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Should I become a high school physics teacher?

  1. May 22, 2007 #1
    I'm getting my phyiscs bachelors in december. My original plan was to go all the way and get a PhD but I just cant keep staying in school that long. I realize graduate students get stipends, but I fear that wont be enough to support my family.

    I always enjoyed tutoring. I just love explaining physics to people, whether they like it or not! I use to hang out at the math tutoring center and gained satisfaction knowing someone finally understood by my intervention. I consider teaching to be a worthwhile profession.

    I fear with just a bachelors in physics that I will be stuck at a computer 8 hours a day doing programming, modeling or worse data entry!

    You may ask, what else do you like to do? I like to do graphic design, design interfaces, I like dabbling in digital electronics, aerospace engineering looks interesting. I like too much.

    Any advice out there from people in previously similiar situations? or any high school physics teachers like to chime in?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 22, 2007 #2
    I'm not really qualified to give advice here (so I won't), but like you, I enjoy teaching physics to others. I just started working on my PhD now, and I'm planning to be a professor. I know you don't want to go to grad school, but it does seem to be an excellent stepping stone to a career in physics teaching.

    Yeah, I've found that that's pretty much what you end up doing with a BS (unless you become a high school teacher, in which case you'll also need your teaching certificate). Granted, the astrophysics research I'm doing right now is mostly programming, but at least there's a physics-related purpose behind it.

    (I hope my astro professors don't read this, but I'm considering switching to condensed matter next year so that I'll have more hands-on stuff to do.)
  4. May 22, 2007 #3
    It really depends on where you are teaching and the education system you have there I am afraid. I thought I would enjoy teaching, and I did for a while, but after I have got the full load as a teacher, it's rather hectic: committee to join, conference and meeting to attend, extra-curricular activities to take care of, ad hoc administrative jobs etc. just to name a few. In the end I find that I am always mentally exhausted to do anything else. I do not have the time, or rather no energy to prepare better teaching material (that means don't really have time to teach, in a sense). So now I can't wait to go back to graduate school. Again it depends on personality; some people can cope well and truly does enjoy the job. But I know I am not. I would like to have time to study on my own, but I do not have time to read books, which is why I am not happy with. Anyway, find out how teaching is like from your friends in the area, or try to teach for a while (maybe 1 year) yourself without getting tied down by contracts that require you to be teaching for n years, so that you can leave if you are not happy with the job.

    Anyway, I am not against the job, as I am still teaching, and would still continue to teach (albeit part-time when I start graduate school). The satisfaction is there via interaction with students, and that's after all, why we like teaching. My only advise is that you should find out the job scope, modern teacher does much more than teaching. And if you are ok with that I am sure it's a nice job for you.
  5. May 23, 2007 #4
    I heard the first few years of teaching can be tough, especially with the prepation part. Though I was told after a while, you basically memorize your lesson plans and just become really efficient. I also read one should when possible avoid extra-curricular activities and conferences during the first year of teaching as not to be overwhelmed.

    Anyone out there doing an engineering type job with a physics bachelors?
  6. May 23, 2007 #5
    Is teaching high school all that much better?
  7. May 23, 2007 #6
    Never underestimate the size of a graduate student stipend. :smile:
  8. May 23, 2007 #7
    Yea absolutely! ;)

    My stipend sounds tiny. Then figure in the bonuses that come with college (rec center, etc), the fact that they are pre-tax, and figure in the tax benefits of going to school in the US (which are not small), and I make more than a number of teachers I know - and I'll be getting a degree out of it!

    Of course, well established teachers in good public schools make more than I do. . . but for how long?
  9. May 23, 2007 #8
    I do realize someone with a masters or PhD will make tons more than I would ever as a teacher. I truly dont spend money, I bet I am more frugal than any person you ever knew! I also receive royalty checks, so that is on top of anything I would start at.

    I'm alright with the salary of a teacher. They start between 34-37k here and by the tenth year make 55k and asymptope around 63k. I dont consider this bad considering they do not work a full year. This is in Massachusetts, by the way. The teacher salary schedules in the midwest are horrible, they start at 30k and barely get above 40k even after 25 years! It's cheaper to live there I suppose, but the disparity still seems too great.

    I know one graduate student remarked her yearly stipend was only 9k. I fear that is not sufficient. This summer I may work on a photonics project, I'll see how much I like it to render my final decision.
  10. May 23, 2007 #9
    Actually my high-school physics teacher showed my class his salary for next year, $74,000 isn't too shabby...
  11. May 23, 2007 #10
    that is amazingly high for a high school teacher? Where do you go to school?
  12. May 24, 2007 #11
    That's excellent. However, it is not typical, and someone should be very wary of using such a number in making a career decision. Also, getting such a salary in, say, New York, would be about like early half as much in many other places.
  13. May 24, 2007 #12


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    To supplement your income, you may be able to take advantage of teaching opportunities during the summers. You may be able to do some side work using your other skills.
  14. May 24, 2007 #13
    I would wager money that the $74K is in the SF Bay area or some similarly priced location. That, and that teacher has a *lot* of experience!

    (My wife teaches math in the Bay Area... and in her district, the salary schedule tops out at a little less than $90K for teachers with 29 years or more of experience. There are also 3% bonuses for having a masters degree or Ph.D.)
  15. May 24, 2007 #14
    Funny you should mention this, I just kinda covered this on my physics podcast http://www.cymek.com/?q=taxonomy/term/32. There is a lot you can do with a physics degree, in fact you can do just about anything all you have to do is try. As I mentioned in my show there are a lot of federal police forces that look for people with logical science backgrounds.

    And because you mentioned aerospace engineering, that is the field I went into after getting my BS in physics. Now I admit I was almost doing data entry when I first got hired, but I got an internal transfer after 3 months and became a mechanical engineer in flight test(that was an interesting job). Now 2 years out I am a project engineer and make a good living.

    And I loved teaching people and talking about physics which is why I started my podcast, it may not be the best, or listened to by many people, but it fills that part of me that wants to teach.

    CraigD, AMInstP
    Last edited: May 24, 2007
  16. May 24, 2007 #15
    Quite interesting that with a BS in Physics you got a job at an aerospace company started low and worked your way up in only a few years. An encouraging story!

    My fear is that I get a data entry job and it stays that way forever unless I quit and may get another data entry job!
  17. May 24, 2007 #16
    Moving up is all about being a people person; most engineers aren't. Also I had good experience in college, so that helped to.

    CraigD, AMInstP

    p.s. It helps to change companies early in your career so you don't get stuck following the slow promotion path with one company.
  18. May 25, 2007 #17


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    YES! (this is without reading your question or any other posts.)
  19. May 29, 2007 #18


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    those salaries are excellent, but of course to teach high school in the bay area or cambridge mass, it seems one needs to have a fields medal. i.e. those salaries are higher than most of ours as full profs at uni, mine with 37 years experience teaching college, doing research, speaking at international conferences, etc etc....

    Until recently I think we even had international congress speakers making less than a senior high school teacher in sfo.
    Last edited: May 29, 2007
  20. May 29, 2007 #19

    i dont understand. the topic title and the OP seem unrelated.

    if you dont mind having to try to get the kids interested, go for it. if you want to be a teacher, the only thing stopping you is yourself.


    i thought this was one page... i only saw page 2
    Last edited: May 30, 2007
  21. May 30, 2007 #20


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    YES, you should. ...(...become a high school physics teacher).

    Most or all of your students would be motivated and cooperative, and in regard to their sciences, academically better than most other students in the school.

    You should obtain some industrial experience, first, for about one or two years. I say this because you may be able to see how your science/physics relates to things people do in the real world. You could express this to your students, so when you tell them how and why something academic is important, you have credibility - you are not simply an impractical academic (some students, even a few of their parents, may take such a discouraging opinion about physics, which is why I suggest relating real-world experience to the subject for your students).
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