Into the Classroom

A day in the life of Pisgah science teacher Greg Tucker

By Richard Ploch | Oct 07, 2013
Photo by: Richard Ploch Greg Tucker is a science teacher at Pisgah High School.

“He’s amazing and fun to be around,” said a student in Greg Tucker’s Pisgah High School classroom. That’s high praise from a teen for a teacher of science who came into the profession with a clear goal.

“As the fifth and last child in the family, I didn’t have anyone to teach,” said Tucker. “My brothers and sisters were all older, so there were two things I wanted to do as an adult. I wanted to become a dad and I wanted to teach. I always enjoyed school, but I could see that a bad teacher is a waste of time and some of the teachers I had when I was young left me unprepared for college. I want to be a teacher who prepares his students well for a college education, and I would now put my top motivated students against any kids in the state, because I tell them to expect hard work in my classroom. To my physics students I say, ‘I’m going to challenge my hardest working, smartest students this semester.’”

To step into Tucker’s classroom at Pisgah is to enter a world of science education at the top tier of high school learning.

“He wants us to be prepared for what’s next,” Nathan Wike and Nathan Higdon agreed as they worked together to solve a physics assignment. “This is a lot more challenging than our other classes.”

Tucker, a graduate of renowned Purdue University in Indiana, is in his 18th year of teaching high school — his 10th year at Pisgah. In addition to his physics class, he teaches chemistry and physical sciences this semester. He also has classes in advanced placement (AP) biology. His wife Amy is a teacher of AIG (academically and intellectually gifted) students at Meadowbrook and Bethel Elementary Schools, and they are the parents of a daughter and son at Canton Middle School.

The life of a teacher does not begin and end with the classroom day, however. It is far from it. Tucker spent a recent Sunday afternoon writing three recommendations for students’ applications for the Morehead-Cain scholarship. Each took an hour to write. That evening required three hours of grading for report cards and another hour of preparation for the next day’s classes.

Like most teachers, there are also additional school activities each week. Working the concession stand for sports events is a requirement for all Pisgah teachers and staff at least once during the year. His after school hours on weekdays find him tutoring students, attending meetings and coaching soccer. These responsibilities keep him at school until well after dark many nights. Tucker also sponsors an after-school club where his high school students work with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) club at Canton Middle School to build radio-controlled submarines. There is a lot of hands-on learning when you are around him.

Observing his physics class in action was a challenge for a non-physics-educated observer, as words like vectors and scalars, magnitude and direction and Newton’s second and third law were tossed about. The students then paired off to build scaffolding and study a physics problem. When a student asked a question, Tucker asked one in return, “What do you think is best?” He then moved around the student work stations guiding their learning. It was an atmosphere that was both genial and demanding.

“Most students at this age have yet to find their true vocation,” Tucker said. “My hope for my students each year is that they will have the opportunity to follow their passion when they decide on a career. I want to provide them with the best background in biology, chemistry and physics that I can.”

Austin Browning and Jacob Pinkston took physics because they expected it to be hard.

“If you want a class to test you, this is the one,” they agreed, and for Browning, it has already been beneficial. “I’ve sat in a college level physics class and could understand what was going on.”

Luke Dillard, a freshman biochemistry major at North Carolina State University, took physics and AP biology from Tucker last year.

“As a part of my financial aid here at State, I was required to find a job as a part of the work study program. Before my first week was over I was being interviewed for a lab job. The first person I contacted was Mr. T, who was more than willing to write a letter of recommendation. I got the job and I am currently working in the lab (which is extremely rare for freshmen). We produce proteins by inserting certain genes into E. Coli through transfer of plasmids. Mr. T was one of the teachers who had high level expectations. He gave hard tests and relevant labs. Now that I'm taking college level classes and labs I'm surrounded by people who have never written lab reports or who are not used to them and I definitely have a leg up.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to transfer to other schools, but I have chosen to stay at Pisgah," said Tucker, who is not alone in his dedication. "My colleagues are a joy to work with and all work every bit as hard as I do. Even though we push our students, it is obvious that we care deeply about their well-being and their academic success.

“The ultimate proof of my confidence in my colleagues and my school is that this will be the school that my own children will attend. I am the ultimate advocate for my own kids’ education and have the utmost confidence in the teachers and staff at Pisgah.”

Comments (1)
Posted by: Beth G. Johnson | Oct 07, 2013 15:06

It is a total Shame that a great teacher like Mr. Tucker has had to suffer with no pay raises for several years.  We are lucky he has not moved to a state with higher pay and more respect for teachers.

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