Teaching A-level physics
Whether you are trying to decide what jobs to apply for, or whether you are nervous about taking on new teaching responsibilities, we’ll show you that getting stuck in to teaching physics A-level will boost your career. Not only can you teach A-level physics, you should teach it!
Why teach A-level?
- Many teachers report that their A-level classes are the most satisfying.
- Teaching A-level will have a positive impact on your teaching of earlier Key Stages.
- Behaviour issues melt away and classroom management is less of a challenge. These kids have chosen to be there and you can concentrate on teaching them physics.
- You will enjoy the material. You will revisit the topics that inspired you at school and which led you to study physics further at university.
- There will intellectual challenges. The mathematical calculations are not trivial. And like teaching at any level, each time you teach a topic, your own understanding deepens and becomes richer.
- You will boost your employability, as there is an ongoing shortage of good A-level physics teachers.
- If you want to minimise your teaching outside your specialism, offering to teach A-level instead is a strong negotiating tool.
- You are doing your bit for Queen and country: more physics at A-level not only strengthens UK physics, it's also good news for public understanding of science and for UK plc!
What’s stopping you?
For many physics teachers, A-level classes are the highlight of the week. The attractions are obvious. Behaviour is less of an issue, the material that you are teaching is interesting and challenging, plus you have the satisfaction of being part of the chain that connects one generation of physicists to the next.
But there are real and valid reasons why other teachers shy away from teaching A-level . From lack of self-confidence in subject knowledge to concerns about lack of support, it seems like a huge responsibility. In fact, some specialist physics teachers prefer to take on extra Key Stage 3 biology teaching at to avoid Key Stage 5 physics.
How you feel about teaching A-level should be an important factor you take into consideration when applying for jobs. For example, if you take on a post in a school without other physics specialists, you will almost certainly be expected to teach A-level – and probably act as physics consultant to other science teachers.
If you teach in a school without a sixth form, there won’t be opportunities to teach A-level. But is that your long term aim? The longer you avoid A-level teaching, the more intimidating it may seem.
IOP Teaching and Learning Coach Niloufar Wijetunge recommends new teachers get stuck into teaching A-level as soon as possible. She started in her first year of teaching and whilst it was a challenge, she feels the experience contributed to her rapid development as physics teacher.
She explains, “The truth is, that no matter what year into your career you begin A-level teaching, you will be in the same boat - that is, lack the confidence (to varying extents depending on the person) to teach at that level. I have worked with experienced teachers who are taking on A-level teaching and I believe that they face the same challenges.”
Richard Bonella, another IOP TLC, has the following advice for new physics teachers. “As trainees, they should ask for opportunities to sit in on, and then team-teach, A-level classes if the school runs them. They should acquire at least an overview of available resources such as TAP and TalkPhysics which has a dedicated Teaching Physics 16-19 group. If interviewed for an NQT post that could include A-level teaching, they should quiz the school about provision of external training, specialist mentoring and so on.”
In addition, as someone nearing retirement, he sees great career opportunities for specialist physics teachers. “I think an NQT who preferred to specialise in physics could push for being given a substantial A-level load, and not burdened with chemistry or biology, especially if willing to help to chemist/biologist colleagues (diplomatically, of course) with subject knowledge. Over the last year I have noticed a rise in the number of schools desperate to recruit a teacher of A-level Physics as we old lags retire.”