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Featured Teacher: Chris Spenner

Chris Spenner, Credit: Mark Kocina, The Harker School

Chris Spenner is in his tenth year at The Harker School, a private college prep school in San Jose, California, and currently teaches physics and science research classes for 10th through 12th grade students. He holds a Master of Education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and a Master of Arts in physics from University of California, Santa Barbara.

Question 1: Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?

Answer: Tutoring as an undergraduate and being a graduate teaching assistant left me with the notion that I might enjoy teaching as a career. I have some save-the-world idealism, too, and my time in class with students sustains me.

Question 2: What are you most proud of in your work?

Answer: When I started my teaching career, lab activities were the weakest part of my planning. After many years of trial and error, borrowing ideas and occasionally innovating, I am now more satisfied that my students are experimenting in a way that reflects how real science and engineering is done. My students are more invested, more adventurous, and they are having more fun.

Question 3: Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.

Answer: Astrophotography gets me out of the city and back in touch with nature. For me, it is more art than science.

Question 4: In three words, what would your students say they learned from you?

Answer: An alumnus recently visited and, without prompting, said that he remembers “don’t trust authority,” eight years later. I also asked my current physics students, and some variant of “bikes > cars” was by far the most popular response. 

Question 5: Read a book you are dying to tell your peers about?

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Answer: Cornel West’s Democracy Matters explores the underpinnings of, threats to, and potential salvation of American democracy. West’s ideas helped to crystallize my belief that scientists and science teachers should not divorce themselves from political activism.