How I Became a High School Science Teacher and Found My Calling
High School Teacher–Science
Private Catholic School, Alabama
Heading into his 3rd year of teaching, “Mr. Hooper,” as he’s known to his 14- to 18 year-old students, runs a tight ship in his high school science classroom. “You’d think I’m either very disciplined or very fascist,” he claims. However, the students seem to appreciate it because it ensures their time together is well spent.
Not wanting to be perceived as a dictator in his first year, he enlisted the help of a 3-foot-tall stuffed rabbit named Pat to keep the atmosphere light. Some days Will starts a lecture by saying, “I didn’t have time, so Pat prepared the formulas for our lesson today,” or he will grab the class’s attention by demonstrating Newton’s Second Law of Motion by catapulting Pat across the room toward a droopy-eyed student.
A Private High School Teacher’s Philosophy
The students love Pat in part because he is the small, private Catholic school’s only TA. With about 100 students and 20 faculty members, students and teachers get to know each other fairly well. “This is really like a family. There are differences between us, but we live in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.”
Will likes teaching at a Catholic high school even though he is not Catholic himself. He enjoys the smaller classes and is happy to forgo the struggles with overcrowding that are common in Alabama public high schools.
“There is a basic understanding here that differs from public schools. Here, we agree that certain things are true. All voices are considered, but we know that not all are equally as valid.” As a science teacher, that gives him the ability to focus on scientific theories without having to take the time to focus on other, more controversial issues.
He also likes the limited amount of bureaucracy he has to experience as a private high school teacher. “It goes me, the principal, the president, the Bishop, and then the Pope. That’s it.”
During his interview, he was handed a proposed class-content syllabus for his 9th grade honor’s biology class and was amazed that it consisted of general suggestions and broad ideas instead of specific requirements and grading rubrics.
He was impressed by the flexibility private school teachers have over their curriculum and decided it would be a great environment in which to help students discover the vastness of the universe through scientific exploration.
Deciding to Pursue a High School Teaching Career
His passion is neuroscience. But any science will do. His baccalaureate program at the University of Alabama provided him with a focus on multiple science disciplines, as well as applications of technology to multiple careers.
So he enjoys a split role at his school, acting as network administrator and teaching a half-load of science classes—something common among private high school teachers.
He didn’t always plan on pursuing a teaching career, but “when the principal said, ‘Here, have some money,’ right when I needed some,” he decided to try it out—and loved it. Although the job pays less than high school teachers in public schools, he was able to take the job straight from college because high school teachers in private institutions are not required to be certified by the state.
While completing additional teaching courses and receiving certifications would increase his salary, they are not required.
The Rewards of Being a High School Teacher
“All meaningful human learning takes place in a community,” he says, and the small school experience combines with his passionate, intelligent teaching style to create a dynamic learning environment for the students. He teaches them the basic laws of science that govern the way the universe works.
The best part about teaching, he says, is “when you see in students’ faces that they just had a ‘light bulb moment.’ They got it. Their understanding of the universe has just been opened, and that gift of understanding can never be taken away. They can forget the Law but they can never forget the feeling that the universe is bigger than they ever thought before.” This experience is “not just rewarding. It’s addictive,” he says.
So, he’ll take the smaller wages—for now. His plan is to return to school for a doctoral degree in neuroscience and become a college professor.