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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Flying Solo

Complete silence filled the physics classroom for three minutes. I knew because the ticking clock reigned louder than the breaths of my classmates and the thrum of the ventilator. I was standing in front of my teacher’s desk, having told him I had been struggling with how to begin a projectile-motion problem. He responded by asking a simple question, “What is a vector?”
I didn’t know the answer. Cue intense racking of the brain for something I knew wasn’t there.
He waited, staring up at me while the room hushed; since my classmates were clueless as me, they had looked up to see if maybe they could catch something helpful. The three quiet minutes were spent seeking a nonexistent answer, giving up, noticing his glasses were slightly askew upon the bridge of his nose, and the breaths of twenty other people. It quickly became obvious that I didn’t know. But he continued to wait, and my face grew hotter with embarrassment, as the seconds passed. I finally stammered, “I don’t know”. He glared and said, “Go check your notes and ask for help.” I marched back to my desk, thanking the heavens that my tan complexion hid my embarrassment. I checked my notes only to see no mention of a vector, confirmed that the absence of a vector wasn’t unique to my notes, and shared a mutual look of frustration with my classmates.
Exchanges like that happened to every student, but this one made me feel especially inferior. As though it had been purposely placed because of a dislike I had only ever sensed before. In that moment, I felt humiliated. I could tell my teacher sensed my humiliation, but he didn’t try to assuage it; he seemed to find it amusing. A student should never feel humiliated by a teacher. Education shouldn’t have awkward silences. It’s fair to ask a student to think for themself, but when they genuinely don’t know, the conversation should be engaging and open. A teacher should, ideally, be someone every student can go to for academic help. A teacher is there to make a lasting impression on the most important aspect of life: education. Good teachers can ignite, nurture, and expand a love for the subject. But at the heart of all good teachers passion has to exist. A passion to embolden young minds with knowledge, while sharing their own love for a subject.
I came to the realization that I was surrounded by teachers who never exhibited a passion for teaching, rather a special dislike for students who questioned laws, requested emphasis, and inquired how to begin a problem. They seemed annoyed that students had trouble with a subject, questioning our intelligence when we approached them for help. It was rare that I met a teacher who displayed a genuine interest in their subject, and didn’t mind that high achieving students sometimes found it difficult.
Eventually, my questions for these teachers dwindled. I turned to better, more patient teachers. If I ever needed help on something, I would watch online lectures. If I needed clarification of vocabulary, Quizlet. If a lab was giving me difficulty, I found solace in knowing a student my age on YouTube could explain it to me. If the workings of mechanics were befuddling me, my gray-haired, twinkle-eyed middle school science teacher, Mr. Conoway–a man renowned for his partiality towards green sweater vests–was just down the hall. And if I wanted a deeper exploration of a mathematical theory or law, I had textbooks and online research papers I could refer to. The library became a daily refuge during my lunchtime, frequent visits to Mr. Conoway occurred, and I found truth in Charles William Elliot’s words, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”
The vast availability of knowledge saved me, as did the ink on each paper that never cared how long it took me to turn the page. The cordial authors, the exuberant online lecturers and students my age wiped my growing doubt toward the existence of people who had a passion for teaching. They assured me there were a million different examples of how to do a problem, and a thousand definitions I could utilize. And I did. I taught myself the rest of Honors Physics. I didn’t let the fact that my own teacher resented my confusion get in the way; I knew I had a thousand other teachers I could turn to. These teachers forced me to question and understand, and demanded more of me.
My physics grade dramatically improved, and I even reached the point where I taught my classmates easier methods to solve a problem. I would hold study sessions at lunchtime, where I would explain to a group of eight or ten students how light optics were miraculous phenomena, or how static torque problems were really quite simple. But it wasn’t always easy. It took hard work to put frustration in the classroom aside. It required discipline to stay highly motivated and take control of my education. It took an intense amount of effort to follow my preferred method of learning, which was to understand, and not just memorize. I never want to just memorize, I want to know the inner workings of a process so that I can pick it apart and put the pieces back together. I need that jumble of a mess, because once I fix it, I prove to myself that I am capable. Those messes required immense focus and dedication. But I did focus.
And I now know what a vector is too. A teacher taught me the mathematical definition, in the large, dust-riddled length of a chipped book. And, like a good teacher, he demanded me to add my own uniqueness to his teaching. He demanded I make my own definition.