Somewhere around the end of my last year in the primary school, a summer camp organizer sent a survey to be filled by the attendees and their teachers. On this survey one had to fill, among other things, their hobby. I typed “physics”. Later, after filling the form to the limit of my competence, I handed it to my teacher to complete. I was called shortly after to explain myself from the “stupid joke”. The teacher simply could not believe that a kid might be interested in physics. It took me a while to explain that I indeed find this subject highly fascinating. It’s quite telling that even a teacher is unable to understand that subjects they teach can create interest among students.
Physics in particular, for those uninterested in it is, maybe besides chemistry, is one of the worse school nightmares. Detached from everyday experience, theoretical to the point of confusion, focused almost solely on solving equations. It’s not exactly the way of luring young person’s mind to dig for more. Drawings of blocks, inclined planes and ridged objects sliding of them are just not that encouraging for most of us.
I once heard a paradoxically wise idea to abandon learning equations during physics classes in the primary school. The author of this idea was a single time guest teacher during one of my university courses, but I sadly do not remember his name. He said that if only approached practically by discussing real life applications or explanations of surrounding physical phenomenon – such lessons would bring benefit to most students and would drive those with more scientifically oriented minds towards studying more, to the point of voluntary learning the mathematical apparatus behind the theory.
Then I think of Richard Feynman, one of my intellectual heroes. Feynman was an American theoretical physicist with a huge contribution to the development of nuclear and quantum physics. He was a Nobel prize winner, but foremost “The Great Explainer”, a great teacher. Feynman was able to explain science, in plain language, without hiding behind hermetic jargon and he was doing it in an engaging, straightforward manner. To get the taste – try watching BBC2 “Fun to Imagine” on YouTube (link). The way he guides through his thought process is so captivating and contagious, that there’s no wonder why he impacted so many young people, steering them into studying STEM. One of those people later established a company that’s small and delicate to the touch, at least according to its name.
While “good cop, bad cop” routine can be a good tactic to negotiate a contract, the “good teacher / bad teacher” play is a suboptimal solution for the educational system. Especially now, with the growing share of remote schooling, where students’ focus and their persistence in learning is at even higher risk. Considering how impactful the role of teacher is, it does not stop to amaze me how awful job is done with luring more of the proper people to this profession.