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Walter Murray teacher honoured for commitment to students, passion for physics

December 09, 2021

guest-news.jpgMurray Guest believes a knowledge of physics allows students to look at the world around them with a different set of eyes.

That belief in learning and teaching is one reason why the Walter Murray Collegiate teacher has been recognized with the CAP Award for Excellence in Teaching High School/CEGEP Physics, presented by the Canadian Association of Physicists.

"I want the kids to see their own growth in their intellectual and emotional maturity. Physics is a challenging subject and watching students take on the challenge and learn that they can be tremendously competent through hard work is a thrill," said Guest, who has taught with Saskatoon Public Schools for most of his 27-year teaching career.

"Students often undervalue themselves and getting them to acknowledge the amazing things that they are capable of is glorious. I want them to have great skills as a student, a curious mind, and the perseverance to be able to work through material that challenges them to go further than they thought they could."

The CAP Award recognizes excellence in teaching and is intended to encourage and promote physics at the high school level in Canada. Guest was recognized as this year's Prairies and Northwest Territories region recipient for his passion and dedication to teaching physics and efforts in areas such as the Knowledge and Education Exchange Network, mentorship of other educators, and work with the Math 9+ program.

The award cites his "work in teaching physics to students as a human endeavour while engaging them to communicate physics to themselves and others. He has done this by removing impediments to learning, talking about physical world situations which are as close to student experience as possible. He continues to inspire students to become future physicists, engineers, and professionals in diverse pursuits with a better understanding of the physical world around them as well as an appreciation of logical rigour of mathematics and physics."

Guest said recognition by an organization that represents a wide range of physicists in academia and other walks of life is both welcome and humbling, given the many excellent teachers in Saskatoon, the province, and wider Prairie region.

"It offers some validation to some of the educational ideas I've tried through my career," he said. "I often do things that are new and doing that has risks involved. Having an organization like this saying 'You did a good job' validates most of the novel choices I've made. It also confirms what students who come back to talk to me tell me: I have helped them succeed and understand the world around them better."

Guest teaches students across all high school grades and during his career has also taught every math curriculum offered in Saskatoon, with the exception of AP statistics.

"I love dealing with my Grade 12 physics students – they have so much potential. I also dearly love to work with my Math 9 Plus students. They are people who need to have their confidence built up in a legitimate way, and Math 9 Plus does that very well when it is done right," he said.

Guest understands the way a teacher can inspire students. He fell in love with physics while a student at Aden Bowman Collegiate, thanks to the enthusiasm of teacher John Arthur. During his journey from student to teacher, other teachers including Chary Rangacharyulu, Norm Stonehouse, and Dean Elliott taught him about teaching, taking chances, and making sure students were taken care of.

"I have been blessed to have some of the very finest mentors available and this has helped me use my imagination and knowledge to try to let students use their imagination and passion," he said.

He has paid forward that mentorship in many ways through work with the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, providing leadership in provincial accreditation and areas such as assessment and evaluation, as well as a commitment to support teachers in strengthening their practice.

"Teachers are foundational to the education of students," he said. "Without the best teachers, you will find that students are not able to be properly educated. By improving teachers' ability to teach, students provincewide get a better education and we as a society benefit. We need to use resources to attract and train the best teachers possible for students to get the best education possible."

In his own classroom, Guest believes in making physics engaging and relevant for students, whether students see a future in areas such as engineering and science, or if they are simply looking for a challenge and understand the value in taking physics

"There are challenges making physics accessible to students because it is a difficult course. Making it interesting is less trouble since there are so many everyday examples and explanations available in the curriculum. Everyone wants to know why things happen and that's one of the things that physics does very well," he said.

"Physics opens a lot of doors beyond what you would initially think. In the first place it is a challenging subject and having success in physics indicates the ability to think well, have good work ethic, some flexibility in your thinking and perseverance. Once you can do physics, there are so many things that require thinking well that you can do. This is true from high school physics forward."