Saturday, November 21, 2009

Teaching high school physics

Dr Richard Walding gave some insights into the current state of high school Physics teaching in Queensland at the AIP Careers seminar on wednesday. He was Head of Science for the past 20 years at Moreton Bay College and now tutors Senior Physics student teachers at Griffith Uni. Richard said tha the demand for physics teachers was very strong, not only here in Queensland but everywhere in the word. Teacher recruiting companies have an unmet demand for physics teachers and it would seem they can place you at countries all over the world. Richard said the starting wage for a graduate was about $51,000 rising to $72,000 after 7 years or so. He said there were 7000 Senior Physics students in Queensland in Yr 11 and 12 from 176 schools and taught by about 220 physics teachers. Most of the teachers had BSc degrees but, surprisingly enough, only a handful majored in physics at university.

To a question about whether you'd have to teach other subjects beside Physics and Junior Science if you were employed as a Physics teacher, Richard said that from his knowledge you may get some Junior Maths but would be unlikely to get anything else unless you asked for it and had been trained for it in your PostGrad Education qualification (e.g. Senior Maths). Richard made the point that teaching didn't suit everyone and some student teachers drop out either during their coursework or soon after. He said he had several former scientists and engineers as student teachers who wanted to become Physics teachers and in most cases they were a success; however, some retuned to their former profession within a year or so as it wasn't what they expected.

Richard said that he never planned to be a Physics teacher; he started his career as an Industrial Chemist but became a teacher after 5 years in industry. As he had physics in his degree the Principal of his school made him take Senior Physics even though he did not do it in his GradDipEd degree. He said he grew to enjoy it and has taught it for the past 30 years. He also said that there was plenty of scope for original research while teaching. He undertook an MSc, MPhil and PhD to satisfy his curiosity about aspects of science education and he said that many teachers were doing postgrad studies (Masters and Doctorates) as part of their Professional development and to help with their promotion prospects. Richard said that a Senior Teacher's wage is $75000 and a Head of Department from $84000 to $88000 - although the recent pay deal would see that increase by a further 8% or so over the next 3 years.

He stressed that Physics teaching may be different today that it was when people in the audience were in high school. There was more emphasis on extended experimental investigations and the report writing that entailed, and with more questions and situations involving evaluating and justifying conclusions (than with the older style emphasis on quantitative, algorithmic, closed problem solving questions). He said it would be worth having a look at the 2007 Senior Physics syllabus to get a better idea. This is available online at
If you have any questions, you could email Richard at:

Richard is also co-author of a high school physics textbook,
that Joel Gilmore (Science communicator extraordinaire and my former Ph.D student) was so impressed with he bought it off a student he was tutoring when she finished high school!

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