How is JMU addressing a shortage of high school physics teachers?


In August 2012, Dr. Brian Utter and four JMU colleagues joined with the Physics Teacher Education Coalition, or PhysTEC, to establish a program for training high school physics teachers.

"My whole science department could fit around one table. I was the physics teacher, the chemistry teacher and the computer science teacher all at one time." — Thomas O'Neill

And these teachers are sorely needed across the nation. According to the PhysTEC website, high school students have a less than 40 percent chance of being taught physics by someone with a degree in physics.

Utter, an associate professor of physics and astronomy and the PhysTEC Site Leader explains, "It's a joint program… to support the production of highly trained, highly qualified physics teachers."

The program, supported by a coalition grant, is currently in its second year and has already seen promising results. "As a university, we hadn't produced any physics teachers since I had been here. And suddenly, last year, we had two come out of our master's program," Utter recalls.

"My whole science department could fit around one table," Thomas O'Neill, the program's Teacher in Residence, remembers of his time as a high school physics teacher. "I was the physics teacher, the chemistry teacher and the computer science teacher all at one time."

JMU's Teacher in Residence is a position that goes to a current or former high school physics teacher who acts as a source of information for physics majors wishing to go into education.

For the program's Learning Assistants, students who are being trained to assist teaching in JMU physics classes, the program provides a number of benefits. They receive training and real-world teaching experiences, a salary for their time assisting physics classes, and invaluable physics knowledge.

Utter hopes that, over time, JMU will be able to develop a community of high school physics teachers who have graduated from the program.

To read the full story visit

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February 4, 2015

By Jessica Bur ('15) JMU Public Affairs

Published: Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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