A Special Session of Physics Tutoring

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

“Ridiculously disrespectful,” I mumbled to myself. I’d just seen two students stealthily looking into their desks, utterly disinterested. Shocked by their distracting whispers, which rose above the sound of my voice and the harsh scratches of my marker against the whiteboard, I kept writing solutions as if I’d seen nothing, my anger growing. My responsibility was to the class… Turning back again––on the brink of losing composure––I, and 22 other students in the room, stared squarely at Jimmy and Zack, now blatantly speaking at normal volume as they played video games! As class tutor, I couldn’t tolerate such insulting behavior. Apparently my lesson on Kepler’s Laws interrupted their “strategizing.” But I didn’t know how to control the situation as eyes turned on me.

Emotionally, I found myself thrust back into a classroom at thirteen. My deskmate, Jessica, teased me for being short, making me cry. The class’s meddlesome, snarky whispers mocked my breakdown as I just stared at the ground to avoid eye contact. Later that day, I complained to my social science teacher, expecting her to assign me a new desk partner. How could she not? Jessica was the bully. My voice trembling and legs shaking as my teacher did nothing and encouraged me to instead self-reflect whenever I felt uncomfortable again. Why? Her answer stunned me: Jessica claimed she’d been bullied. I walked home stunned, pondering how that could be.

“Jimmy and Zack!” I yelled sternly, demanding their silence that instant. No such luck. Zack stormed out of the classroom, offended by my reprimand, accusing me of not being the authority. I instinctively ordered him back to no response. He was gone. Jimmy, on the other hand, stayed, but not because of my reprimand, but because his attendance was a detention requirement. He unabashedly continued playing, ignoring me. Everyone was surprised at how I’d reacted, and even though Jimmy’s phone noise and audible reactions resumed, I tried my hardest to keep tutoring, to dedicate myself to the lesson and the others. But my thoughts raced, my emotions swirled, I realized I’d lost control, I’d lost my authority and connection. What happened was the exact opposite of what I’d intended.

After class, I immediately visited the head teacher’s office to complain. But as she responded, my mind was miles away, when suddenly, I remembered my social science teacher’s words, “Be responsible for controlling others’ perceptions of you.” I didn’t know exactly how, let alone what the reactions would be. But I had to. That night, researching ceaselessly online, I watched demonstration classes to see how other tutors instructed. The ones I gravitated towards weren’t simply lecturers but conversation facilitators. They didn’t command students; everyone shared information.

As I changed the format of my classes to emulate collaborative seminars, I became a more passionate instructor, no longer a routine task-master. Before long, the classroom came alive, excited students wrote complicated derivations neatly on scratch paper. I’d successfully earned others’ respect by giving them a platform to engage. As I continued tutoring by dividing the class into small groups that year, the head teacher recognized me, my classroom behavior and instruction becoming more bold, more energetic, my heart finally winning the battle against self-doubt.

From these experiences, I discovered a way of being that I applied often. When I faced doubt from my robotics team co-leader, Steve, regarding differences in how we’d address a fatal flaw in his robot design plan at 80% completion, we openly discussed the issues diplomatically and I got him to feel comfortable inviting others’ without titles to have their opinions to be heard as well, making us a more united and efficient group. That one change in attitude made us VEX Worlds finalists. To this day, I always self-reflect. It’s become my mantra, and I believe that fostering strong team chemistry, rather than commanding, is what earns a tutor, team leader, and decent person respect.

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