Why become a Physics teacher?

This post first appeared on the Develop Your Career blog.

Science based industries currently employ about 5.4 million people. By 2030, this is expected to rise to about 7 million.

But with a shortage of physics teachers in the UK, who is going to teach school children the skills they need to take on these jobs in 15 years time?

At an event recently, Professor Peter Main said that if everyone who is studying physics at university at the moment became a physics teacher, we would still have a shortage of physics teachers!

But the teaching profession is recruiting against many other employers, some of whom can offer enticing pay packages and benefits. So why might someone decide to work as a physics teacher? I asked this question of someone who has left the engineering sector to do just that.

Teaching Physics

Why did you leave your engineering job?

I found working for a big corporation was actually quite slow moving. There were lots of meetings with people talking in jargon about things that didn’t matter at all outside of the corporation. I also felt that there was a process of promotion. So you’d do a job for a couple of years and then you’d be hoping for a promotion. This meant that there were excessive numbers of middle managers and many others trying to impress in order to become middle managers. To be promoted you needed to make an impact or create something, so everyone was creating new processes thus making things more complicated without actually getting anything done. I can’t say that every company is like this, but I decided that I didn’t want to work in a big business.

What made you decide to become a teacher?

I thought about the things that I enjoy. Not just things in the workplace, but my hobbies and interests. I realised that I enjoy performing – I like being on stage, playing the saxophone, giving presentations. I noticed that this was something I had missed since graduating.

I enjoy working with really bright and interesting people but I don’t mind whether they are 17 or 57.

I am still really interested in physics and I wanted to do something related to this, but I have always been broadly interested. I never wanted to specialise.

And I definitely wanted autonomy, to take responsibility and see results from what I was doing.

When I looked at these things, being a physics teacher was clearly a good match for what I was looking for. Because autonomy is so important to me, I also decided that I wanted to work in a private school where I thought I would get the most freedom in terms of my teaching practice. I don’t know if this is accurate, but it was my feeling. It might be different for someone else.

And do you think it was the right decision?

Teaching is great. I work with bright, fun kids. It’s great seeing the kids learning – especially those who found physics difficult, learning that physics can be something that they enjoy and can be good at. It can be very rewarding to see the kids enjoying something because of what you do.

For me, teaching has rewards that are personal (rather than earning returns for a pensions fund). I can see the positive results, the difference that I have made. And I get to use my creativity to adapt to the students needs.

What are the down sides?

Definitely the bureaucracy. There is a lot of protocol so sometimes even when it’s obvious what would be the best thing to do you can’t do it. And teacher chat! Teachers are always saying that there is no job harder than teaching. I can’t think of teaching as hard work because it’s so enjoyable.

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