Our grantees| Maxim Oweyssi| To teach or not to teach
30. August 2019 Maxim Oweyssi

To teach or not to teach

London is a profoundly strange place. Over the past three weeks I’ve been here as s Physics teaching assistant and I’ve often found myself stopping and thinking about the sheer size of the metropole. When comparing it to Edinburgh, everything is twice as fast and four times as long. Coming here was a little bit like when the derailleur on a bicycle switches to a lower gear: the pedals may be spinning very fast, but the journey still takes ages, in fact… about an hour and a half on average, which happens to be a particularly painful 90 minutes of exercise when cycling in hot weather, with the hay fever and on a fixed gear bike.

But back to the internship though! If someone were to ask me a few years ago, whether I see myself teaching children, my answer would most definitely be a decisive no: “because I want to do research”, however, after having the chance to prepare and teach a few lessons of my own, I have to admit that there is something interesting about the career of a teacher. Aside from the altruist investment into the knowledge of future generations, my main motivation is the satisfaction brought upon by the gratitude of the students at the exact moment they finally understand a topic and have this purely Archimedean eureka moment in their eyes.

Physics has a profound issue, which is that there is not enough teachers and it is often presented in a sterile and mechanically focused way. It’s been over three centuries of progress since Sir Isaac Newton walked the grounds of Cavendish Laboratories. This is precisely why, it is important to put emphasis on creating references on future topics that aren’t trivial nor have a manufactured difficulty, but that are relevant and appeal through how interesting they are. Physics was first described to me at elementary school as the study of the world around us. I think I were quite lucky as my teacher at the time wasn’t trying to hammer information into our heads about why things work the way they do, he was trying to incite curiosity and interest in the subject.

During my time here I’ve naturally been thinking a lot about the people who have taught me Physics before university. All this time I’ve either had simple things explained very thoroughly and in an exact way or complicated things explained briefly in a too abstract of a way. When I was teaching a lesson about gravity last week, I’ve decided to change things up and include a footnote to the concepts introduced by general relativity, i.e. the existence of spacetime. The topic may be very abstract for children around 13 years old and may seem scary, however, while explaining it I’ve constantly been putting emphasis on the previous knowledge of the students. I compared the curvature of spacetime to things they may have encountered in life. I have also created a demo using spandex stretched on a hoop, which gave the students a chance to get a graphic picture of the General Relativity principles which may prove useful in future studies, thus retaining more than just ambiguous memories from a speech given by the teacher.

The main question still stands though: “to teach or not to teach?”. After having thought about this for a long time, I’ve come to the conclusion that pedagogy is not for me, at least for the moment. I realised this when preparing my lesson and reading up on General Relativity, something we’ll only be covering at university next year, I’ve immediately noticed how intrigued I was when reading some of the postulates. Theoretical research is simply too exciting for me and all the unanswered questions that we now have in Physics still give me goosebumps. I think, however, that one cannot do research indefinitely as it is important to give way for the ideas of younger generations. This is exactly where I can imagine teaching Physics. If I no longer have enough energy to try and further our knowledge in the competitive academic environment, trying to inspire a younger generation with more verve sounds rather good to me!

Back to homepage