April Butler

Physics Teacher, West Kings District High School

What is your physics education

What was your physics education?

It was in my junior high yearbook that I first wrote that my future career was going to be that of Physics and Math teacher. I had always enjoyed helping other people and sharing information. Both my parents were teachers so I felt that I knew quite a bit about the nature of the profession and it challenges and rewards. I assumed that I would be a math teacher first and then work into a physics position. At the time it seemed like the best plan because there were far more mathematics jobs available than there were physics jobs because everyone had to have math to graduate but not everyone had to have physics. Throughout high school I took University Preparatory courses and found that math came easier but I enjoyed physics more, because it was more of a challenge I think. In June 1989 I graduated with a respectable, but by no means extraordinary, 87% average from Annapolis West Education Center in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

In September 1989 I went to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In my first year I took the courses that most science majors took, Chemistry, Calculus, English, Physics, and Psychology.

As I expected, my hardest course, but most also the rewarding, was the Physics 1100 course. Several times, especially after writing the physics tests, I wondered if I had made the right choices but my professors were quick to encourage me to continue in my chosen path.

During second year I took Electricity and Magnetism, Mechanics and Relativity, Oscillations and Waves, Modern Physics and Astronomy as well as Intermediate Calculus and Linear and Matrix Algebra. My marks were always better in the my math courses but once again I was enjoying the physics classes more, probably because they were smaller and more personalized and I was seeing what the math I knew could be used to do.

I became a lab assistant that year for the 1st year students and got my first exposure to teaching and marking. I kept up with the lab assistant job the next year and completed courses in Quantum Mechanics, Topics in Physics and Optics. I also took Probability and Statistics, and Differential Equations to ensure that I would have similar numbers of math and physics credits. I completed my Bachelor of Science in Physics and Math with 6 full credits in Physics and 5 full credits in Mathematics in May 1992.

Other education and skills?

Other education/experience?

Throughout my undergraduate degree I expected that I would only take a Bachelor's degree in physics and not an honours or masters degree. I felt that the courses at the honours level would be too specific and narrow to give me information that would be applicable to high school physics. I do not regret my choice but I have since started looking into further studies in physics simply to help keep my own mind in a state of active learning and to improve my own understanding of the subject.

In September 1993 I started a Bachelor of Education Degree at Dalhousie University. It was a one-year (7 credit) program. I took both Science and Math Methods courses to ensure that I would have training in both areas. At the time I was still convinced that I would be trying for a High School Mathematics position before I would try for a Physics position. My education degree provided me with an opportunity to have my own classes for the first time and that was an opportunity that I relished. I found that the best teacher is experience simply because teaching is a hands-on profession and I learned more about the art of teaching during my practicum than I did during my university courses.

What is was your first job, was it a physics job, did you use your physics background?

How did you get your first job? Was it a physics job? Did you use your physics background?

After graduation, and a much deserved vacation in the Cayman Islands, I immediately got a job teaching Grade 10 mathematics in Summer School at my old high school. The day that that job ended I got a phone call stating that there was a term position in Physics being offered to me at Middleton Regional High School. I picked up and moved from my home in Annapolis Royal 30 minutes down the road to Middleton, Nova Scotia. The school had a population of about 600 students from grades 7 to 12. I taught grade 11 and 12 physics and a grade 9 science course. It was an exciting year and I really got involved with the student body. The students were fantastic and each day we learned something new and exciting about physics. At the end of the year it was very sad to have to say goodbye and with great reluctance I did. I spent that summer travelling across the country.

On August 29, 1994 I got the call to come teach physics at West Kings District High School in Auburn, Nova Scotia. The school has approximately 1050 students in grades 7 through 12. When I arrived at the school the secretaries directed me to the guidance office. They thought that I was a student not a teacher! They said I looked just like them. The previous teacher was an older gentleman who had just retired and they were quite surprised to learn that a young woman would be teaching physics. Nonetheless, 3 days later I started my current job as a physics teacher. During my time at West Kings I have taught primarily grade 11 and 12 physics but I have also taught grade 11 math, 11 physical science and grade 10 science. My first classes in physics were very small but eventually I have been able to build the program up to 3 classes of grade 11's and 2 of grade 12's. I average about 135 students a year in physics now compared to about 75 in my first year. I enjoy teaching physics immensely. As I tell my students, "Physicists play with the best toys!!".

My own experiences and enjoyment of physics has enabled me, I hope, to relate to the students and to help them understand how physics is all around them just waiting to be understood.

What were your subsequent job searches, career changes etc

Describe subsequent job searches and career changes.

Throughout my teaching career I have seen numerous changes in Physics Education, not only in N.S. but across the country as well. In 1996 I was asked by the Provincial Government to represent my board on a provincial examination committee. Our committee had the task of designing and marking the new provincial physics exams that all grade 12 students would eventually have to write. The curriculum has changed several times since then and we are now currently following the Pan Canadian Curriculum suggestions. I am now serving on two Provincial Committees for Physics Education: Curriculum, and Testing and Evaluation. It is through these committees that I have been able to meet other physics teachers from across N.S. and discuss Physics education and where it will go in this new millennium.

People often say that females are not equally represented in Physics education and something must be done about that. I challenge that idea at the High School level because in my classes I have found that it is an equal mix of males and females. I know first hand that female students are taking and succeeding in high school physics courses.