Early career teacher blog: Teaching biology: I’ll be honest with you…

This is the latest posting from our busy physics teacher who is now in his second year after qualifying (read his previous post here).

 “I am a passionate physicist. I love my subject and everything about it.  Unfortunately, being a science teacher, it does mean that I often have to teach the other two subjects. 

Whilst I quite enjoy teaching chemistry – it gives me an opportunity to use fire and blow things up – I dread the thought of teaching biology. I don’t know if it is because it’s outside my comfort area or just because it means so much more work for me. 

From experience and from talking to colleagues, I think physics teachers find biology hard because of the terminology and the wordiness of the subject, whilst biologists dislike physics due to its mathematical nature.  Either way it is important to work together on these topics, because, at the end of the day, the students study ‘science’.

When I have to teach the biology modules (and I really do my best to avoid them) it is normally to my double scientists.  Having only studied biology to GCSE, I have to read over the notes so that I can stay one step ahead of the students.  And as I’m not so passionate about biology, I assume the students will also find the subject boring so I pack in lots of activities, which again just takes time.

I recently had to teach gravitropism and phototropism to my year 9 bottom set, who are a challenge at the best of times. I was not 100% sure what these terms meant (I guessed they were to do with gravity and light?) and I found myself reverting back to my training days, spending hours planning that one lesson.

In the end, I will admit, I went to the NQT biologist who gave me a great definition as well as advice on how to deliver it: some card sorts and getting the students to create a role play whilst trying to keep a framework for each activity, to maintain structure. It was difficult, but I think I succeeded as it reflected in their class exam and the students now feel confident with the terminology – a real achievement with this bottom set! 

It is often said that your best lessons are the ones outside your subject knowledge. The reasons:  you understand what it is like to find the topic uninteresting, you worry about not knowing all the content and you cannot rely on your enthusiasm for the subject to get the students interested. 

To date, I’ve noticed that the majority of lessons which I have been told are outstanding have been when I am teaching biology. I am enjoying aspects of biology more as I teach it: the mechanisms of the human body are quite interesting (still a physicist at heart!), but I have to be honest, plant biology still bores me to death…”