Teacher Feature: Mr. Pham

by Caitlyn Singham '16

Snap, Crackle, and Pop, the names of the trio of elves that were invented to promote the consumption of Rice Krispies cereal, aptly describe the sounds you are likely to hear from Mr. Tran Pham’s classroom.

Mr. Pham's demonstration at the 2013 FIST Conference
Mr. Pham has been a chemistry teacher in the Science, Mathematics, and Computer Science Magnet Program at Montgomery Blair High School for more than two decades. Having left his homeland, Vietnam, nearly forty years ago, Mr. Pham has found a home in the Montgomery Blair Magnet Program. He started out here in the magnet program, when a challenge from one of his professors induced him to enter the teaching profession. After staying a year, he resolved to stay in the profession that he enjoyed.

Eminent for his high standards, Mr. Pham first began his teaching career in the magnet program, and is currently one of the few teachers remaining from the early days of the magnet program. He enjoyed the creativity his students demonstrated, evidenced through projects they created, such as those for Chem R&E. He also liked how he was not forced to “spoon-feed” his students, and they instead took the initiative to study and receive help on their own. Mr. Pham was able to achieve his goal of allowing his students to explore topics on their own, guided by the light of their curiosity and guidance provided in class. He continually strives to teach and foster the skills necessary in a professional environment, such as keeping up a proper lab notebook and time management. Spontaneous homework checks, (somewhat) sporadic quizzes, and the collection of lab journals are – although not favored by students – are some of the ways Mr. Pham achieves his goals.

For Mr. Pham, chemistry’s appeal is the problem solving aspect of it. Although there are some parts of chemistry one can’t get away from without memorizing – nomenclature, for instance – most of it is problem solving. “Math is easy; it’s just memorizing,” he tells his students, and further emphasizing his distaste for memorization. He enjoys not only seeing how his students approach problems, but also creating the problems himself for tests and such.

He gets to experience that enjoyment outside the classroom as well, where he sponsors the Chemistry Club, and also coaches for the Envirothon, Ocean Science Bowl and Science Bowl teams. Perhaps stemming from his experience coaching such teams, he often emphasizes the values of independent thinking, organization, and asking others for help to his students. He encourages them, most of all, to “enjoy life.” One thing is for certain: with Mr. Pham you are in for a unique experience.

This feature was originally written for the Silver Alchemist, a student-created Magnet newsletter