The PhysTEC program at UCF is increasing the number of highly-qualified high school physics teachers and transforming the learning environment for our own students. We do that with undergraduate Learning Assistants, courses on Physics pedagogy, and a Physics B.A. degree with a focus in Education.
Why is Physics so Important in High School?
Florida requires Biology for high school graduation, but students who also take physics and chemistry find lucrative, rewarding college degrees and trade programs waiting for them. Regrettably, only 22% of high school students in Florida take these courses. Here’s some evidence that helped convince my colleagues and me this needs to change.
- Of the top 25 highest-earning college majors, 24 require physics and chemistry.
- Students who took physics and chemistry in high school earned a letter grade higher than their peers in college STEM courses and are 4 times more likely to graduate college on time.
- High school chemistry and physics are the recommended preparation for trade programs. too.
“Giving every student the opportunity to access careers in engineering and the physical, mathematical, health and life sciences is not an extra that is outside the mission of public education. It is central to the whole idea of collective education that every student be given the opportunity to fulfill her or his potential.” — Dr. Paul Cottle, FSU Physicist and past Chair of the American Physical Society’s Committee on Education
“… High school students hoping to complete a college degree in engineering or engineering technology should include a full year each of chemistry, physics, and (at least) pre-calculus.” — American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)
Why Teach High School Physics?
You’ll make a difference
Affect the lives of 100+ children every day. Help the first person in a family graduate high school or prepare for a career that affords a better living than their parents.
Enjoy holidays and summers off, paid sick leave, inexpensive health insurance, and $1000s of student loan forgiveness.
Instead of “Can I get a job?” you’ll ask “Which job do I take?”
Contribute to state and federal education policy or spend summers doing paid research at national labs.
Pathways to Teaching
- Major in a Physics- or Engineering-related field and add a minor in Science Education. That minor will satisfy the Florida certification requirements and you’ll have a job waiting for you when you graduate.
- Complete a B.A. in Physics.
- Get a Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T) after completing a Physics- or Engineering-related undergraduate degree.
- Major in any subject and pass a subject exam in the area you’d like to teach (for physics, it’s like an algebra-based College Physics 1 & 2 final). You’ll have to complete additional training during your first three years of teaching similar to a minor in Science Education, called alternative certification (or alt-cert).
The federal government’s loan forgiveness and cancellation can be a big help, too. Two programs are:
- Teacher Loan Forgiveness for math, science, and special education teachers at high-need schools (listing) erases a portion of your loan each year for five years (15%, 15%, 20%, 20%, 30%) up to $17,500 total.
- Public Service Loan Cancellation for government and non-profit employees erases all qualifying loan debt after 10 years.
In Florida, the requirements for teacher certification at a public K-12 school are:
- a bachelor’s degree in any subject.
- passing three Florida Teacher Certification Exams:
- the general knowledge exam includes English language, mathematics, and essay sections similar to the SAT or ACT.
- the professional education exam covers pedagogy topics such as teaching English-language learners, assessment, and planning.
- a subject area exam (the Physics exam covers the range of algebra-based Physics 1 & 2).
- taking a few teaching classes, either before you graduate (at your university) or in the first three years of classroom teaching (free, online or face-to-face through the school district).
Find detailed descriptions and more information at the FL Department of Education certification page.
Applying for Teaching Jobs
- Contacting the right people
- Email is the way to go.
- Job openings aren’t usually posted until May or later, but a Principal may know they’ll need someone sooner than that. Get on their radar now.
- Hiring is done by the school Principal. Contact them with a CV and a few sentences expressing your interest. Acknowledge that this is a particularly busy time and you don’t expect a quick reply. You can find their email address on the school’s website.
- Email each school in the geographic area(s) you’re looking in. That’ll take time, but you’re only sending the same email text and CV attachment to each one.
- Don’t avoid schools you heard were “bad” or have a low school grade. That is more often associated with household income for the surrounding area and negative perception than anything else. I taught at an inner city school and loved it because is was full of students who needed me, had a great employee culture, and it had no different discipline issues than the Newsweek Top 100 high school I had come from. Give those schools a chance to convince you to join them. It doesn’t mean you have to accept their offer.
- I’d also recommend contacting a school district’s Science Supervisor for the grade level you’re interested in (secondary = 6-12). In Florida, each county is a school district. You can find their email addresses from school district websites. A statewide list can be found at the Florida Association of Science Supervisors site.
- Sign up for the AAPT Florida email list at http://aaptflorida.org/ > membership. It’s the closest thing to a statewide jobs board for physics teaching.
- Getting an interview
- School districts allocate “teacher units” for schools to hire teachers, not dollars. That means an advanced degree (M.S. or PhD) doesn’t detract from your chances of being hired.
- Math and Science teachers are in very high demand, but individual school Principals have lots of competing priorities and often aren’t familiar with the details of why your subject expertise is particularly valuable (e.g., the tons of research on why chem & physics is important)
- Getting the job
- You’ll eventually need to be “certified” by taking 3 exams (subject area, general knowledge, pedagogy) and doing some trainings. Florida’s “alternative certification” gives you 3 years to sort that out and the school that hires you will walk you through all of that. The Principal may want to see your passing score on the subject exam before hiring you, though, to verify you know the field.
- The Principal will want to hear 3 things from you:
- You know your content area
- You know that there’s sooooo much more to teaching than being enthusiastic about your subject. That includes classroom management, lesson planning, being responsible for the wellbeing of minors, and good communication with parents
- You’ll give each student the support they need and they’ll be successful in your class. High standards to the point that students aren’t getting good grades (or failing) is a sure way to not be hired or be asked back for a second year.
- Choosing between job offers (in order of most important to least)
- How many “preps” will you have? A prep is an individual course type (honors Physics 1 and AP Physics 1 would be two preps). Two is ideal. Three is tolerable for one year with the expectation that you’ll be supported in growing the enrollment for you subject area so there are enough students taking those courses to fill your day with only two preps next year. Avoid more than 3 preps at all costs unless it’s the difference between getting a job or not. It’s a clear signal that the school’s administration just doesn’t get it and isn’t supporting good teaching.
- Do the teachers of your subject area districtwide get meet during the school year to work on common challenges? Ask if there’s a “district PLC” that meets during the year face-to-face. PLC = professional learning community.
- Do you get a strong impression the school’s administration gives extra support to beginning teachers? As a new teacher you’ll need that as you navigate the day-to-day challenges that arise.
- Length or duration of commute is a reasonable priority. Moving to live closer to your new school school should also be a consideration.
- If you didn’t complete an education degree, you’ll need to do some training for the alternative certification process. Districts handle that, but it sometimes comes with a fee (up to $1500ish) and may vary between districts. It’s one-time expense so weigh that accordingly.
- There are rare occasions of incentives to teach in an area (e.g., signing bonus, reimbursement for certification exams). Those are infrequent and will typically come from the district, not the school. It doesn’t hurt to ask.