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Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Mississippi

Kelly Matthews – Alumna Spotlight

Kelly Matthews

Math and Physics Teacher, North Ponotoc High School


Hometown: Ecru, MS
BA in Physics and Mathematics (2005)
MEd in Education, emphasis in Educational Leadership (2008)


Why and when did you decide to major in physics?
I decided to major in physics as an entering freshman at Ole Miss.  It was always my intention to teach, but with small class offerings and prerequisites for physics classes, I realized I wouldn’t be able to get a degree from the School of Education, have time for student teaching, and finish in 4 years. I had a 4 year scholarship, and was determined to finish in that time frame, so I majored in Physics and did an alternate route program to get my teaching license. This also allowed me to double major in Math, which was a definite bonus! I decided to teach physics in part because I love science and I like math – I love how “physics math” is purposeful and helps us understand the world around us, and I had an amazing high school physics teacher. I knew I wanted to help others see the world through the unique lens of physics. 

Please tell us some significant accomplishments/favorite memories from your time at UM.
The physics faculty at Ole Miss was and is the best around.  Classes are small, so if you want to get to know your teachers and get involved, you have every opportunity to do so. Dr. Cremaldi knew I wanted to be a teacher, and wasn’t in the education program, so he helped get me involved as a T.A. for the Conceptual Physics class.  This was an amazing opportunity to get some teaching experience, and was the most helpful thing as I began my teaching career.  It was also a “job” much like I have now – it’s true what they say, do what you love and you’ll never “work” a day in your life! The large amount of time I  spent in the lab helped mold me into the type of teacher I am today – I’m a huge believer in hands-on learning, and strive to make that a daily reality in my classroom.

I’m also grateful that once you’re a UM physics student, you’re always a UM physics student. I’ve brought my classes on field trips to experience the energetic and enthusiastic Thomas Jamerson [lab physicist], who has always helped me in any way he could, and Dr. Quinn has brought college students to my classroom for inspiring demonstrations.

(And on a somewhat funny note, I met my husband in physics lab. I was his T.A.! Then the next semester I saw him in the higher math classes I was in, and through a mutual friend, we got to know each other more and the rest is history! He was a high school math teacher and is now a principal, and we still joke about a drawing he made to illustrate Hooke’s Law – a pirate with a hook for a hand, on the back of one of his lab sheets!)

How would you summarize your educational/career path since UM?
After receiving my bachelor’s degree, I began teaching at North Pontotoc High School and sought an alternate route teaching certificate from Teach Mississippi Institute.  In 2009 I received a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Ole Miss. In 2010 I finished my National Board Certification in Physics, and have served as a mentor to future National Board candidates.  I’ve taught a variety of math and science classes, but mostly geometry, physics, AP physics, and chemistry.  Since 2017 I’ve been a consulting instructor for the Global Teaching Project, a group that strives to provide AP classes and resources for rural students. 

Tell us more about how the alternate route teaching certification works.
I began the alternate route process during the spring of my senior year through the Teach Mississippi Institute at UM.  It included some online assignments and observation hours, which I did at Oxford High School. I was allowed to get a 1 year teaching certificate by being a part of the program. An important thing that I didn’t know at the time was that through the alternate route, for the first year, I was only certified in what I took the Praxis in.  Then after that, I was certified in more things based on how many college hours I had in that subject. I took the Praxis in math, because honestly, I was scared of the Physics Praxis.  I now know that the High School Math Praxis allows you to teach any math 7-12, so it was a pretty challenging test.  In contrast, the science Praxis tests, being subject specific, were really not as hard.  They also now offer specific math subjects of Praxis tests, as well as middle school certification, to help more teachers certify towards their specific needs.

All that to say, I was allowed to teach physics that first year, but it took my school being flexible and counting me in a percentage of “non-highly-qualified” teachers. During that first year of teaching, I continued the alternate route program with some online assignments, and a weekend training, and was assigned a mentor teacher. Upon completion, and due to my credit hours, physics was added to my certificate, allowing me to teach physics, physical science, earth and space science, and middle school science.  Several years later, I studied to take the Chemistry Praxis to add that to my certifications, and now I teach physics and chemistry.

What is the value of studying physics in today’s world?
Studying physics is more relevant and helpful than ever before.  Physics is problem solving, which is necessary for any job in today’s world.  Physics is choosing to “do the hard things” – which in turn gives us the confidence to tackle other “hard things” life throws our way.  In the educational world, having physics on your teaching certificate makes you a rare unicorn – principals will fight over hiring you! And then, you’ll (probably) have a group of the smartest, most dedicated students in the school who will make you LOVE going to “work” everyday!