Adam Zeitlin pulls a 180 switching from STEM to humanities


Photo by Yuval Shachar

English teacher Adam Zeitlin grades a student essay out of his pile of 60 plus essays for AP Literature. Zeitlin noted that a significant difference between teaching English and physics was the grading workload.

After three years of teaching in the science department, newly appointed English teacher Adam Zeitlin made the 180 switch from STEM to humanities.

Zietlin started off this school year teaching AP Literature and Honors English 12, a stark change from AP Physics and Honors Physics. The switch, however, is one that Zeitlin is comfortable with, as he has experience from teaching English as a long term substitute prior to his Physics years at WJ.

As a highschooler and younger, Zeitlin was vocally against English classes and felt they were a burden; he acknowledges that even now some students may feel the subject a burden.

Still, even through the vocality, he was always an “English heavy” person and enjoyed learning and teaching it, specifically due to the approach and passion of a past professor of his.

“What changed was in college, I got to take a Shakespeare class that I really loved and the professor was really passionate and the students were really passionate and that really was a blast,” Zeitlin said

To Zeitlin, the classroom environment and the attitude towards teaching is as important as the subject itself, and he maintains that in English just as he did in physics.

Before his teaching journey, Zeitlin majored in physics and later, when he envisioned himself teaching, the subject in mind was physics; English wasn’t the original plan.

“My degree was in physics. I was in grad school for physics. Physics was my, you know, my subject. And I really envisioned at first teaching physics in college, which I then did in grad school. Loved it… So even though English was never something I thought I would teach, when I ended up doing it, I loved it,” Zeitlin said.

Zeitlin expressed that he enjoys teaching English more this year than he thinks he would have enjoyed teaching physics, specifically due to the differences in class discussions.

“It [Physics] does not lend itself as well to having discussions that are back and forth as much as English does. A lot of English can be figuring out what you guys [students] are thinking about the passage and running with that, in physics there’s just one right answer… I like the discussion aspect in English more,” Zeitlin said.

The two subjects differ immensely, from concepts to class structure, and those differences are exactly what Zeitlin finds are his favorite aspects of the classes.

“Physics I love because it explains everything, it’s like from scratch; why is anything here, what is everything doing, how does everything interact on a physical, devoid of humanity level. So that’s cool, I like that. I also like English, where you’re looking at it from sort of the opposite end where you’re trying to understand what’s going on in people’s lives, in the human perspective, but from the point of view of other humans, as opposed to the point of view of an objective observer,” Zeitlin said.

These distinctions are also reflected in the variation of the workload while grading assignments.

“In a physics assignment, it’s very easy to grade. Not that it doesn’t take time, but the grading is very much, did they get the right answer, yes or no… In English, let alone reading handwriting, essays are a lot more complex and deciding the grade to give is also much more complex or flexible, so definitely more time spent grading for English,” Zeitlin said.

Adjusting from two incredibly different subjects has been a significant amount of work, but Zeitlin is enjoying the change.

“It’s been great. It’s a lot of work, coming in earlier and leaving later than I did last year, but it’s very rewarding and very fulfilling and very worth it,” Zeitlin said.

Though teaching English has been a delight for Zeitlin and he enjoys the subject, in his future he sees himself returning to Physics.

“I plan on it [returning to Physics], maybe not at this school, but physics, again, is what my background’s in. That’s what I know best. So for me, my goal in the next five to10 years is to teach internationally and doing so is much easier for physics and stem positions,” Zeitlin said.