Photo by Brittney Harrison.
Love what you do
Philip Holley teaches high school biology.
Philip Holley never intended to be a teacher.
“If you had told me I would teach, I’d say there was no way,” said the beloved Mountain Brook Junior High biology teacher.
With one core course left to complete his business degree from Auburn University, Holley took the only class available at the time, Introduction to Biology. Although he hadn’t enjoyed biology in high school, it was this course that would chart his professional path. Holley ended up graduating in 1995 with a degree in secondary education, certified to teach biology and political science.
From anatomy and genealogy to botany and AP biology, Holley has taught nearly every science subject and has received a slew of teaching awards in doing so.
Following a come early, stay late principle, Holley makes himself available to students as much as possible. He arrives to school each day at 6:30 a.m. and gives make-up tests for all students, not just his own.
His classroom is filled with engaging posters, informative diagrams, student projects and a crocodile head—all evidence of his hands-on approach.
“My main goal is to make real world connections between what they’re doing in the classroom and what’s happening in their own lives,” he said.
Holley’s students perform dissections, a crime scene investigation and a lab where they extract their DNA by using their cheek cells. The students condense their DNA before taking it home in a vial or making it into a necklace.
“I think Mr. Holley is a great teacher,” said Katie Littleton, one of Holley’s students. “He really cares about teaching us and puts a lot of effort in and makes everything very interesting in class.
He said he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
“I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Holley said.
And his colleagues agree.
“Philip Holley is a true professional educator,” said Ben Hudson, who served as MBJH Principal and is now MBHS Staff Specialist. “He goes the extra mile for the students, and he’s very involved in all aspects of the school from academics to
extracurricular activities and just does a phenomenal job. He’s an excellent teacher and wonderful man.”
In 2005, Holley was among the 100 teachers nationwide to receive the President’s Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the
nation’s highest honor for teachers of mathematics and science. Each year, one
math and science teacher from each state is nominated.
Holley was also awarded the Margaret Spencer Ragland Award in 2011. The prestigious award is given to a staff person in recognition of meritorious or superior contributions above and beyond the call of duty to benefit the life of the students. It is the second highest award within the Mountain Brook School system.
“This award meant more to me because I was nominated by the people I work with,” he said. “I had no idea that I was even nominated.”
Holley completed his National Boards Certification of Teaching in 2006. The NBCT is an advanced teaching credential that requires 10 assessments, including four portfolio entries that feature teaching practice and six constructed response exercises that assess content knowledge.
“It was harder than grad school,” Holley said. “I learned so much. It was worth it, and I was able to see what I was doing and what I could be doing better."
In addition to academics, Holley has also coached several different sports throughout the last 15 years.
“It’s teaching in a whole different type of classroom,” Holley said of his seven year coaching career with the Junior High football team.
Holley speaks highly of the coaching staff he works alongside and the relationships he builds with the seventh and eighth graders on the field before having them in class.
Holley credits his wife, Jennifer, for initially suggesting the he teach while the two were attending Auburn. Holley grew up in Mountain Brook, and he and Jennifer have lived here since 1995. They have two children, Ryann (12) and Harrison (8). Holley received a Masters in Education from UAB in 2000 and began his current position at MBJH as a biology teacher in 2003. When Holley isn’t teaching or coaching, he enjoys running, reading and spending time with his family.