Faculty Highlight: Viktor Polyak, Upper School Physics Teacher

Faculty Highlight: Viktor Polyak, Upper School Physics Teacher

For more than 230 years, Friends School’s educational journey has equally emphasized the mastery of content with the mastery of essential skills required to succeed in the world - skills like critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and empathy - to name a few. Meet some of our outstanding faculty who guide our students through this journey each and every day.

Viktor Polyak, Upper School Physics Teacher

B.S., Towson University - Applied Physics

At Friends School since 2019

Q. Why did you choose Friends and/or what do you love about teaching at Friends?
A. When I think about why I chose Friends, I think back to my interview day in 2019. I was struck by the thoughtful nature of the students I encountered and the atmosphere on campus. Something intangible spoke to me and has stuck with me since then. I love the way that I get to interact with the students and my colleagues. Through teaching, advising, coaching, and being in community with students I’ve built many wonderful relationships that have made this a fun and rewarding place to be. Our community is made brighter by our multi-talented, diverse student body. 

Q. What do you love about teaching your subject in particular?
 Physics, specifically teaching physics, is wonderful for many reasons! In short, studying physics makes us better critical thinkers and students – even in areas other than math and science. To be successful in physics, you must identify a problem, break it down into its basic parts, analyze which factors matter and which don’t, and investigate changes. All good skills to apply to any field or challenge in life.

Studying physics shows students the real power and significance of mathematics. There’s something to be said for taking abstract math skills and applying them to solve a real, tangible problem. When our students do lab work and test their predictions, I cherish every “wow, this stuff really works” moment.

Finally, I love that a solid understanding of basic physics allows students to learn more easily or understand the fundamentals of many different fields, art forms, and mechanisms. Back to this idea of being better critical thinkers and better students.

Q. How do Friends School's Upper School curriculum and teaching prepare students to succeed?
A. There are many ways to measure “success” or engage with math, science, and other fields, so there are many ways to answer this question. One thing that our Upper School Science Department does very well across all grades is place focus on learning through inquiry and experimentation. Much of physics education elsewhere is presented as: “trust this equation” or “confirm this relationship.” In Upper School science, we’ve made a conscious choice to lead students to ask good questions, make predictions, and design their own experiments to test those predictions.

I think that physics specifically provides opportunities for multiple successful approaches to a problem. Students can arrive at a solution to a problem through conceptual reasoning or through mathematical modeling. There are multiple paths to a correct solution in physics and with many things in life. By teaching students that there is no singular correct approach to problem-solving, and encouraging them to think critically and be creative, we are preparing them for success.

Q. Something fun about you - a motto or hobby, perhaps?
A. I think that studying physics teaches us to be better critical thinkers and prepares us to quickly understand and follow many different fields and disciplines. This brings to mind the phrase “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”.

Outside of school I love backpacking and ultimate frisbee and am getting into biking. Connecting with students over those interests brings me such joy. It’s been incredible to coach the new Upper School Ultimate Frisbee team and watch those kids develop so quickly and put up such a stellar record this first year. I want to model that you can be enthusiastic about science and math while also engaging in other non-conventionally-nerdy interests. That being said, I still keep my nerd-cred by running a weekly Dungeons and Dragons game for my friends. Teacher and Dungeon-Master are basically the same job.