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Physics Teacher Stories

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Current Physics Teachers who are Texas State graduates

Derek Hammons, Physics Teacher, Richardson High School, Richardson, TX

Derek Hammons
Derek Hammons

My journey to becoming a physics teacher has been relatively short.  I fell in love with physics when I took (what used to be) AP Physics B in high school.  There were three parts to me deciding that "Mr. Hammons, Physics Teacher" was what I wanted to be called for the next few decades.  My teacher was crazy, meaning that he was the embodiment of every physics teacher stereotype you can think of.  Thick glasses, sweat stains, action figures on his desk; you name it and he had it.  What really hooked me about him was that he had more passion for his subject than any other teacher I've had, and that passion turned out to be infectious!  The second part was that physics was without a doubt the coolest subject I had studied.  It seemed that with every new unit I studied, things in the world FINALLY made sense!  The excitement I got from finally understanding how a straw works was an incredible feeling.  I don't think I would have ever typed that sentence if I weren't meant to teach physics.  The third part was that I was already a sort of nerd and I loved math, and so it just made sense that I would enjoy physics.  But what I have learned since high school and through college and the beginning of my teaching career is that physics is for everyone, not just nerds!  I taught geometry my first year as a teacher, and at times I didn't have a very good answer for THAT question that every teacher gets at least once a week: "When am I ever going to need this?"  With physics, I can always answer that question.  It's so universally applicable that any student can see its use in their own lives.  Physics is so wide, so universal, and so prevalent that you can't help but notice it everywhere once you take the class.  It really has something to offer for everyone, not just nerds!


Other than high school physics, working as a Learning Assistant and taking physics classes at Texas State really helped solidify my desire to teach.  I loved helping students in class and doing 1-on-1 tutoring.  Being an LA was especially helpful. I felt as if my ability to explain concepts improved each semester I worked.  Getting to work with so many students of different backgrounds and understandings was extremely helpful in preparing me for a high school classroom.  I took many things from the LA program with me to my first year of teaching.


This fall I will begin teaching Physics at Richardson High School in Richardson, Texas.  I started out teaching Algebra 1 and geometry at RHS because I had graduated with a BS in Mathematics in order to get my teaching certification as an undergrad.  Once I was certified, I took the TExES exam for physics and was certified for math and physics.  I settled for a math teaching position because it was in my old school district, with whom I had an open contract.  After my first year I was approached about teaching physics, and I couldn't say no!  It was my dream to teach physics, and now I get to live it out.  I am beyond excited for school to begin again.

(updated 16 June 2016)

Brett Caswell, Physics Teacher, Hendrickson High School, Pflugerville, TX

Brett Caswell
Brett Caswell

My first experience with the subject of physics was my junior year of high school, and I was instantly hooked. I found it to be the first time that I really began to question what I thought I knew, which led to some serious personal growth. I love how physics can be used to describe virtually anything that you see, and I have made a hobby out of trying to apply my knowledge of physics to most everything that I observe. To this day I cannot go swimming without thinking about wave superposition and buoyancy. I graduated from Texas State in 2014 with a B.S. in Physics and received a Math/Physics teaching certification shortly after. I actually ended up getting hired at my old high school, and I am currently teaching in the same classroom that I took physics in. Working with my students is always fun and interesting, and each day I leave work feeling as if I have done something to help someone else grow. It is amazing how gifted my students are, and knowing that I am partially responsible for helping them is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

(updated 16 June 2016)

Chris Murrell, Physics Teacher, Burnet High School, Burnet, TX

Chris Murrell
Chris Murrell

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would become a teacher. When I started at Texas State University I planned on pursuing electrical engineering as a career but as I took classes I found that I was more interested in the math and physics rather than the engineering side. I switched my major to applied mathematics with a minor in physics and took a job as a teaching assistant in the physics department (before there was a Learning Assistant program). After a couple of years teaching lab I began to really enjoy it; in fact, it became the favorite part of my day. I really loved helping other students who were struggling to understand the concepts make clarity with what we were studying. That was the moment that I realized that I wanted to do this for a living. I felt that at the high school level I could really make a difference since so many students at the university level had already given up on physics thanks to never being motivated when they were in high school.

Now I’m currently teaching all levels of AP physics at Burnet High School and love almost every minute of it. There are some days that are rougher than others but I can’t say that I don’t enjoy getting up every morning and heading to work. I also coach cheer and am the student council sponsor because I feel that the more you can be involved with the students the greater impact you can have on their lives. Teaching a subject is just a small part of what teachers do and being able to be a part of who these young men and women will become is one of the greatest rewards I could ask for.

Future Physics Teachers who are current Texas State students

David Jaime (Chemistry & Physics)

As far back as I can remember I have always wanted to know how things work. I spent a large portion of my free time, as a child and teenager, trying to learn about fundamental chemistry and physics concepts. Of course, I didn’t initially know that what I was trying to learn was considered part of chemistry or physics. I was just curious.

I realized how much I enjoyed teaching and the process of learning as I got to college and helped fellow students with biology and chemistry homework, and eventually tutoring. I knew then, that whatever I may end up working in, I would like to work-in teaching to my job. Pretty much every teacher I could think of not only seemed really knowledgeable in their field, but also had what I considered traits that made them good teachers. I did not think I was capable of actually being a teacher, as so many of teachers seemed natural at teaching and I wasn’t.

As I continued through my college courses, eventually transferring to Texas State and subsequently joining the Physics Learning Assistant program, I realized that teaching was something that I could practice. Working as an LA, helping instruct labs, and doing science outreach at the local schools really helped solidify my goal to become a chemistry and physics teacher. Soon I’ll have my teaching certification and I’ll be able to do what I truly enjoy, teaching chemistry and physics.

PhysTEC Teachers-in-Residence

Pamela Word, Physics Teacher, John Jay High School, San Antonio, TX

Pamela Word
Pamela Word

I used to be scared of physics. I let my peers talk me out of physics in high school and after some frustrations with physics at the university level, I graduated from the University of Texas San Antonio with a B.S. in Biology and a Texas Composite Science 8-12 teaching certification. I started teaching at Harlandale High School in San Antonio right after graduation, and at the start of my second year I was asked to teach physics. I felt like I couldn’t say no. I was terrified, but I was certified, so I became a physics teacher. With the support of two master physics teachers on that campus, I came to learn just how awesome it is to learn and teach physics.  Over the past ten years, physics has become not just a subject I teach, but also a defining aspect of who I am as a teacher.  I continually strive to learn and improve, and in 2013 I graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus in Science Education. My ultimate goal each school year is to open the eyes of my students to the wonders of physics and now I hope to share that passion with others in my role as a Teacher in Residence at Texas State.

Tracy Cooper, Physics Teacher, Dripping Springs High School, Dripping Springs, TX

Tracy Cooper
Tracy Cooper

I never thought I would be a teacher, but I’ve been teaching in some capacity for a while, from helping my brothers with their homework as a child to tutoring in college. I earned a BS degree and worked as a Microbiologist for 14 years before I considered teaching. I started teaching at Lanier High School in Austin, an inner city school with lots of challenges, but because science teachers were in such demand I was issued an emergency certification. After my first year, I was given all of the physics classes and had to go it alone because I was the only physics teacher. Traveling down a new road alone, with no formal training on how to teach physics, was quite the journey and one I wouldn’t wish on anyone. For 6 years I taught physics to students who believed they couldn’t do it. I started the AP Physics program, recruited 10 students, convinced the principal they could do it, and we began. To their surprise, 8 of the 10 passed, and all graduated from college. Now, I teach at a different high school with its own set of challenges and benefits - it’s what I do.

Inspiring young people to believe in themselves is one of the reasons I teach. It has been 16 years, and I still love it. Waking up knowing that I will see 120 students who count on me to guide them, push them, and encourage them is a great feeling. Every day I laugh, have deep discussions, inspire, and am inspired. I’m happy knowing that by being a teacher I’m shaping the future.

Russell Krummell, Physics Teacher, San Marcos High School, San Marcos, TX

Russell Krummell
Russell Krummell

This is a riddle.  Can you guess what class I teach in high school?  

In what class can students role play CSI or super sleuth and solve riddles, debunk magic tricks, take apart action scenes in movies, or unravel two-minute murder mysteries using the laws of nature?

In what class can the principles learned be so easily related to everyday life directly or by way of analogy?  What's in the magic black boxes that we use everyday: cell phones, computers, TVs, cars?  What makes them tick?  How is the law of inertia similar to the difficulty we have getting up in the morning?  How is the Law of Universal Gravitation just Newton's ode to love and advice on the perils of long-distance relationships?  How does entropy show that we are always going to have to clean up our bedrooms, at least a little?  How is friction like that annoying friend who always wants to do the opposite of what you are doing?  How is a thermometer like a robber sometimes and a philanthropist other times?  Isn't it interesting that opposites really do attract?  How can you use the scientific method to discover whether somebody likes you?

In what class can you repeatedly indulge in Monday morning quarterbacking of instant replays of sacks, tackles, and other collisions of Sunday NFL games, or analyze the mechanics of test cars running  into each other or into trains through slow motion footage at 5000 frames per second, or break down how extreme athletes really do death defying flips on bicycles, snowmobiles, motorcycles, or skis, or gymnasts and ice skaters do their seemingly anti-gravitational magic?  

In what class can you hook your students into a topic by challenging them to leave as many bottles standing when they try to quickly pull a tablecloth out from under them, or balance two forks on a tooth pick, or swing a bucket full of water in a vertical circle without dropping a drop, or light up a light bulb with two galvanized nails, two pieces of copper, some wire, and a lemon?

In what class can kids use Legos, K-nex, plastic tubing, flexible insulation foam, steel ball bearings, power tools, rubber bands, popsicle sticks, wood, ramps, wheels and axles, gears, levers, wedges, pulleys, inclined planes and lots of Duct Tape to create Rube Goldberg Machines, Rollercoasters, and catapults?

In what class do kids finally understand what math is used for in real life? In what class do they use their language skills to negotiate between the precision of using technical terminology but also the abstraction of using metaphors and analogies to explain difficult ideas in simpler terms? In what class do they study the history of discovery, the evolution and spontaneous generation of big ideas, the biographies of great men and women who have advanced technology and science?  In what class do they explore the ethical considerations of technological advances such as the splitting of the atom, drones, artificial intelligence, robotics, communications technology, weapons?

Ans. to the riddle: Physics.  Why teach anything else?

 

Texas State Physics Faculty who are former K-12 Physics Teachers

Dr. Eleanor Close, former Physics Teacher, Louisburg High School, Louisburg, NC

Dr. Eleanor Close
Dr. Eleanor Close

I fell in love with physics my senior year in high school. I had always enjoyed math and science, and when I took my first physics class I was excited at how physics allowed me to use math to understand the real world. I remember thinking “This is what all the math is FOR!” (Mathematicians might disagree with me. Shhh.)

When I started college, I remember telling someone (half-joking) that I wanted to triple major in Physics, Math, and English, plus get my teacher certification. I ended up with a physics major, a math minor, half of a minor in English, and a few courses that counted toward the teaching certificate. I wanted to do something service-oriented after I graduated, and I thought about joining the Peace Corps but decided instead to teach in an under-resourced part of the U.S. I joined Teach For America and was assigned to teach in rural North Carolina, where I became the physics teacher at a small (~600-student) high school in August of 1996, and became science department chair by seniority in January of 1997. There were some good things about being part of Teach For America, but it was very difficult to start teaching full time with only five weeks of (not very effective) preparation. I was the only physics teacher at my high school, and the other physics teacher in the county was the football coach at the only other high school and was not interested in mentoring me. Fortunately I got enough support from friends to survive the first year, and in the process learned how wonderfully rewarding it is to share my love of physics with students and see them get hooked on making sense of the world around them.

I learned quickly that understanding physics was not enough to be a good physics teacher. I needed to understand my students and respect them as whole people, with their own ideas and interests, and to earn their trust and respect in order to create an environment where everyone could learn. I also needed to know more about how students learn physics and what I could do to better support their learning. I wanted my students to love physics as much as I did, and to feel empowered to figure things out for themselves. It was this itch to understand more and to do my work better that made me decide after three years in the classroom to go to graduate school and study physics education research. 

Dr. Hunter Close, former Physics Teacher, Jesse Jones High School, Houston, TX

Dr. Hunter Close
Dr. Hunter Close

I had some great teachers in high school who taught me that learning should be done passionately and as a whole person. They taught me that the ideas I was learning should make sense, that they should affect me personally, and that arguing with the teacher and other students about the ideas was good. I love physics because it is a science that attempts to address the fundamental nature of things and the character of the universe. I first knew I wanted to pursue physics teaching when, after my first year in college, I had an internship where I was by myself all day, assembling some piece of equipment for an experiment. It was an important job, but I didn't like it because I was isolated. I wanted a job that was about physics and about interacting with other people at its core! I did not do a formal teacher preparation program while in college. Instead I was "emergency certified" by fiat and hired, which was possible because physics was a "critical shortage area" where I wanted to teach. Not having a teacher preparation program or the mentorship of faculty and other physics education professionals who cared about my success made my first year of teaching more difficult than it would have been otherwise. It was hard to feel successful each day and hard to persist. But I did persist, and by my third year, I felt very comfortable with my students and I really enjoyed my job. Every day was an adventure because high school students are so expressive and full of vitality. I always had new funny stories to tell about what happened at school. Now that my students are adults, it's been great to see the things they have accomplished and the people they have become. Some things they have done are related to what I taught, and some are not. It's just great to feel like I played some role and had some responsibility in helping them develop into interesting, creative, and compassionate people.