Here’s to teachers and that special kinda crazy

When it comes to education, the human factor still counts.

alex walls idealogI was ranting last week about my online electromagnetism course.

Did I say ranting? I meant speaking calmly and in a knowledgeable manner. Yes.

This included marvelling at the things modern technology can do (with your Pacman video games and your hula hoops).

But with everything that tech can do for us, it hasn’t, as yet, replaced the teaching experience.  

The reason my course is not currently going very well is the general black hole where my physics knowledge used to be (I'm here 'til Tuesday).  Recently, however, my ire was directed at a tutor who replied to a question with a fairly snarky ‘We thought this was obvious'. (I win at life!)

This prompted an incoherent conversation with a friend who tried in vain to steer me back onto more interesting topics, like the rate at which paint dries (which I could calculate, if this tutor would help me...)

The rant continued until I was struck by the similarity the comment had to one I’d made, years ago, when tutoring.  And I thought back to my (many) imperfections as a (very poor) teacher, and realised, by golly, it’s a painful job.  The act of describing, for the fourth time in as many ways, something blindingly obvious to you, takes dedication, a whole heap of patience and, in the best teachers, a special kind of crazy when it comes to your subject of choice.

My course is headed by the lovable Professor Lewin, who wears a fried egg badge on his shirt, utters original expressions such as ‘You can smell why this equation will be important’ and has a tendency to purposefully electrocute himself in lectures to demonstrate principles.  

He keeps people coming back, despite the computer’s repeated reply to homework answers ‘Your answer is wrong. You could try again’. (YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH, COMPUTER!)

I persevered with my high school Latin, largely due to the teacher who told us to revise via conversations with our cat.  (“You will say 'It is fourth declension' and your cat will say 'Meow' and you will say 'You are right kitty, it is third declension'.”)

And the tutors who keep me coming back online are the ones who want to help, are patient and a little bit quirky.  

So while I and Physics 101 Ah-DOI tutor may not have what it takes to inspire people, the teachers that do are a Good Thing that ought to be fostered.

Here's to them, and their bombtastic ability to save computers from Death By Defenestration.

Alex Walls is a New Zealand journalist currently exploring Britain's climate (rain, cold, rain, more cold) and the art of terrible travel selfies. Follow her @lxwalls.