PHS Profile: Elizabeth Taylor

November, 2023
Mattias BlixMatias Da CostaClaire Tang

First dreaming about becoming a history teacher in the first grade, this fall marks Social Studies Teacher Elizabeth Taylor’s 13th year teaching at PHS. Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, Taylor debated between journalism and teaching history in high school, but the difficulty of attending a journalism college and the lack of a newspaper at her high school compelled her to choose education as a more secure option.

After receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston University, Taylor taught United States and World History at Westford Academy in Massachusetts for nine years before she and her husband moved to South Jersey, where it was closer to family. Budget cuts caused by the 2008 Recession led to fewer available teaching positions, with the only one being PHS at the time. She took the offer to work at PHS knowing the challenge and reputation of the district.

“I chose education over journalism [because] I thought that I had a more secure job as a teacher. I shadowed a reporter at a local newspaper for a day during my senior year and remember them telling me that to get a job as a reporter, … you had to have worked on your high school newspaper. My school didn’t even have a newspaper, so I figured I didn’t really have a chance,” said Taylor. “I liked history; I was good at it, and I had several great history teachers. My mom was also a teacher, as was an aunt and a cousin, so I could easily picture myself as a teacher.”

Taylor strives to create a learning environment that is both intellectually engaging and inspires students to consider different perspectives. In order to keep students engaged, as well as make each year different for herself, Taylor adjusts her curriculum each year to incorporate current events and new resources that fit the needs of the new class.

“Current events definitely help to make each year unique; this has especially been true over the last several years. Also, getting a new group of students, with their own interests and personalities; realizing that students in one period aren’t as engaged by a topic as students in an earlier period were, and moving on more quickly,” Taylor said.

In addition to social studies, Taylor also teaches Sociology Accelerated at PHS. Because of her limited knowledge on sociology and the time she had to allocate to her baby at home, Taylor was initially reluctant to adopt the new course. However, after five weeks of teaching the subject, Taylor fell in love with the creativity it allowed as well its applicability to students’ lives.

“Professionally, it is the best thing that has happened to me. … I love that it’s a rigorous course without the pressure of an AP exam,” Taylor said.

Having been regarded as a tough but fair teacher by previous and current students, Taylor finds that both of her courses teach students study skills and time management habits, which they can continue to apply in high school and throughout college.

“‘Tough but fair’ sounds about right. I hope to create an environment that is intellectually engaging and where students feel supported as they try new things and perspectives,” Taylor said.

Through her teaching, Taylor hopes to develop students’ desires to keep up with current events and become active members of society. Emma Liu ’26, a student in Taylor’s AP U.S. History class, appreciates her commitment to helping her students.

“She provides a lot of support for her students and really tries to help them succeed whether [that’s] in the classroom or for the AP Exam,” Liu said.

Outside of the classroom, Taylor strives to find a balance between work obligations and spending time with family.

“The demands on teachers are simply too great, and it definitely got much harder once I had kids,” said Taylor. “The best I have done is to ignore anything PHS-related during the summer, and to instead focus on the rest of my life as much as possible, … but during the school year, teaching takes up the majority of my time and attention.”

In her limited free time, Taylor enjoys gardening, dancing, and reading. Having been a dancer her whole life, she finds that her weekly tap dance classes give her the opportunity to unwind from the stresses of teaching.

“I take an adult tap class now that is probably the best hour of the week for me, because I’m just focusing on something that I need and not what my students need, or my kids need, or my husband needs,” Taylor said.

As her two children grow up, Taylor notes how she’s been able to relate much more to her students and their ambitious high school classes and extracurriculars as she learns to deal with her own children’s ambitions.

“I see high school students who are just trying to do it all. … They want to take five AP classes, be president of this club, etc. … and as a teacher, there’s just not enough hours in the day to do all of this, right?” Taylor said. “Now as a parent, I’m struggling to make those same types of decisions because it’s not like we’re pushing them into these things … and it’s really hard as a parent to say no when it’s something that they’re passionate about, because you want to encourage their passions, but you also don’t want them to burn out. … So, I definitely have more sympathy for my students as I watch my children navigate this themselves.”

For incoming and current APUSH students, Taylor hopes that they recognize that the class is much more than just learning history. She stresses how all of the challenges that come with taking APUSH are what makes a student’s journey in her class so special.

“A lot of it is about the journey that they go through over the course of the year. APUSH is a really hard class, but at the end of the year, students overwhelmingly tell me how worth it it was and how they learned so much more than just US history, and even more than just how to be a historian,” said Taylor. “I like seeing the journey from how they first approach the class, and what they think their goals are, what they think they’re going to get out of it, and then seeing at the end of the year, how much that has evolved.”