My son is learning to drive. I’m past the “oh crap” stage and the “but just . . .!” stage and squarely into the “it’s going . . . ok” stage. He takes his test next month and I’m pretty confident he’ll do fine. Here’s the thing, though: I suck at teaching someone to be a good driver. No, this isn’t a post about how you can’t teach your own kids anything, though that’s often true with mine 🙂 It’s about realizing just how I got good at driving and how hard it is to teach that in just a few months.
My partner and I talk a lot about how our son is learning. We think he does a great job with some things and just an ok job at others. We’ve been with him in stressful situations and we’ve all made it through (even the car!). But as we reflect on what we would have done in those situations we start to realize just how much better we are as drivers than he is, or that he will be even after another few months of intensive training. We’ve had (cough cough) 30 years of practice, and now we’d say we’re pretty good at it.
What I’m depressed about is the realization that years of experience (or 10,000 hours, if you prefer) can’t be taught. I’m pretty sure that my son will become a great driver, but I don’t think there’s anything I could do to help that along very fast. I’m depressed because my profession is teaching physics, and all I ever get is four years with a student. For most of my students all I ever get is one semester. Trying to teach “physics maturity” (to borrow and slightly change a phrase from my mathematics buddies) in a semester is really hard. Maybe impossible. If I knew my students were going to go off and continue to think about physics and practice physics and model things like crazy throughout their life, I suppose I could take solace that they’d eventually become the experts I want them to be. But the students that do that are in a minority so small that it’s probably not worth it to count them.
I’m realizing that all I can do is set the table for them. I can try to make a course experience that gives them some tools and gives them glimpses of others. Just as I can’t make my son a great driver in just a few months, I can’t make an expert in physics in one course.
So I’m depressed, but super excited to be heading off to the AAPT conference today so I can get the usual pick-me-up that I get from all my friends there. Who knows, maybe when I get back I’ll have a post with a title like “Teaching physics is the greatest thing you can do” or something like that.
Your thoughts? Here are some starters for you:
- Thanks for this. I’ve been thinking along similar lines . . .
- This is dumb. Physics and driving teaching are nothing alike. What you should compare is . . .
- You say “depressed” but you don’t really mean that. It’s a disservice to those who really do suffer from depression (sorry about that).
- I taught my child to drive and in the process learned a ton from them. Things have really changed!
- All that matters is that they know where the brake pedal is. Everything else is fluff.
- Wait, you’re going to AAPT? Want to catch a meal?