TPT 50th Anniversity book - page 14

One of the challenges of any teaching career
is retaining the enthusiasm that we initially
felt for our subject, the enthusiasm that drew
us into that career in the first place. This is
particularly true for those of us teaching in high
schools, two-year colleges, and many four-year
colleges and comprehensive universities, where
the teaching loads tend to be heavy and focused
primarily, if not exclusively, on introductory
course work.
Fortunately, even introductory-levelmechanics,
thermodynamics, E&M, relativity, and modern
physics offer effectively boundless supplies
of challenges, surprises, delights, and new
insights. Even more fortunately, the physics
teaching community has, for 50 years now,
enjoyed the support of
The Physics Teacher
a welcoming and informal place to share our
own pedagogically enriching, career-sustaining
discoveries with fellow teachers.
, along
with its sister journal,
, and of course AAPT
itself, has been entwined in many different
ways with my career and absolutely essential
to my professional development. Thus, I greatly
appreciate the opportunity to offer here my
sincere thanks to AAPT and to the three fine
editors—Cliff Swartz, Don Kirwan, and my
good friend, the gentle-souled Karl Mamola—
whom I have had the pleasure to interact with
over the last four decades.
As with many, perhaps most, undergraduate
physics majors, I chose physics for the perfectly
simple reason that it was fun and I was good at
it. I thoroughly enjoyed my undergraduate days
at Harvey Mudd College, where a career was the
furthest thing from my mind. Accordingly, the
only conceivable thing to do after graduation in
1973 was to take advantage of the opportunity
to continue being a student. I was accepted
into the physics PhD program at Berkeley and
given a TA assignment in a large enrollment
introductory course with about 10 other grad
students who shared the responsibility for
leading recitation sections and laboratories and
grading exams.
Somewhat tomy surprise, I quickly discovered
that I enjoyed my teaching assignment at least as
much as my graduate studies. Indeed, I came
for the first time to suspect and fear that I might
neither have nor really want to develop the kind
of single-minded focus it would likely take for me
to succeed as a research physicist. My interests in
physics were too broad and I had other interests
outside of physics, especially in music, that I
wanted to have time to pursue as well.
Berkeley was probably not the best place
to make those discoveries. Nevertheless, two
attractive options were presented to me:
1) I could switch out of the physics
department into a new interdisciplinary group
in science and math education (the “SESAME”
group) being formed by Robert Karplus, Fred
Reif, and Alan Portis and continue my PhD
studies in a field that was being called “physics
education,” or
2) I could undertake traditional thesis work
in experimental ionospheric physics under
the guidance of Kinsey Anderson and take
advantage of his magnificent humanity and
patience to indulge my other interests.
Because I had worked for a quarter as a TA in
Bob Karplus’ self-paced Keller plan course and
because of my growing certainty that I wanted
to end up as a teacher, I leaned toward the first
option, but I was ultimately persuaded that, if I
wanted to teach at the college level, I had better
obtain a traditional PhD in physics. I often
wonder about that choice, but it was certainly
the safer one at the time and I can’t complain
about the results.
John Mallinckrodt
John Mallinckrodt is lead guitarist for the “Out-Laws of Physics” and
emeritus professor of physics at California State Polytechnic University (Cal
Poly Pomona), where he was lucky enough to find extraordinarily supportive,
encouraging (and even musical) colleagues despite—or more likely because
of—being an out-of-the-closet, pedagogically oriented generalist.
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