job. It's a job that allows me to be creative, be almost my own boss, and do intellectually stimulating work.
I would like to echo Ben's sentiments here. I teach at a small independent high school and find the work exciting and engaging. I also have the freedom to design curriculum and essentially be my own boss. I have never felt any pressure from the administration for poor student performance, but we are small enough (about 130 students) that the entire faculty and administration knows each student personally. The staff is also quite small (obviously), work well together collaboratively, and are not at all apathetic about teaching (which many teachers in the public school I taught in seemed to be).

I think where you end up teaching could make a big difference. I wouldn't go back to teaching in public high school after seeing what education could and should be like. On the other hand many people choose the public system because they feel they can make the greatest difference there.
 
  • #19
Andy Resnick
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<snip> For example, there are overwhelming incentives for community college students to drop courses with a W and repeat them for a higher grade.
There has been a recent and dramatic change to that policy here (public 4-year university) in reaction to the situation you describe- we now (academically) penalize students for excessive 'W's: students can be put on academic probation/suspension/expulsion for either low GPA or "unsatisfactory progress toward degree", defined as not completing at least 2/3 of the courses a student initially enrolled in each semester.
 
  • #20
symbolipoint
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There has been a recent and dramatic change to that policy here (public 4-year university) in reaction to the situation you describe- we now (academically) penalize students for excessive 'W's: students can be put on academic probation/suspension/expulsion for either low GPA or "unsatisfactory progress toward degree", defined as not completing at least 2/3 of the courses a student initially enrolled in each semester.
That policy seems as described, not too bad. Students who are doing things right will not likely risk probation, and can still avoid excessively low grade point average. That "2/3" part is a little tough. Anyone enrolled in only three courses in the term can risk only doing poorly in 1 course.

Some schools also have a policy about excessive course repetitions regardless of W, F, or D. The idea there is that if someone cannot pass a course after two repetitions, then he must get help officially in some way.
 
  • #21
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I am now finishing my first year teaching high school physics and pre calculus / calculus. Here is my current take on this job [i should mention that I am in my 40s and this is not my first profession].

I do not agree with earlier sentiments of the entitlement attitude of the kids these days. I feel that as I have gotten older, I have more and more looked at my life when I was in high school with increasingly rosier glasses and hat I was completely different from the ones i see now (truth being is that the only thing different is me - because i grew up and i have a hard time seeing myself as a completely different person - which i was). Thankfully I have a few old diaries that force me to rethink this position. I see little difference between who i teach and who i was when i was 17.

I find that to truly have the skills to teach you should first and foremost have a passion for the subject. I have found that I really really enjoy teaching math and the enthusiasm I have in the classroom spreads. Kids should be smiling and wanting to come to your class.

There is also a certain special place provided for those teaching physics and high math. Most of the people around you do not understand it and therefore provide you with a great amount of autonomy to run your class the way you want. Sad to say, most other teachers I have already dealt with will say things frighteningly close to what i hear from students who struggle in my courses - "I never liked math" or "i'm no good at this kind of stuff" or worse still "when i hear that physics stuff i get a headache.".

Which bring me to the final point. I have found so far the struggle i am facing as a teacher is the student's initial fear or general animosity towards math [it really is the math and NOT the physics]. This has has been built into some of the children from an early age and this is for another discussion at another time - 'cus i could wax one for a long time about that]. This will take some doing to break. When you add this to an attitude that "grades define one's intelligence" then you have to come up with a methodology that breaks both of these misunderstandings. You have to teach them that A) math is awesome and will help them throughout your life and B) grades are meaningless - understanding is to be the real focus.
 
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  • #22
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I'm a community college physics teacher, and I love my job. It's a job that allows me to be creative, be almost my own boss, and do intellectually stimulating work.

The main negative would be the bureaucracy, which has gotten much, much worse since I started teaching in 1996; the California community college system seems to be emulating the worst absurdities of No Child Left Behind in many ways.

Unlike Dr.D, I have not seen a downward trend in students' behavior or abilities. There is a book called Academically Adrift that summarizes some of the research on this topic. There is objective documentation for certain downward trends, but as far as I can tell it does not support any claims of a vast change over the last 40 years. A lot of annoying student behavior is actually a rational response to the system's incentives. For example, there are overwhelming incentives for community college students to drop courses with a W and repeat them for a higher grade.
I thin, I had you as a professor. I won't say who you are out respect lol. Those challenge questions were indeed challenging.
 
  • #23
symbolipoint
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I thin, I had you as a professor. I won't say who you are out respect lol. Those challenge questions were indeed challenging.
fishspawned has the right intentions as a teacher. Maybe now you appreciate what he tried to do. The challenge questions have a couple of purposes. One is to provoke students into more practicality in a topic; and two is to give the better students something intellectual adventurous to do.
 
  • #24
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No, I actually enjoyed his class. If indeed it is him which I suspect. Helped me better to critically think and make up conceptual porblems.

And it was not treated as a let's see what formulas I can plug into what equations.
 
  • #25
symbolipoint
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fishspawned has the right intentions as a teacher. Maybe now you appreciate what he tried to do. The challenge questions have a couple of purposes. One is to provoke students into more practicality in a topic; and two is to give the better students something intellectual adventurous to do.
No, I actually enjoyed his class. If indeed it is him which I suspect. Helped me better to critically think and make up conceptual porblems.

And it was not treated as a let's see what formulas I can plug into what equations.
How you felt was not clear. Any implication that you did not enjoy the course was not exactly what I tried to say. Very possibly some students would have felt too much work from the course and would have blamed their teacher for it.

Physics teachers, even in college and university, must deal with students who are uncomfortable and upset with what the study requires - even GOOD teachers of the subject will have students who do not like the course and do less than good in a course. On top of all this, sometimes a physics teacher may ask a hoped-to-be, stimulating question to give students more opportunity for intellectual fun and accomplishment. Meanwhile, the struggling students just feel overwhelmed.
 

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