I am the only physicist in the village, so come down and mingle with me

11th January 2013 at 00:00
It's not unusual to be the sole subject specialist - what's different is the experience such people have today

My new year's resolutions: read more books in which nobody is murdered. Cycle along the disused railway track that runs from Lochearnhead towards Killin. Write less articles about ironing. Be more grammatical, eg, by replacing the word "less" by "fewer" in certain sentences. Stop telling jokes such as: "How do you tell an extrovert physicist? He looks at YOUR feet when he talks to you." If you're stuck for a resolution yourself, I have a suggestion. "Be kind to the only physicist in the village".

Having only one physics teacher in a school is not new, but it is not as easy as it used to be. In the golden age, when almost everyone was promoted, a sole subject specialist would at least be an assistant principal teacher, the post therefore attracting someone with a modicum of experience. Now, with faculty heads widespread, the incumbent could be just out of probation. I know a good few who are, and they have to work damned hard. There is a long and dishonourable tradition of senior physics teachers keeping the key to the equipment store in their pockets and the courses in their heads, then retiring, leaving only a mound of wooden and brass apparatus and a few manky copies of Physics is Fun for their replacements.

A few years back, there would be a local authority science adviser to help out. These people still exist, but many have been replaced by quality improvement officers. That's not to say that said officers don't bust a gut trying to help science teachers, but it isn't their only role and they may not be science specialists themselves.

Fortunately, the physics teaching community in Scotland is organised like no other. Let's face it, there's a bit of truth in the geek stereotype and physicists have not only embraced new technology - they have got into bed with it and produced some scarily effective offspring. At a conservative estimate, two-thirds subscribe to the Institute of Physics Sputnik mailing list. A group called the Magic Physics Pixies have set up a resource-sharing website that has a number of users. Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, formal and informal get-togethers are all popular.

This could be the point where I plug my organisation, but I'm kind of hoping that I don't have to. If you're the only physicist in the village, or anyone else teaching science from 3 to 18, you know where we are. And here's a new year's resolution for you. If you do call or email the secret base at 2, Pitreavie Court, Dunfermline, resolve not to start off with: "I'm sorry to bother you." We like being bothered (and don't look at feet when we talk to you).

Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre, is celebrating 21 years of ending TESS pieces with meaningless autobiographical information.

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