I’ve been in the education game a long time, and the reason I’ve had such great success is twofold. One – I’m good at making connections with kids, and two – I know the damage bad teaching can do. Not that I’m saying all Physics teachers are bad, I’m absolutely not. I’ve taught with and learned from some of the best, but I’ve also seen what doesn’t work in the Physics classroom and that has radically altered my teaching style.
Physics for a first-time student, is a foreign language. Nobody would expect to place a student in Spanish IV and have them be successful if they’ve only completed Spanish I. The same applies with this course. Contrary to it’s Science billing – high school Physics is in large part, applied Math. Most kids who struggle do so because they don’t understand the fundamentals: how to unpack a problem, how to pick a formula, and how to keep stringing formulas and answers together until you’ve got the solution to the question at hand. If that process isn’t explained well and laid out step by step until a kid can do it in their sleep, no matter how much theory they grasp – they won’t be able to solve the problems. In quick succession this means bad grades, frustration, diminished confidence, and every parents’ worst nightmare: a kid who doesn’t think they CAN.
If a student can’t solve the problem the next place their “logical” teenage mind goes is frustration with the teacher. The next thing you know you’re standing in your kitchen listening to some version of “well, they didn’t teach it” / “they go too fast” / “nobody understands it” or my personal favorite “Everyone failed the test. It’s not my fault.”
You will wisely tell them to go to tutorials and ask their teacher for some help. They might, and it might help – but chances are it won’t because now they see the teacher as somebody who has made them feel confused and frustrated, two things a smart student is unaccustomed to and wildly unappreciative of. All of a sudden a well-meaning teacher has become the enemy, you’re watching your floundering teenager locked in a battle of wills with them, and both are losing the fight.
So, what do I do? I help your teenager change their head game. Nobody is going to be successful if they think they CAN’T, so I help them realize they CAN. And when that happens – the whole story changes.
Physics isn’t hard if you have someone break it down for you, and that is my specialty – especially since I wrote a good portion of the curriculum. But first, I take the time to break the ice. I ask them about their class: what do they like (usually nothing), what’s the problem (usually everything), and what do they think I can do about it (fix it – although they usually seem highly skeptical of that). Once that’s out of their system we can get down to business. I’ve found that if you tackle these hugely worded problems with a little bit of humor and a practical eye, all of a sudden they aren’t so scary. The next thing you know they’re leaning back in their chair with a slightly bemused smile on their face saying “that wasn’t that hard” while I chuckle to myself and think “Mission accomplished.“
Sometimes it goes well, they make the A, and it’s all smiles. But sometimes no mater how hard they prep – test day does not go to plan, and we handle that too. Physics tends to be the great equalizer for even the smartest of kids, and learning how to navigate disappointment and sometimes even failure (although that doesn’t happen often once they start seeing me) is a part of life and something that we work through too. I like to call it Physics with a side of life. Because of the partnership we’ve built, we learn how to take things in stride and get right back up on the proverbial horse – or in Physics speak – have an elastic collision.
My bottom line is this: I don’t want to see your child all year long. I will, if that’s what they want, and a lot of times I do; but my goal is to have them independent as soon as possible. They need to learn how to trust themselves with this class (and in general) and learn how to master the art of recovery. They can absolutely navigate this course on their own – it’s high school Physics and they are in high school. Everything taught in the course is well within their capabilities. I just help them rediscover their confidence.
If this sounds like what your teenager needs, give me a call. The only thing they need to feel is that they CAN.