When I entered graduate school in the fall of 1992 in the department of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, I had every intention of pursuing a research career in basic science. Now I am a high school teacher, and I love it.
During my 5 years in grad school, I realized that, following graduation, I wanted to pursue a job teaching rather than immediately doing a postdoctoral fellowship. In college I considered getting my education certificate, and in grad school I had been a teaching assistant for the medical student Neuroscience course for 3 years. I found I enjoyed teaching, and decided to make it my career. To be sure, I took a 1-day course entitled "How to Be an Outstanding Science Teacher," and I taught several high school classes.
I chose high school over college teaching because I wanted a job with a high level of student contact, very low level of research, and small classes. Once I had made the decision to teach in private high schools, I went through a placement agency called Carney, Sandoe, and Associates. Eventually, after all-day interviews where I had to teach a full class, I got offered two jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area, where my husband was to start a pediatric residency. I chose to accept a position at the Head-Royce School, an academically outstanding K-12 independent school where I currently teach 9th-grade Conceptual Physics, 11th-grade Advanced Placement Biology, and two 12th-grade semester electives: Neurobiology (a lecture-based course) and Molecular Genetics (a lab-based course).
I am emotionally satisfied, intellectually stimulated (I learned more while teaching one semester of neurobiology than in my entire graduate school career), and over-worked and underpaid.
When I first received my schedule that first summer in 1997, I couldn't believe my luck. I was scheduled to teach less than 4 hours a day. What could be easier!? I was very wrong. It's true, I'm only standing in front of people talking for less than 4 hours per day, but I spend approximately 5 to 10 more hours each day
preparing for my lectures,
grading homework, labs, or papers,
researching what it is I'm supposed to teach the next day or period ("I don't remember anything about photosynthesis!" and "What is the Nernst equation, again?"),
advising "my" group of 12 seniors,
meeting with students who want extra help,
attending upper school, whole faculty, and science department meetings,
and talking to Mary with the eating disorder, Nate with the borderline obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Caroline who couldn't believe that Princeton let her in, but not Yale, where she really wanted to go.
I also chaperone dances. (I got to shop for a prom dress again!) And I coach the swim team, which involves yet another level of organization, but provides a way for me to bring my competitive swimming past into the present. Plus I advise the women's lacrosse club, Latin dance club, and science club. The summer after my first year, when I wasn't visiting friends around the country, I was spending hours preparing for my new classes, which I revamped from the first year, and enjoying my nonstressed life. It was the first time I had felt relaxed since the week after I defended my thesis a year earlier.
In sum, I love my job. I feel I am being challenged on a much more varied level than if I were doing a postdoc. Yes, I still don't know what I really want to do when I grow up (researcher? high school teacher? college professor?), but I am very happy where I am right now. I'm looking forward to working part time whenever my husband and I have kids, and the 2-month summer vacation is nice. Now if I could only come home at night and not have homework during the school year. I hear that the third year is the charm.