Physics teacher Ellen Wilke says “pharewell” to her physics classroom of 22 years


Victoria Gray

Revolving a metal sphere around a Barbie doll, physics teacher Ellen Wilke explains the mechanics behind electricity. However, as much as Wilke enjoys explaining electricity, she would much rather explore optics. “I really like [optics],” Wilke said. “Wave optics are a really cool thing and allows you to work with material science, which is what my undergrad was, to work with the crystalline structure of substances. There’s so many cool applications of optics. The basics will start with mirrors and lenses. Then, it’s all about light and the reflection of light, and the different applications with lights and lasers.”

Physics advocate and optics guru, Ellen Wilke is retiring after teaching physics for 22 years.

Wilke did not start off as a teacher: she started off as an engineer. However, when her engineering job was coming to a close, she realized that teaching was a viable option.

“I’ve been working as an engineer for about 10 years, and the place I was working was getting ready to shut down, so I was going to transfer to another location,” Wilke said. “Then I thought, you know what, my mom was a teacher, my grandma was a teacher and maybe I might really like that. So I went back to school and decided to first teach math; with an engineering degree, that sounded good.”

Initially teaching many STEM related subjects, Wilke eventually found out what she was most passionate about and what she wanted to teach more of.

“I taught mathematics, chemistry, and physics at Oakville High school for the first six years that I taught,” Wilke said. “[However], I really liked physics because it combined all the math that I knew how to teach and the science that I also really enjoyed. It’s what I always tell the kids. Physics is math with a purpose.”

As she continues to teach AP Physics 1 and 2, Wilke realizes how vital physics is in the world.

“I think [physics is important] because it explains everything,” Wilke said. “You can look around and wonder how something works and why is this this color or why does he look like that, you can explain all of it with physics. It’s the basic science that makes up the world.”

Originally, Wilke taught by hand. Now, she teaches with a SmartBoard, making this the biggest change Wilke experienced during her teaching.

I will miss the kids and the physics…. It is fun to see kids learn different aspects about physics. It is amazing how kids will just find that there is something about it that resonates with them.”

— science teacher Ellen Wilke

“The technology was the biggest change. Now I can do so much more,” Wilke said. “Every time a student has a question, I could quickly find a YouTube video about it. The availability of resources due to technology is so much better. Originally, I had a piece of chalk and a chalkboard. I would bring in articles out of magazines or newspaper and put it on transparencies and present them on the overhead projectors.”

As much as Wilke enjoys teaching physics, her favorite part is not all about the science. In fact, it is something all teachers teach.

“The kids for sure, no doubt, [are my favorite part],” Wilke said. “They’re just a lot of fun and they have so many questions and comments and they always just keep things interesting. It keeps me young at heart.”

A teacher has other responsibilities to do besides teaching students. In fact, Wilke says that the difficult part is not just the teaching but the excessive teaching material in the curriculum. Despite this, she stays ambitious and ensures she accomplishes her main goal.

“The fact that there is more responsibility put on teachers that have very little to do with the kids is the difficult part,” Wilke said. “I try not to take it overly serious though. My main job is to have relationships with students and make sure that they are learning and enjoying it.”

As Wilke prepares for her retirement, reflecting over her teaching career, she realizes that she will miss so much, especially the things that originally inspired her to love teaching.

“I will miss the kids and physics. Every day I get to talk about physics and once I retire, my dog will hear a lot about physics,” Wilke said. “It is amazing how kids will just find that there is something about it that resonates with them. I had quite a few students that majored in the same degree that I did for undergrad and it is just so cool. They probably would have never heard of it and it makes me feel like I impacted their careers. It’s a big confidence boost.”