September 2019: Brad Allen

Brighton High School, Rochester, New York

Brad Allen

  • Member since 1997
  • Physics Teacher
  • Rochester, New York

About Brad

Like undoubtedly many AAPT members, my first high school physics class was an awakening. Finally, I was someplace where all of the ideas that had been half-formed in my mind were discussed in a logical, organized way. My teacher, David Jones, was only a few years older than us, and his enthusiasm and excitement in the classroom for two years helped solidify that physics was what I wanted to study. I attended the University of Rochester as an undergraduate, basically because that was his alma mater.

Being a successful high school student led naturally to study at the university level, and then doing well as an undergraduate sent me right to graduate school. Presumably the next stop would be academia. At no point up until then did I really choose what to do next; I just was carried in the seemingly natural flow. If not for a happy accident, I would never have stepped into teaching. After being accepted into a couple of Ph.D. programs, I was awarded a Churchill Scholarship to earn a Master’s degree at Cambridge in the U.K. Even applying for the scholarship was not much of a choice; someone nominated me, so I did the paperwork. I deferred the Ph.D. and got onto an airplane.

I had participated in various research experiences as an undergraduate and they never felt right. Now, I was embarking on a year of research, and within a couple of months in the lab, I was finally able to recognize that the life of a research scientist was not for me. I simply did not have the passion for it that I observed in many others. My goal had been to become a professor primarily so that I could teach, and I finally realized that I did not want to do everything else that came with being a professor. So I turned down the Ph. D. program acceptance and earned my teaching degree instead. Becoming a physics teacher was essentially the first time I made a legitimate choice about the direction of my career.

In retrospect, it is strange that I never before considered teaching as an option. I think that in some quarters, there is an implicit assumption that teaching is settling, or a questioning of why a student with great potential would “just teach.” My college professors encouraged me to become a college professor. That seems like sensible advice; presumably, they loved being professors and imagined that anyone with a similar skill set would love it as well.

For about my first decade of teaching, I really did not get involved in the outside physics community. I even let my AAPT membership lapse! As a new teacher, there is so much to do at a local level, in one’s own classroom and district. But as the years went by, I began to get involved in a wider capacity, and it seems that each step led to another. I remained in contact with Mr. Jones, and he encouraged me for years to apply to be an AP Physics Reader. When I finally did, I was amazed by the high caliber of the physics professionals that I met, and the insights and resources they provide. I have gotten very involved in the AP community, scoring the exams, training other Readers, and writing many of the questions that have ended up on the tests.

Every experience has encouraged me to branch out in other ways. I have written several articles for The Physics Teacher and reviewed a dozen more. These publications and reviews have led to my serving as a member of the Editorial Board. And through the New York State Master Teacher program, I have been able attend numerous workshops, both physics-specific and beyond, and lead sessions on both assessment scoring and design. I have recently taken a great deal of interest in learning about implicit bias and stereotype threat, and just this summer, a colleague and I organized a district-wide workshop focused on these topics.

Perhaps the most significant value that is promoted by the AAPT and the AP Physics community is that teaching physics is a profession. Teaching is not settling because other options did not materialize. It is a way to spread our passion for physics with thousands of students over the course of a career, whether teachers focus exclusively on the building level or become active on a larger scale. Not all of us are networkers; I certainly would never see myself as one. But I would encourage all teachers, both novice and veteran, to dip their toes into the larger physics community. It may take them to unexpected places.