Ben Buehler (’02, MA ’03) came to Ball State thinking he wanted to be a graphic designer. Then he took a physics class and thought he would be a physicist conducting lab research.
But then he felt called to teach.
“I decided I really liked research, but it wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to do that all the time,” said Buehler. “I much preferred helping people think about physics.”
It wasn’t due to a lack of opportunity that left Buehler wanting to use his degree in physics for a different purpose than he initially intended. Not only did he serve as a teaching assistant for a physics class while he was a student in the program, he was also selected for an internship at the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers at the University of Central Florida after his sophomore year.
Buehler attributes these opportunities to the encouraging faculty in the Department of Physics.
“That appealed to me—that these folks were interested in physics, and they were doing research, but they were really interested in how they were conveying that to undergraduates and graduates.,” he said.
“From day one they invited us in to research, they invited us into colloquiums and discussion they had in the department, and it just felt like I had a real trajectory.”
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 2002, Buehler immediately enrolled in a master’s program in secondary education through the Ball State Teachers College to acquire his teaching license. He has since spent nearly two decades as a Hoosier public high school science teacher, including 11 years at Blue River Valley Junior-Senior High School in New Castle and eight years at Yorktown High School, where he still teaches today.
Teaching in 2020
In a typical year, Buehler teaches three different physics courses (two of which are Advanced Placement), an inorganic chemistry course, and a dual-credit computer science course that includes hands-on experience tinkering with microprocessors and coding in the Python programming language.
“It’s great,” said Buehler.
“I figured out that teaching is mostly about asking students what they think and then asking them to prove it. So no matter if I’m teaching a chemistry class or a computer science class, I get to see what they’re thinking and give them a problem where they show their thinking.”
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the traditional teaching model worldwide, and Yorktown High School—which has adopted a hybrid model in which some students attend in-person classes while others attend virtually form home—is no different.
“For teachers, it’s forced us to reimagine what we do,” Buehler said. “For students, they are struggling with the idea that they can learn successfully in a virtual model…What the pandemic has done is it has stripped students of a lot of the things that they really enjoyed.”
Buehler’s dedication to teaching is not only helping his students navigate their education during an unprecedented time, but it also earned him the 2020 Robert P. Bell Creative Teaching Award from the Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County.
Sparking Curiosity in the Classroom
Buehler says that a good teacher should like the subject they teach, but even more importantly, they should like talking about the material and explaining it to a younger generation.
“You like challenging young people—you like being a part of what they might grow into and helping them to get the skills to do that,” he said.
Buehler adds that teaching is also so much more than making students remember facts: Teaching is a process, and that process should spark curiosity.
“I love it when I talk to new teachers going into STEM who are curious, who see the sciences as not something that’s written in a book as fact, but as a process of things that students can discover,” he said. “They need to value what students think and not just help them get the right answers.”
Like Science? Be a Teacher
Buehler didn’t come to Ball State thinking he wanted to be a teacher, but it turned out to be a long-lasting and rewarding career for him. And so he encourages current Cardinals who have an interest in science to consider if teaching might be a good option for them as well.
“I think you have to consider who you are as a person and what is going to make you happy. For me, doing research was so interesting, but it wasn’t personally fulfilling,” he said.
“Teaching is a profession that I have chosen for almost 20 years and hope to continue to choose…It’s the kind of work where I go home every day pretty encouraged about the conversation I got to have that day.”
To learn more about the Department of Physics and Astronomy and its teaching majors, please visit their website. To stay up to date on news and events, follow them on Facebook or visit their blog. For questions, please email the department at firstname.lastname@example.org.