Scientist or Teacher?

The results of Banilower’s survey of physics teachers are not surprising.  The research suggests that in the area of physics, greater value is placed on a teacher’s content knowledge rather than in his/her skills as an instructor.  The typical high school student registering for a course in physics is college bound and fulfilling an “A-G” requirement for university admittance.  As a result, physics teachers generally teach relatively motivated students and have smaller classes.  With a limited number of teachers qualified to provide instruction in physics, I would suggest that the teaching methods used in the classroom go unquestioned by administrators responsible for teacher evaluations.  I would further venture to suggest that because of the specialized nature of the subject matter, a lower student passing rate would more likely be attributed to the difficulty of the content rather than the teacher’s instructional practices.

            The data collected in Banilower’s surveys reflect teaching practices that neglect science teaching standards that emphasize a deeper understanding of the nature and application of science theory and practice.  According to the data, most instruction focuses on teaching basic concepts, terms, facts, science process and problem-solving activities.  This suggests that year after year, physics teachers do the same activities over and over again for each new group of students and do not strive to make the subject matter engaging, accessible or meaningful to others.  Physics teachers themselves admit that they feel ill-prepared to meet the needs of a diverse population of students.  As long as science and physics teachers maintain the status quo for instructing students, the field of physics will continue to exclude a large portion of high school students.