Practical Pointers for Teaching


Job-Related Aspects:

Guidelines for High School Physics Programs Every high school teacher candidate should obtain, read, and utilize this free (to members) 2003 publication of the American Association of Physics Teachers. It contains lots of practical information for teacher candidates in pursuit of a career in high school physics teaching. Sections include the following: administrative support, budgetary support, curriculum, classroom activities and instruction, resources, and teachers. This 16-page booklet should be carefully read before a job interview; it includes lots of pointers worth discussing with the representative of the school district in question.

Teaching Certificate - Visit the Illinois State Board of Education web site about all you need to know in relation to this topic.

Standard Teaching Certificate Renewal Process How does one renew the provisional teaching certificate? What is all the talk about CEU's and CPDU's? Find out by reading this IEA Document.

Prospective Teacher Interview Here are a whole bunch of questions that you might be asked in an interview by a superintendent, principal, or department head. It would be a good idea to brush up on the answers to these questions before you begin interviewing.

Classroom Visits Don't take a principal's or department chairperson's word on what to expect when you get into your classroom at the first of the year. They sometimes don't honestly know what the state of affairs is in a given classroom, and are often ready to paint a rosy picture. They might say there is "lots of equipment," but you'll be greatly disappointed when you find out that this translates to a pile of junk. If you are interviewing for a job, be absolutely certain to visit your potential future classroom, see the storeroom and what it holds and, if you can, observe the science teaching of your future peers. Failing to do these things might result in one of your greatest disappointments in your first-year teaching experience.

Teaching Salaries is a great place to visit if you want to see who's making what. This can serve as a guide to your job search if dollar value is of greater concern than location. Salary information can also be located at the This site has detailed salary information for every teacher in every district in Illinois. The latest info available on this latter web page is always a year old.

Resume Writing If you have never written a resume, then you need to realize that there is an art to the process. A good resume is important if you expect to make the "first cut" that will lead to an interview. While getting a job as a physics teacher shouldn't generally be a problem due to the poor supply-demand ratio, it still helps to present a professional resume when more than one physics teacher candidate is applying for the same competitive position. Conduct a Google search on "resume writing" to learn more about how to put your best foot forward. Look at a sample resume from a recent graduate (identifying information removed).

ISU Career Center This office is a valuable central resource for the candidate teachers and prospective employers. It provides comprehensive individualized career assistance. The staff assists both students and alumni in exploring satisfying career opportunities that fit their talent, interest, and goal, and assist employers to find the candidates for career positions. Don't overlook eRecruiting, and the vacancy listing. These good people also can help assist with:

Finding Jobs The Illinois State Board of Education maintains a web site to help teachers find positions and visa versa. This is a "vacancy list" that is updated usually in the spring through early June.

A new job site can help you search Illinois and the entire nation for physics job openings. Check out K12jobspot to see one of the most comprehensive databases of job openings ever created.

See the website if you want to do a broad job search covering the entire nation.

Illinois Education Job Bank is an effort by the Illinois Association of School Administrators. Job Bank, according to IASA, is the state's "premier online job bank." There might be some truth to this. There seems to be a fair number of physics listing statewide. You may also list your online resume here.

Recruit Illinois: provides interesting advice about:

Don't forget that you can list yourself and do searches on They also provide some useful online advice.

AAPT Online Career Center The American Association of Physics Teachers has created a great resource for graduating seniors interested in a teaching position or other careers in physics. Check it out.

Flinn Scientific Job Placement Center According to Flinn Scientific, "Finding a job has never been easier! All prospective science teachers want to find the ideal science teaching position. The problem is they often don't know where to look. Their worries are over! The best science teaching jobs in the United States can be found at the Flinn Scientific Job Placement Center."

School Report Cards If you are going to consider working for a particular school, it might be good to review the school report card. These report cards are filled with a plethora of information such as trend data, academic summaries, and definitions of report card terms.

Professional Teaching Insurance When you are hired by a school district, you'll most likely be required to join the local teachers' union. Such unions are almost always associated with the American Federation of Teachers or the National Education Association. Membership in the union means membership in the affiliated national teachers' organization. Such memberships has as a benefit of membership insurance to protect you from tort (civil) liability in the even that you screw up or are accused of doing so. If you don't have any insurance coverage as part of your

Special Insurance Benefits There is probably more than one insurance company that provides low-cost insurance rates for home and car, and you will want to check these out. For instance, look into Illinois-based Horace Mann and its subsidiary Teachers Insurance Company.

Special Tax Benefits of Teaching The Federal Government will, in the 2002 tax year, allow teachers to deduct a certain amount of expenses without any form of record keeping. Don't overlook this when you file your taxes. You probably will have to file the long-form version of 1040.

Professional Associations Don't forget to join these professional associations: National Science Teachers Association, American Association of Physics Teachers, Illinois Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers, Illinois Science Teachers Association, etc.

Teaching Award Programs Though you probably won't win an award for your first year teaching, it certainly doesn't hurt to do your very best to be recognized as an outstanding teacher. There are a number of such award programs, but most are administered by professional teaching organizations.See the above listings for details.

Having It All Guest commentary from Diana Roth, Lanphier High School, Springfield, IL. Physics teacher and nationally recognized in 1997 as Science Teacher of the Year for Illinois.

I’ll begin by saying that it is possible to have it all. I will also tell you that it seldom occurs without “extreme” planning, selflessness, integrity, cooperation and support at home, and just plain hard work. You are wondering what “having it all” means. I define “having it all” as follows: having a spouse, a career, a family, vacation time, money to travel, health, love and respect of my family, friends, students, and colleagues. Wow! I chose to teach. I have never regretted that choice. I have been able to grow in my career and maintain the home front. This does not happen by my abilities or work alone. Choose your spouse wisely. They must be supportive of your need to be at school some evenings, grading papers at home, etc. I learned very early to leave as much work at school as possible. I try to give 100% to school when I’m there and then leave knowing tomorrow is another day. When I get home, there are a million things to do. I make lists of priorities and expect everyone to do their fair share. We work together to cook, clean, do laundry, pay bills, meet children’s needs and schedules, and understand that it is everyone’s duty to pitch in. Make time for yourself. Do things you like to do and plan for them to happen. Create good memories for yourself and family. Know yourself and press just slightly beyond those limits. You won’t be happy in a “safe” routine, either.

Teaching Aspects:

A New Teacher's Survival Guide - The online guide covers such topics as organization, the first day, classroom management, discipline, and grading.

Survival Guide for New Teachers: How New Teachers Can Work Effectively with Veteran Teachers, Parents, Principals, and Teacher Educators - A publication from the US Department of Education. " If you are new to the teaching field--or if you work alongside someone who is -- then this book was written for you," begins the Introduction to " Become a Teacher: Survival Guide for New Teachers" at the U.S. Department of Education web site. The online book includes "the reflections of award-winning first-year teachers who talk candidly about their successes and setbacks, with a particular emphasis on the relationships they formed with their colleagues, university professors, and their students' parents. Veteran teachers, especially, are a powerful factor in a new teacher's experience." The book includes suggestions about "how new teachers can foster supportive professional relationships and what they stand to gain from them."

Student Teaching Insurance Consider joining the Illinois section of the NEA, the IEA. They have "Exclusive NEA Member Benefits Programs for Students." The student IEA membership (which includes student membership in NEA) provides $1 million worth of tort liability insurance for only $20. Student teachers are advised to join IEA/NEA if for nothing more than the liability insurance. Scholarships are offered...

Keeping Informed about ISBE Because of teacher isolation (too much to do and too little time), it's often hard for a teacher to keep up to date with all the happenings at and initiatives of the Illinois State Board of Education. Check their web site early and often for a host of useful and up-to-date information.

Conceptual Understanding of Physics Content All too often, ISU Physics Teacher Education (PTE) majors (like majors in other of the Department's sequences) graduate with a very limited conceptual understanding of physics content knowledge. This really isn't their fault; it has more to do with the nature of the didactic teaching students encounter during most of their four years at the University. While a conceptual understanding of physics might not be all that important for some physics majors, it is crucial for PTE majors. The fact of the matter is that during most of their education, PTE majors have been cranking out answers to mathematical problems, and very little emphasis in class, in homework, or on tests is placed on conceptual understanding. As a result, PTE majors end up knowing much less than they could, and substantially less than they ought. How is the PTE major to address this very important deficit of conceptual physics content knowledge? The best way I have discovered is to spend a considerable amount of time reading, of all things, physical science textbooks. These books, because they must necessary must avoid mathematics, tend to be much more conceptual in their approach. In addition, these books tend to provide lots of information about the connection of physics and the modern world. I implore you as a pre student teacher to spend some time reading through one or two physical science textbooks. I recommend that you read two types between now and the time you begin student teaching -- an old text and a new text. The reason that I recommend both is because modern texts seem to be more concerned with providing lots of "eye candy" that makes reading for understanding difficult. Passages are short, and there are lots and lots of (for me) distracting pictures. Nonetheless, these newer textbooks show the relevance of physics to the modern world, and explain how many modern technological conveniences work through the application of basic physical science. Older texts, on the other hand, have longer passages, and frequently go more into depth. This latter approach will help increase your depth of understanding, something quite necessary for the prospective physics teacher. Check out from the ISU PTE resource library such books as "How Things Work" and similar.

Textbook Use – If one is employ the learning cycle and use constructivist approaches to teaching, one has to question when and if a textbook should be used at all. If a textbook is to be used, then its use should be regulated. It should serve the purposely only of clarifying information after students have encountered the first, or perhaps second or third phases of the learning cycle (observation, generalization, application).

Textbook Selection – Textbook selection can be a difficult task for teachers. They often fall into the trap of using “popular” textbooks, or textbooks that have been used by years in the district. If the opportunity presents itself, teachers should select a textbook for use with great care. Adopt textbooks with as many of the following traits as possible. Chose the textbook that:

The PTE program maintains a batch of high school physics textbooks in its resource center. If you'd like to review them, please feel free to visit. Complimentary examination copies are also available from publishers. Contact your regional representative.

Curriculum Unfortunately, the curriculum for a course all too frequently turns out to be the content of the physics book. As a result of such approaches, the curriculum often turns out to be "a mile wide and an inch deep" (A Splintered Vision). Before a teacher can prepare a course syllabus, (s)he should spend some time trying to figure out the approach (s)he wishes to use in teaching. Will the curriculum be a mile wide and an inch deep -- touching upon every subject in the text very quickly? -- or will the curriculum be rather narrow and deep -- touching on a very few topics but doing so extensively? Didactic or lecture approaches are consistent with the first style of "coverage;" inquiry approaches are consistent with the latter style of coverage. Each approach has its good and bad points. If the subject is taught didactically, then a whole range of topics will be covered, but not in enough depth to give students a deep understanding of both the content matter and the nature of science. The inquiry approach might provide great depth of understanding of both content and process, but it does so at the expense of ignoring perhaps even a majority of the topics known to be encompassed by the study of physics. Perhaps the best thing a teacher can do is to fallow the famous dictum of Aristotle, "virtus legit media via" -- virtue lay in the middle way. Taking such an approach a teacher concerned about both depth of understanding and breadth of understanding will select both topics and teaching approaches carefully. Some topics will be addressed quickly; others will be studied in depth. In so doing, one benefits from both approaches. What content then is to be taught "in depth" and which "in breadth"? My response to this question is, "Teach in depth that which you are most capable of teaching in depth; the rest cover more quickly." Perhaps the simplest guide to this approach will be found in the teacher's storeroom. If one has lots of equipment, say, for teaching optics in depth, then do so. If in kinematics, then do that.

Syllabus A course syllabus is, in effect, a contract between the teacher and the students. Here is a basic course syllabus. Check out Tom Holbrook's physics course syllabus on his course web site for another example. Click here to see Elements of a Syllabus Guideline.

Documenting Student Misbehavior – It’s a prudent practice to record, on a regular basis, significant violations of classroom rules of behavior. A pattern of misbehavior typically precedes gross violations. Being able to provide accurate details of such misbehaviors can be very important when dealing with the administration over matters relating to such misbehaviors. Some teachers maintain a yellow note pad in which such transgressions are recorded, and make it know to students that significant transgressions are recorded therein. Transgressions are recorded in the not pad in front of all students. This tends to put students on notice that misbehavior will not be tolerated.

Homework Homework, the traditional bane of a school-age child's existence, is once again coming under fire. Some influential researchers say homework is excessive and does little to improve a student's academic abilities. Others believe that homework is essential to getting students to learn, and is an important part of the process of helping students to meet educational standards. Check out the following resources suitable also for parents:

Revising Lesson Plans -- In order to help with professional development, it is strongly recommended that teachers produce pragmatic lesson plans on a daily basis. Room should be left on each lesson plan for notes about how to revise and teach the lesson again next year.

Purchasing Lab Materials -- It is not atypical for a high school physics teacher to be "handed" a budget of, say, $300 dollars per year. Frankly, this is hardly enough given the (often) outrageous prices that are charged for certain materials. The key to understanding how to best take advantage of the (limited) ability to purchase lab materials is to choose wisely. If a teacher uses inquiry approaches in most of his or her teaching, then emphasis should be placed on purchasing lab equipment in one or two such areas at a time. For instance, this year (and possibly the next) spend your equipment on optics if this is the area you feel that you could teach in depth the best. This would be consistent with the desire to study several areas of physics in depth.

Freebies -- a list of free stuff for science teachers. Some of it is Southern California specific but most of it is not. The list is on a "Wiki" so that people can add more free resources and start discussions about them. Everyone is welcome to use the list. It can be accessed at

Academic Record Keeping It is crucial that teachers keep students' academic records up to date and accurate. Computer programs can assist with this effort, but sometimes it's just easier to record the information in a teachers' grade book. Later, cumulative data can be transferred to a spreadsheet to make calculations for grade determination. Some schools now maintain a computer data base (Edline and such) that can be a great asset, and will allow both teachers and students to see their grade report at any time.

Protecting Class Records It is imperative that teachers protect student grades both from prying eyes and accidental loss such as might happen with a computer failure, theft, or failure. It is recommended that teachers regularly make back-up copies of all such records and maintain them in a separate location outside of the school building. Many teachers make back-up diskettes and photocopies of grade books and store them at home.

Communicating with Parents – National teaching standards call for active involvement of parents in their children’s education (see especially the NPBTS). The main reason that this is done is because, perhaps more than any other influence, parents have a major impact on student learning. If parents don’t see the worth of an education, this attitude will rub off on their children. It is imperative therefore that parents be brought into the educational process one way or another. Many schools will have open houses during the fall semester at which parents have the opportunity to meet the teachers of their children. This is a good time to get to know parents, and address concerns from both perspectives – but it’s just a start. Teachers should make an attempt to keep open the avenue of communication. This can be done through parent-teacher conferences, a monthly or quarterly newsletter, or even a web site. Many schools today are posting grades on line, allowing parents to chart the progress of their children on a daily basis if they wish. Tom Holbrook recently has created a web site for his physics classes at University High School. It has information about his course, syllabus, extra credit for parent-child activities, a pre-survey for parent-teacher conferences, and EDLINE – a link to online grades.

Parent-Teacher Conferences Unfortunately, teachers rarely see the parents they need to communicate with during parent-teacher conferences. In most cases (in my experience) the parents one sees are those whose kids are doing fine in class. Only rarely have parents of failing students come in during parent-teacher conferences. Hence, if you really expect to see parents of students with academic and/or social problems, you'll probably have to go out of your way to arrange such meetings. Most parents who do attend regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences will want to know about their child's grades, and why they are what they are. This is where student work portfolios come in very handy.

Student Work Portfolios Some teachers like to maintain a set of work portfolios in the classroom, one for each class throughout the day. Students are required to insert into these folders examples of their work. Teachers can freely specify which work appears therein -- sample homework, tests, special projects, lab reports, and so on. When discussing with concerned parents why a student is doing poorly as far as grades are concerned, using the student work portfolio as a focus of discussion can be a powerful asset.

Field Trips – It is probably a rare thing for most high school students to participate in a field trip. Rare because high school physics courses are not taught in self-contained classrooms. Nonetheless, field trips can and do occur perhaps once a year when all physics classes in a school break away for such events as Physics Day at a large theme park such as Great America of Six Flags. The focus of such field trips is Amusement Park Physics, a program of national prominence. Visit the Amusement Park Physics web site at Great America Physics Day.

Managing a Budget Unfortunately, most high school teachers won't have much of a budget to manage. When budgets become larger (such as with a grant), then the administration usually gets involved in overseeing the budget. Nonetheless, teachers should be aware of the fact that there are different types of moneys allocated: contractual, commodities, personnel, benefits, etc.

Obtaining and Managing Grants Your PTE coordinator has had a fair amount of experience obtaining and managing moderate to large grants. Please consult with him about your informational needs.

Writing Grants There is a vast amount of online material helpful for the writing of grant proposals. Among them are the following:

  1. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Grants and Grant Writing
  2. National CASA Association, Grant Writing: Strategic Planning and Proposal
  3. Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance, Developing And Writing Grant Proposals
  4. Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Basic Elements of Grant Writing
  5. Joan Straumanis, FIPSE Program Officer, Funding Your Best Ideas
  6. EPA, Karen Reshkin, Grant-Writing Tutorial
  7. US Dept. of Health and Human Services, GrantsNet
  8. National Association of Test Directors, NATD Grant Writing Links
  9. Northwest Educational Technology Consortium, NETC: Grants and Funding Information
  10. National Institutes of Health, Grant Writing Tips Sheets

ISBE Grants Check out the Illinois State Board of Education for grant prospects. The ISBE administers both state and federal dollars dealing with professional development (look into No Child Left Behind prospects, too.)

Using Community Resources – Besides using community resources in the form of field trips, community resources can be brought into the classroom. For instance, Diana Roth at Lanphier High School in Springfield regularly brings in engineers, firefighters, the county coroner, crash reconstruction specialists, insurance investigators, and so on. These are tied into the problem-based learning activities that she regularly conducts in her teaching. You might consider taking advantages of resources in your community by doing the same. Perhaps before you decide upon which PBL activities you’d like to do (if any), you might first want to investigate the resources in your community (including parents of your students), and selecting and formulating your PBL activities accordingly. Community resources need not only be related to PLB type work. Consider for instance talks about careers during a school-wide career day or other special events.

Public Attitudes and Understanding – In general, Americans express highly favorable attitudes toward science and technology. In 2001, overwhelming majorities of NSF survey respondents agreed with the following statements:

Despite these positive indicators, a sizable segment, although not a majority, of the public has some reservations concerning science and especially technology. For example, in 2001, approximately 50 percent of NSF survey respondents agreed with the following statement: "We depend too much on science and not enough on faith" (46 percent disagreed). In addition, 38 percent agreed with the statement: "Science makes our way of life change too fast" (59 percent disagreed). See what else they have to say about science and technology at

Teacher Accountability So, the ISBE says that we must test and test, and hold teachers accountable when high school students don't perform well on the Prairie State Assessment Examinations, including the ACT test. In fact, they go so far as to put schools on public State Academic Early Warning and State Academic Watch lists, an embarrassment for school administrations and teachers alike. What is the problem with this approach? Teachers don't have control over student home life, and there is no question about it that socioeconomic status more than any other factor influences affect PSAE performance. Consider, too, that there is no accountability for students -- scores don't figure into graduation requirements or grades, and if students are not college bound,will they care about performing well on the ACT? Watch out! Do you have any idea of how the state plans to deal with these "failing" schools? There is much more paperwork ahead for school teachers. Teachers accountable for student performance over which they have little to no real control. Think about it.

Teaching Resources The ISU PTE program has been slowly developing resources for teach in addition to the first hyperlink, don't forget to check out the resources of Physics 312. Students are now required to provide a list on Internet-based teaching resources which will be updated annually.

Remember, It's Not Just Content If your goal as a physics teacher is to just teach physics, you might as well get out of the profession now. As a teacher, you are parent, guardian, friend, advisor, confidant, protector, accomplice, big brother/big sister. You should also be caring, concerned, and even loving. Without these things, you'll not be much better than a book. As such, you will attempt your best to help your students become not just founts of knowledge; rather, you will help them to become critical thinkers, problem solvers, and scientifically literate. Take interest in your students; inspire them to greatness don't be afraid to give them a bit of parental advice. Be certain the include in your teaching what else you have learned about metacognition. Both can make all the difference.

Conduct a Self-Check from Time to Time Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living." A variant of this aphorism can be said to be true with regard to teaching. Strive to be your best. Set yourself goals; continue your professional development on a daily basis. I strongly advise you to periodically visit the PTE course web pages for PHY 310, PHY 311, and PHY 312 to review what you have learned or should have learned. Due to the vast amount of information found on these web pages, it's unlikely that you will have internalized (or realized the value of) all this information on the first pass. Pay particular attention to whether or not you are including "best practices" (desirable practices, really) in your teaching.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help No one knows everything, so it's not an embarrassment to ask for help. Don't forget your friends, peers, and your old college advisor.

The First Week:

First Week of Class

Words of Wisdom

Administrative Materials:

Seating Chart

Student Information Sheet

Tardy Notice

General Teaching Aids:

Physics 310 -- Don't forget about the wide array of information in this course, from standards to key findings of science education research.

Physics 311 -- This course is the primary methods course dealing with such things as Modeling Method, Problem-Based Learning, equity, testing, labs, safety, professional development, etc.

Physics 312 -- This course has lots of ideas by topic in relation to lecture demonstrations, readings, and lab activities.

Helping Failing Students:

Exam Preparation and Follow Up

Study Hints

Study and Learning

Writing Essays

Managing One's Schedule

Successful Test Taking

Helpful Handouts & Activities (all .doc files so you can modify):

Conversion Factors

Graphing Skills

Relationships from Graphs

Guidelines for Lab Reports

Lab Outline & Safety Contract

Lab Safety Checklist

Lab Safety Procedures

Metric Madness

Metrics and Math

Physics Treasure Hunt

Problem-Solving Process

Scientific Notation

Significant Figures

Significant Figures Worksheet

Significant Figures in Measurement and Computation

Systems of Measurement

The Nature of Physics (Part I)

The Nature of Physics (Part II)

Working With Conversion Factors

Simple Lab Activities:

Acceleration and Reaction Time

Distance and Displacement

Introduction to Measurement

PI and Crickets (Yum!)

Flippant Numbers!

Graphical Analysis

Using Motorized Toys

Extracurricular Activities:

Coaching Sports

Academic Teams

Personal Aspects:

Time Management -- One of your key problems during the first years of teaching will be time management. Begin work on time management from the very beginning before it becomes an problem.

Professional Teaching Portfolio -- Don't forget about PHY 353 in which you created your first professional teaching portfolio.

Student Testing