February 2023: Marianna Ruggerio
Auburn High School, Rockford, Illinois
- Member since 2008
- Teacher of Physics
- Rockford, Illinois
I had no interest in taking high school physics, my mother made me “you’ll like it” she said. I rolled my eyes and did as I was told, very begrudgingly. It took about a week for me to decide I did, in fact, love physics because it gave math meaning and purpose, and it took about 4 weeks to realize I deeply enjoyed helping others come to understand it as well. The summer before my senior year I knew I was going to be a physics teacher. I was fortunate to start my AP studies under John Lewis, a long-time active member of AAPT. He informally continued to mentor me through college and my early career. It was John who was always asking me if I’d be at the next meeting or if I was presenting. I was really fortunate that the semester of student teaching winter meeting happened to be in Chicago. With nearly zero expenses to attend, I took the train back and forth every day and had my first preview of what AAPT was. What I observed was a network of educators who viewed themselves as much more than “just teachers”, instead they were expert professionals continuously working to better their craft. I knew that many of these teachers were the kind of teachers I aspired to become like.
Over the years I've been actively involved in the Illinois State and Chicago sections of AAPT, serving in various leadership capacities. Life brought me to Rockford, IL where I felt entirely removed from the Chicago physics educator network I'd come to love and appreciate. It is not an easy experience to be in a school with a physics team to then be the only physics teacher rebuilding the physics program from scratch! Imagine my surprise when digging in the AJP archives that not only is Illinois the oldest state section, established in 1937, but it was established at a meeting of physics faculty at then Rockford College under the direction of a woman, Francis Johnson! As co-founder of the society of women in physics at the University of Illinois, it seemed to be destiny that I would have a relationship with Rockford University. It was at a section meeting at Rockford University that I was voluntold to take over the social media accounts for the section which introduced me to the #iTeachPhysics community on Twitter. From there I was able to network with teachers across the nation on a regular basis, many of whom are also actively involved with AAPT. After completing my Master's in Urban Education at Rockford University I was invited to teach the physics course for pre-service teachers using the NGPET curriculum. Getting to tie in my experience to an evidence-based program was a gift.
For the last three years, I have been a fellow with the University of Illinois Physics and Secondary Schools partnership. The partnership equips teachers with research-based resources and their iOLab along with university support, but more importantly connects teachers across the state; many of whom are trained in other fields and/or are the only physics teacher in their school. Through the partnership, I'm able to provide professional development to teachers from all backgrounds to enhance their work, not only in the classroom but as scholars and leaders. Simultaneously I've been able to learn and grow in ways I didn't think were possible outside of an affluent district.
My favorite part of teaching physics is seeing the glimpses of students getting excited about the subject and seeing them grow as learners. Most students approach the subject with so much apprehension and trepidation and then somewhere around the middle of the semester students begin to have sparks. One of the biggest mistakes we often make as a community is assuming we need to inspire students. They don't need inspiration, they need someone to kindle the spark that's already there and create an environment where they can thrive!