Meet Mr. Phipps

By Margo Williams   Did you teach physics before coming to Latin? If so, where? Yes. I taught for three years at a similar independent school in the upper West side of Manhattan, the Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School. What is your favorite thing about teaching? “My favorite thing about teaching is when you get to see students connect with the topic, get excited about the topic, and when I get to see them grow as a thinker and know themselves as a learner. It’s also nice to get to know such a wide variety of people with different perspectives. At the end of the year I always feel nostalgic because I always come to see the, not quite family, but unit, breaking apart. And I feel this togetherness about each of my classes.” What is your favorite thing to do in your free time? Do you ever do physics problems? No, I do not do physics problems in my free time. My favorite thing to do… there are a number of things, and most people will find them boring, but I love to walk around cities. I used to live in NYC and I once walked for 10 hours straight. I enjoy reading fiction, but fiction that makes you think; I don’t read for escape. My most favorite book that I read over this summer is called “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt, and I also really enjoy “House of Leaves” by Mark Daniel Lewsky. What is your favorite Chicago sports team? I grew up in Evanston, and my favorite team was the White Sox, although I don’t really follow them much anymore. I grew up in the heyday of the bulls when MJ was playing, so I really like the bulls too. Did you have a teacher or role model growing up that has a characteristic you try to incorporate into your teaching and/or everyday life? “In my sophomore year of high school, my English teacher was just so excited about words and language and literature and art. It really is what sparked my interest in all forms of art, actually. I also had a philosophy teacher who was a grad student in college; he was amazing at facilitating conversations, and a good listener. He was extremely bright, but very good at not hijacking the class and just telling us what to think.“ If you weren’t teaching Physics, what do you think would like your job would be? “I’ve wanted to be a high school teacher since my sophomore year in high school, so it’s hard to imaging doing anything but teaching. I used to want to be a writer, however, to be a writer, you have to just write a lot daily, good or bad, and you have to just accept that you’re going to write bad things, in a way, it was more of a fantasy to be a writer because to me, if the first try wasn’t great, then it was a failure. So it was mostly a fantasy to be a writer because I haven’t found within me the ability to just write. Good or bad to just write.” What inspired you to become a physics teacher? “There are two answers: tutoring kids my sophomore year, and my senior year my teacher let me be a sub to the junior class. There is something gratifying to be a facilitator in someone’s growth of knowledge. It was also something I was told I was good at. When you’re young it’s hard to separate your interest and something you’re good at. I was good at physics and good at teaching so I majored in physics and became a teacher. I grew to love both things; they’re a natural combination. I never had any intention of becoming a physicist.” What is the most amusing question a student has ever asked you in class/you ever asked in a class? “This is kind of an anecdote, but the most embarrassing question I’ve ever asked was sophomore year of high school in chemistry class. We had a Bunsen burner going, I asked, “is a flame infinitely hot?” I’m not sure if I had a good concept of infinity at the point, but this many years later I still remember asking the question.” What do you remember about your experience taking physics in high school? I really enjoyed it. To me, physics is like this sort of fun puzzle. You’ve got these very few general ideas and you have to fit them into a wide range of situations. Given that, physics lost some of its magic for me because at some point the problems stopped being these puzzles with elegant solutions. At the same time it’s a much more accurate picture of what it means to be practicing science. Knowing what I know now, having grown, and really starting to see physics more as– it’s science—you’re not getting perfect results. It’s not like math where you’re getting perfect results that come from these perfect true equations. If I were to take these classes again I think I would see the magic in a different way, the magic of doing science instead of solving puzzles. When did you move to Chicago? What is your favorite thing about the city? I moved to Chicago in 2008. My favorite things about Chicago are the food, the lakefront, and the parks.      ]]>