Career Perspectives: Isaac Strong , high school biology teacher



Isaac Strong

Please describe your current position.

I am a high school Biology teacher at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, CA. I currently teach freshmen introductory material on Biology. I love teaching Biology, but what I love most is preparing our students to think like scientists. This is important not only for their success in other science courses at my school but also to prepare them for how they should approach science courses in college.

How far in advance of your planned starting date did you begin looking for jobs?

I honestly did not see myself teaching at the high school level. I was teaching at a local university while working on my PhD and was recommended to apply for this job a mere 5 months before I would begin teaching. High schools typically start their hiring processes (from what I know) anywhere from January to April for the following school year, so that is the best time to start looking for job postings.

How did you learn about your current position?

Frustrated with the prospects of teaching at the university level, I started considering teaching at the high school level. I knew very little about the specifics so I contacted a former colleague of mine who had been a high school teacher in the Bay Area for a number of years. During the time of our discussions, my former colleague happened to hear about this job posting and forwarded it to me.

Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?

UCSF used to offer a short course on teaching methods geared toward preparing graduate students to be better TAs. Had it not been for that short course, I would have been at a loss when interviewing for my teaching positions, both at the local undergraduate institution and at this high school. I was also able to get help with preparing all of my application materials through the Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD) for which I am very grateful. The OCPD at UCSF was also instrumental in the process of discerning career options and helping me recognize my passion for teaching.

What was your work or educational background before you were hired?

I had been teaching laboratory courses at a local university to gain some teaching experience. I have also been working with an educational non-profit since the second year of graduate school, which was a great opportunity to approach a career in education from a non-science angle.

Which aspects of your background (doctoral training, postdoctoral training, internships, etc.) were required for your position?

There was nothing required of me for this position other than having a college degree. A teaching credential was not required due to the fact that this high school is a private school, but a credential was preferred.

How would you describe the interview process and how did you prepare for it? Were there any skills or experiences in your CV that seemed to stand out?

My interview process started off with a phone interview so the administrators could get a general idea of who I was and why I was interested in the position. The phone interview was followed by an in-person interview to discuss more specifics before they invited me to come back for a sample lesson. The sample lesson was the most intense part of the interview process as I was given only a few days to prepare a lesson plan. After my sample lesson, I interviewed with all of the administration faculty members to complete the interview process. My PhD in Cellular Biology easily stood out during the interview process as high schools do not get a lot of people applying with that kind of degree. My work with an educational non-profit also stood out and allowed me to discuss my passion for education.

Did you pursue any other position or career path prior to being hired in your current position? If so, what factors led to your ultimate job choice?

I had interviewed for several very different positions — mainly in program management — for a college on the East Coast and a science-oriented non-profit organization. Ultimately, I decided that teaching was the path in which I would find the most enjoyment.

Has your career trajectory followed the path you had expected when you started graduate school?

My career trajectory changed considerably during graduate school. While teaching was my goal going into graduate school, I wanted to have my own lab and teach at a college or university. As the depressing reality of that plan became apparent to me in graduate school, I desperately began looking for any other options that were available. While I learned of many great options, I knew that I would be most passionate about science education.

How do you spend an average workday?

I get to work early to do some grading before preparing my classroom for the lessons of that day. My school works on a block schedule so I only teach 2-3 classes each day, leaving me a couple of prep periods to either lesson plan or grade. I also use those prep periods to explore new teaching material from several organizations. I am also lucky to be able to spend down time with great colleagues or to meet one-on-one with students. After school, time is usually spent coaching volleyball or meeting with students.

What do you like the most about your work?

What I love most about my work is when I see a concept make sense on the face of a student. We cover some difficult material, but when I am able to explain the concept in another way and that different approach all of a sudden makes something make sense, I know that what I am doing is what I love.

What do you find the most challenging about your work?

Managing a classroom is really difficult. I know a lot about what I am teaching and I even know a thing or two about how to present that material, but knowing how to control my classroom and encourage the learning environment that I want can be challenging. This is something that I feel all teachers are constantly learning about and working on.

What skills do you think are absolutely essential for your position?

Patience, organization, adaptability, constant reflection, the ability to recognize when something doesn’t work and the openness to try new things.

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