Thursday, December 8, 2016

Not your typical high school chemistry teacher

What is it about high school teachers
and jackets? Credit: Elliot Richman/C&EN
In this week's C&EN, a profile of Elliot Richman, a Ph.D. chemist who became a science writer and then a high school chemistry teacher. (article by Ryan Cross)

(It would be interesting to know what percentage of high school chemistry teachers have advanced degrees in chemistry, and what percentage of them started teaching immediately after school. I suspect that it's lower than the median high school teacher.) 


  1. I had a few PhD teachers throughout my life, even an elementary teacher believe it or not. As a PhD, I would think it's a great late-life option if you're financially secure and you end up at a good to great school teaching, say, an advanced/honors class(es).

    1. That's a bit condescending, no? IF you're financially secure, IF you're at a great school, IF you teach an honors course. Lots of qualifiers here for a noble and thankless profession. I've never once met a teacher who got into the profession for the money, even less so a teacher with a PhD. The MBA's at my old company used to say a similar thing about scientists: "I think it's cute that you followed your hobby. When are you going to transition to a real job?" I would argue that Dr. Richman will probably have a more substantive impact as a high school teacher than most R1 professors.

    2. ????? You seem a bit bitter, anonymous 9:39. Many of the teachers I know don't like their jobs because a lot of the time it's just babysitting an unruly/uninterested class. Not saying it's their fault, but we live in a society where most kids go to school and don't really care much about academics. Some exceptional students do, which is why the OP of this little thread probably suggested teaching an honors class would be enjoyable.

      The two R1 professors that I have been lucky to have train me have made a profound impact in my life, much more than any high school/middle school teacher. They have also made very important scientific contributions to the world...The whole point of science is the discovery of knowledge after all.

    3. The point of scienceDecember 11, 2016 at 1:07 PM

      No, the whole point of science is inflating the egos of megalomaniacs, at least at R1's. Most of the Science/Nature/Cell/JACS/ACIE papers from my department are oversold tripe that will never be useful to anyone other than the Nobel-hunting PI's...ymmv, but I think that 'important scientific contributions' are very rare and basically unfundable in the current climate

    4. 9:39 here: It's not bitterness at all. Just an observation that we tend to denigrate professions that we don't respect or don't understand. A lot of people see teachers as overpaid babysitters who just coast from Aug to May. Similarly, all of my former colleagues in industry have the impression that I came back to academia so that I'd have my summers off and coast for the next 20 years, when in truth I transitioned from a 55ish hour work week to 70+ hour work week for 50% of the pay and no bonus at the end of the year. If people don't care about academics anymore, it's because we focus on $$$ to a ridiculous extent and academic pursuits are not well-known for leading to big $$$. I'd rather see a PhD go get a teaching certificate and be a good teacher in a bad school than see them standing spinning their wheels doing multiple postdocs and trying to land these mythical academic/industry jobs that we seem to think are in abundance.

    5. I would have to agree with the OP in some regards. As a former teacher who went on to get a Ph.D. and is now hunting for academic/industrial jobs, I know that a big reason that ~50% of teachers quit within five years is that teaching is a ton of work for very little pay. Even good teaching jobs in states with unions start off around 30-35k. Most are less than that. So, if money is not a problem, and teaching is a late-career option, that helps a lot.

      Also, there is a vast difference in stress level between teaching AP chemistry in a high-achieving school district and teaching Gen Chem in a average or below average school.