Life as a High School Physics Teacher: Career advice from the front lines
Deciding on a career path can be an important and difficult decision. What do you want to spend your life’s work doing? What will be most meaningful to you? What career will you enjoy most?
These are questions that are important to consider when making career decisions. As with any career decision it is important to speak with people who are in the career so you can get an idea of what it would be like. In this blog, and in future blogs in this series, we will be having discussions with grade 7-12 math and science teachers about their careers and then share those conversations with you.
Taylor Plantt, known as Mr. Plantt to his students, is a high school physics teacher in Greeley Colorado.
Mr. Plantt’s Teacher Stats:
Where do you teach? Greeley, Colorado
How many students attend your school? ~1,750
Typical class size: ~36
What was your college major? Physics with an emphasis in science education
Subjects that you currently teach: AP Physics, AP Comp. Science, Freshman Physics
Favorite topic to teach: Computer science
Years teaching: 5
A hobby that you enjoy: Building wood furniture
What does a day as a high school physics teacher typically look like for Taylor?
Taylor typically teaches 5 periods a day with two periods free for prep and planning. He always tries to have his first two periods of the day as his planning time because that is when he is most productive. During that time, Taylor makes lesson plans, grades, and prepares lab materials for his students. Throughout the day, Taylor is a huge fan of using demos and hands-on science experiences as he teaches.
Early in the week Taylor reviews with his students what they have learned the previous week and teaches some new concepts. Wednesday and Thursday are typically lab days and Friday usually includes some type of assessment (quiz, project, or presentation).
When he first started teaching, Taylor would often come into school on Saturday or Sunday for a few hours to grade. Now a proud new father, Taylor does all he can to finish his grading and planning at school so he can spend time with his family. Because of this, he and his wife (a second-grade teacher) try to get home shortly after school ends and reserve the evening as family time.
What was Taylor’s path like to becoming a teacher? How did he end up landing in the classroom?
In high school, Taylor was always good at math and science and this sparked his interest in STEM. After high school, Taylor entered college and enrolled as an engineering major. Although he was fascinated by the science, he remembered one day sitting in an advanced circuits class staring at circuit boards and thinking, “This is not my life… I can’t imagine doing this the rest of my life”
What he did love however, was his tutoring job where he helped others in their math and science courses. Additionally, he knew that teaching would be a great way to give back to his community. During our interview, he said,
"I kind of knew the surrounding area in Greeley and wanted to give back to the community a little bit. I knew the work that my teachers put in there and I wanted to pursue something like that.”
From there, Taylor enrolled in a teacher prep program (where his did practicums at Greeley West High School), completed his student teaching, and eventually ended up at Greeley West where he has been teaching for four years now.
Why does Taylor love being a high school physics teacher?
There are many reasons Taylor loves his job, but first and foremost are his students. He loves working with diverse groups of students and helping all his students to progress. Regarding this, he loves the fact that if he is excited about science everyday, it creates a safe space where his students can decide to be excited about it too. During this part of the interview Taylor emphasized how satisfied, needed, and accomplished he feels as he teaches high school. He said,
“Going through that educational path with the students and seeing them develop as thinkers and base their opinions on facts is just super super cool.”
In addition to his helping his students, Taylor loves the intellectual challenge of the job, his coworkers, and having summers off. Taylor never gets bored with teaching because there is never just one clear path; there is always something to solve or to improve. As a teacher, Taylor mentioned how you become a jack of all trades and are intellectually challenged every day. Each new school year brings new classes, students, and problems to solve, something Taylor loves. In the midst of the intellectually challenging nature of a teaching career, Taylor really enjoys the ability he has to do “experiments” with his teaching. What worked, what didn’t, and how can it be made even better next time? Lastly, Taylor mentioned how he loves his co-workers and having summers off. Having that time off is a huge perk of the job where he can relax and pursue his interests.
What does Taylor typically do during the summer?
Summers are typically comprised of two things for Taylor: growing as a teacher and relaxation. During the summer, Taylor will take professional development classes (sometimes for fun, sometimes to move up on the pay scale), get involved with the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), and do a lot of planning for the next school year. When he’s not spending time growing as a teacher, he spends his time relaxing with his family, hiking, playing frisbee golf, and woodworking.
Why would Taylor recommend teaching as a career to math and science majors who may be considering it?
Teaching is mentally engaging, personally rewarding, and has great benefits. Taylor described teaching as extremely hard and always changing; there is always something in this career to keep your attention.
Taylor views himself as the lead learner in his classroom and feels so satisfied with joining his students on a journey of progression. When comparing teaching to other jobs you may get as a scientist, Taylor described the “full circle” nature of teaching when he said,
“It’s this really cool group journey you get to go on that so often [in other jobs] you are just stuck in the lab doing experiments over and over, where with teaching it gives you that experimentation but you also get to see that turn around almost immediately.”
Taylor is also a big fan of the benefits he gets as a teacher. He spoke about how teachers get to influence others, have a great schedule, get two and half months of unscheduled time in the summer, and have great retirement benefits. He has also had the opportunity to chaperone trips abroad essentially free of charge. Recently, he went with a group of 17 students to Costa Rica where he spent a total of $75. He loved being there with students as they explored somewhere outside their hometown for the first time in their lives.
What would Taylor want a math or science major who may be considering teaching to know before entering the profession?
There were two things that Taylor thinks someone should consider before becoming a teacher.
First, is that teaching is not an easy career, but it is a rewarding one. Teaching is hard work mentally, physically, and emotionally. Taylor said that the first year is particularly challenging, but it does get easier as you go! Also, recognize the emotional load that comes with teaching. You do a lot more than just science experiments; you have a lot of people who rely on you, and sometimes that is emotionally taxing. However, if you can manage the difficult parts, it is an incredibly rewarding career.
Secondly, if you are interested in becoming a grade 7-12 math or science teacher, Taylor recommends that you get out there and try it. Taylor said,
“If you are thinking about it, just go get in the classroom and see if you like it. It is really hard to take what you know of education as a student and pivot that to what it’s like as a teacher. It is vastly different, so you need to try it out.”
There are many options a math or science major has when it comes to career choices, and grade 7-12 teaching is certainly one of them. If you are considering becoming a teacher, it is a career path with many benefits and offers you a lifetime of opportunity to change the world one student at a time. Taylor is a great example of an enthusiastic high school physics teacher who loves his students. If you’d like to learn more about why teaching is a great career choice you can explore our website (getthefactsout.org). Also, if you’d like to learn more from Taylor about high school science teaching, you can contact him at email@example.com.
About the Author
Jared Breakall is a research associate at the Colorado School of Mines where he researches STEM teacher recruitment efforts in the United States with the Get the Facts Out research project. He has taught middle school science in Idaho and has a Ph.D. in chemical education research from Purdue University.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1821710 & 1821462. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.