- Kindly excuse the long question because you need a lot of background details in order to provide good answers here. I did add the India tag but feel that this is not necessarily a culture-specific problem in these modern times.
- My 18 year old cousin who is in high school is expected to devote most of his time to studies in this 'crucial year before college', and his parents strictly regulate online time to 'avoid distraction', which is why he is not active on Stack Exchange and cannot ask this question himself here.
I had only a very limited and passing experience of this problem when I was in high school myself, many years ago now, but my young cousin age 18 is currently facing this challenging situation which is rather common in India and maybe in other countries worldwide:
How to get more co-operation from this Physics teacher who discourages students from asking questions to clear their conceptual confusion?
Facts of the case:
- My cousin is 18 years old and studying in Class XII (highest level before graduating from high school in India) in a reputed school here in South India.
- He took 'Science without Biology' group (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Computer Science, English) which is an advanced course preparing students for future studies in Engineering and computers.
- He is studious and sincere but only an average student in his class and has found the textbooks to be of a difficultly high standard. He just barely passed the 'previous year' in the same group (called Class XI which is the first of 2 years with this course combination). However the teachers who taught him that year were supportive and allowed him to ask many questions in the class itself, as is typically allowed in India so he could clear his confusion and managed to pass the first year.
- This year he is being taught by all the same teachers except Physics because the earlier teacher left and was replaced by a newly transferred-in teacher with good qualifications and 8 years experience teaching Physics at this level.
- Problem: this Physics teacher does not appreciate students asking questions to clear their confusion (usage note on Indian English: such questions are called doubts here.)
- Whether in class or in the Physics lab between classes, my cousin says that the teacher is not lazy or hostile -- he gives thorough lessons and notes, but simply does not answer the questions posed by students. As in, his answer is likely to be very short and irrelevant, and the teacher quickly passes to the next point. If a student persists with the 'doubt' the teacher will tell him to ask later but is not available later to be asked again. This attitude is probably not specific to my cousin's doubts alone, but not many other students tend to ask their doubts anyway. In one notable instance, the teacher said to my cousin:
Why you are asking so many doubts? See these others are not asking like that. You really don't understand these topics? Please study your notes I am giving to you. (this syntax is common in Indian English.)
The teacher is also very reserved and not at all a good communicator inside or outside the class, though obviously competent in his subject.
- This is a big problem for my cousin because Physics is very much a concept-oriented subject and he got used to asking the earlier teacher his doubts to get conceptual clarification. Indeed he has been good at asking such doubts on behalf of the group, and used to get good response from all teachers.
- My cousin depends on the teaching he gets from school because it is a reputed school and neither he nor his father believe in after-hours private coaching from third-party teachers. Nor can he get into such a tuition centre now because the school year started in July and students will not be taken after August 1st.
- Being very frank with the teacher and asking for a proper treatment of his doubts is not easy in the power-equation that exists in Indian schools because teachers are much more powerful than students and tend to see it as a criticism of their abilities.
- For the same reason my cousin does not want to expand the problem by bringing in other students/ parents/ other teachers/ the school principal: since much critical teaching and learning must be completed amicably by February 2018, antagonizing the teacher would be disastrous.
[Why can't I give him good suggestions myself, based on my own experience with teachers in the same subjects in Indian schools?
This is because I used to be a leading student in my class and had relatively few conceptual doubts, which however were well clarified kindly by most teachers. I also had the most wonderful Physics-master in a private coaching center, and scored stratospherically in Physics as a result, though I lost touch with the subject long back.]
In short I have had no personal experience of my cousin's specific problem and not much insight at all into the special diplomacy needed to deal with a teacher who discourages questions. That is why I need help from the very clever, sympathetic and eminently sensible people at Interpersonal.SE!
Post script: I had a kind and brilliant but very abstracted mathematics teacher myself in class XI -- this was 22 years ago; that teacher was always 'in his own world' and could not even 'hear' your doubt, let alone answer it. Our mathematics class went rapidly downhill as a result and my private coaching class was also (for me) a disaster. I don't remember how I reached class XII.