July 2024: Ben Gillen

Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, Seattle, Washington

Ben Gillen

  • Member since 2021
  • Physics and Astronomy Teacher
  • Seattle, Washington

About Ben

Although my college degree from Oberlin is in physics, my favorite class didn't involve any physics (or math, experiments, or notes). It was called Philosophy in The Schools (PHITS), and every Wednesday afternoon, another student and I would tramp down to the local elementary school and read a picture book to a circle of 2nd graders. We strove to keep the kids engaged by alternating pages and making loud, expressive voices. Following the reading, we would facilitate a philosophical discussion on the ethics or morals in the story. I always left with a huge smile on my face. While I enjoyed my physics classes, I LOVED the planning and conversations surrounding PHITS. I was grateful that this experience, tutoring at Oberlin High School and working at the Easter Seals Wisconsin Respite overnight camp, uncovered my passion for developing interpersonal relationships and working with adolescents. When the time came to graduate college, I felt overwhelmed by the decision to attend graduate school, find a physics job, or explore teaching options in America. Fortunately, I dodged committing to a career by joining the Peace Corps.

During my time teaching math and science in a small village in northern Namibia, I developed a love for being in the classroom with students. I took every opportunity to become part of the community: playing barefoot soccer in the sand, attending Lutheran church every Sunday, helping butcher cows, and spending long nights at the bars with village elders. The more I gave to the community, the more connected I was with my students and coworkers, and the more I gained from the experience. When I returned to the States, I knew two things. . . I wanted to continue my career as a teacher, and I wanted to continue building a community around me. I am forever grateful to the Bentley School, who took a chance and hired me when I was 23 to teach their 9th grade and AP physics classes.

Looking back on my five years as a high school teacher, I would describe my philosophy (survival instinct?) as "fake it till I make it." I had to learn what I didn't know about teaching (almost everything) on the job. Nearly everything I do, I picked up from watching another teacher, saw in a pre-existing curriculum, or had suggested to me in conversation with a coworker. This summer, I am grateful to be heading to Boston for the AAPT summer conference, which will be my first time attending (I'm also serving as a member of the apparatus committee).

I currently teach 12th-grade physics and an astronomy elective at the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences. Along with teaching, I have had the opportunity to spend two weeks traveling in Vietnam, camping on a frozen lake in the Yukon, and backpacking in the San Juan Islands with students. My passion for soccer has grown by coaching middle school and high school soccer. My coworkers in the science department and across the school provide priceless support and a wealth of teaching knowledge. I want to end by expressing my DEEP gratitude for the opportunities I've had to hone my teaching and the people who have supported me along the way!