A Physics Gander


Mr. Gender at his desk in the science wing. (Attiya Charrington)

James Gender, a long time science teacher in the Clayton School District, is returning to the classroom after retiring at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

Gender, who is taking over for a physics teacher on a personal leave of absence, is a science teacher with over thirty years of experience, but CHS is a new environment for the veteran teacher.

“I’ve never taught a daily class at CHS [before taking this substitution job],” Gender said. “Interestingly enough while I have taught elementary school, middle school and even at the collegiate level, I have never actually taught at the high school level except for a short stint I did about thirty years ago.”

After leaving Wydown Middle School in 2008, Gender taught at Glenridge Elementary as the school’s science teacher, assisting with all grades K-5. Gender returned to Wydown in the 2010-2011 school year as a seventh grade teacher.  Then, in the 2012-2013 school year, Gender moved up to teach eighth grade. This was to be his final year of teaching until the opportunity arose for him to be a long-term substitute for freshman physics.

Through teaching at different age levels over the past few years, Gender has taught many CHS freshmen numerous times, some students up to five school years.

“The one thing I had going forward with teaching Freshman Physics is that I really knew most of the students,” Gender said. “I felt comfortable working with them and given my personal situation right now, I was able to just say yes I can rearrange my entire schedule and all the other jobs I’m doing as a way to come in.”

In addition to his passion for teaching science, Gender is adventurous outside of the classroom. Now that he is “retired,” Gender works part-time with a company called Vertical Voyages.

“I have been trained as a tree climbing facilitator and our company, among other things, will put ropes up in to trees and train people to climb and get into the upper trees, maybe 60 to 70 feet,” he said.

Luckily, Gender’s job at Vertical Voyages does not affect his ability to be in the classroom every day. “The work I end up doing for the company ends up being on the weekends,” Gender said. “So, that tends to not interfere too much with this [substituting at CHS].”

Gender has taken on a very challenging endeavor working two jobs.  The fact that he had never taught a physics course made his transition back to the classroom even more difficult. “It’s intimidating to walk into a course that you’ve never taught before in a school you’ve never taught before,” Gender said. “I want to do a really good job.”

Fortunately for Gender, the majority of the students in his classroom are familiar faces.

“It’s very rewarding, because I’ve seen change and growth in the students.  Knowing many of the students makes it easier to communicate,” Gender said. “I think it’s really interesting because I’ve noticed a lot of students now see me differently because they have gotten more and more mature and they have a much better understanding of me as a person.”

It is fulfilling for Gender to come to CHS and be appreciated by his students. “It is very gratifying to have people come up to me and be happy,” Gender said. “It’s much better than when you open the door and they’re like, “uh no.”’

    Freshmen students were pleased to know that Gender would be their physics teacher for the remainder of the school year.

“I’ve had Mr. Gender twice and he is my favorite teacher,” freshman Amari Thigpen said. “I love G-Dawg,” Thigpen’s nickname for Gender.

Students like Thigpen have greatly enjoyed having a teacher with such a deep passion for science.

“The more I learned about sciences, the more intrigued I became,” Gender said. “I realized I could relate geology to biology, biology to paleontology, and I could relate all those sciences to Physics. The concept of ‘I only do this’ or ‘I only do that’ was just wrong.”

Despite this being Gender’s first time teaching physics, he has developed a deep appreciation for the science.

“If you have a very good understanding of physics, the world becomes a huge, incredibly rich place,” Gender said. “I want to be in that place.”