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  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  • I actually had this exact issue but in a mathematics course and I nearly failed. I ended up asking a previous teacher whom taught in a way I better grasped for help and that saved me. It was just a generosity on their part to stay after school and help me, for free. Is that possible within that school setting or no? I am in the USA so I don't know if that is likely to be available or not. – threetimes Aug 31 '17 at 19:13
  • Thanks: Helping out a student that way is very much something many nice Indian teachers will do, @threetimes but not this teacher and they don't have another Physics teacher at present. The same teacher takes Physics for classes XI and XII till another teacher gets transferred in, hopefully by October 1st. But it may not happen. – English Student Aug 31 '17 at 19:31
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I'm an Indian student too. I study in grade XI, and I've faced the same problem really often, as I have a similar teacher at school. My Physics teacher is really smart and has been teaching for a long time, but like your cousin's teacher, he never answers doubts, and doesn't let us even ask them as he teaches. Due to his long teaching career, he has a highly specialised method of teaching, but often, he doesn't allow us to ask our doubts... He asks us to ask them later, but "later" never comes.

What I've found to be a really good method of getting my concepts cleared is to be assertive in class. In case my teacher makes sarcastic remarks, I reply to them seriously, saying that I truly don't understand, and although the others may have understood, I did not.

If you're cousin has issues with speaking up in front of the whole class, tell him to overcome that, or provide him guidance to do so, as that's what helps to ask doubts to a teacher like this. If he thinks he would be able to build solid concepts through questions and doubt clearing, so be it. The teacher should not try to change the learning style of any single student, as each one is different, and must be taught in their own way.

If needed, ask your cousin's parents to go and meet up with the concerned physics teacher, asking for more time, or whatever he requires, as without this kind of understanding, he would be unable to understand, and therefore, will be unable to meet his own expectations.

All in all, make sure that your cousin's teacher gets to know about this problem that he is facing, as otherwise, he will never know, and your cousin's learning will forever remain incomplete.

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+100

I am an Indian, just like you. I am actually from Tamil Nadu (South India). In my 11th grade, I had a physics teacher like that. She was a hardheaded "strict" teacher (to the point that boys were not allowed to use the restroom during class hour, only girls).

We were learning about lenses and mirrors. I am pretty good at physics concepts, but I like to think outside of what the teacher is telling me to think, just so I can ask questions and clearly grasp the concept.

I had a question about lenses - I was able to draw a real and inverted reflection of an object through a concave lens/mirror. Obviously, it is wrong. Concave lenses only have virtual and erect images. But there was a particular rule for drawing those diagrams that my teacher hadn't taught us about. I didn't know that, the teacher didn't know that. I actually found that out years after graduating high school.

I asked the teacher about my representation of a concave lens with real and inverted image. She said "Impossible!". I went up to the board, drew it on the blackboard, and asked her if this is wrong. She lost her mind. Because according to her, I had followed all the laws of drawing such a figure. But this possibility is impossible. She didn't let me in her class for the whole week. Every day, she walks in and looks at me and kicks me out of the class.

After a week, when the class was done, I was standing outside the classroom (because I was kicked out). The teacher walked out of the class and I walked with her. I didn't say a word, I just walked alongside her.

We ended up in her office. I was standing outside her office. She didn't say a word for nearly 45 minutes. Then she looked up and asked me "WHAT!". I asked if I could come in. She asked "What do you want". I walked in, sat down, explained to her that I wasn't trying to make her look stupid.

I told her, "I am sorry if I had embarrassed you, but I genuinely do not get it. I think I am following all the rules you taught me. The image is against the laws of physics, I know. But what am I missing?".

She looked up to me and said, "You are right. I am sorry for acting like that. I will look up on it and get back to you with an answer".

  1. This might not be the exact same situation as yours, but it is very similar - arrogant teacher.
  2. Every teacher ACTUALLY wants to help you. If you are nice to a teacher, they would go the extra mile to help you out.
  3. No Indian teacher, or any teacher for that matter, likes having their intelligence questioned. Asking a doubt is not questioning their intelligence according to you, but what if they don't know the answer to your question? So, teachers stay on the safe side and never take questions. Had a lot of those teachers too.
  4. I know you mentioned it is difficult to get a hold of him. The best way to do it is to walk out of the class WITH HIM and talk to him outside of the classroom. NEVER inside.
  5. I've done this with so many teachers, I've had teachers call me up to their office after school to teach me some extra stuff. A teacher always appreciates you actually trying to learn something.
  6. Teachers always open up to you and talk to you like you're their son if you sit with them and be honest and frank and nice IN PRIVATE. It takes a little bit of kiss-ass and buttering them up, but it always pays up.
  7. If it is still like how it was when I went to school, there is probably just a big room with one big desk for all the teachers called a "Staff room". Not "offices". If this is the situation, ask your brother to be prepared for some public humiliation in the form of "he doesn't even get this hahaha". But stick with it. Because, in this exact situation, the teacher WANTS to be smart in front of his/her co-workers. He likes making you feel stupid and overpowering your ignorance. That is exactly where you want him.

I hope this helps.

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I am fifty, a project manager at Dailmer, responsible for a key internal software application, and had/have a learning disability.

First, accept that if you do not ask questions until you understand something, you'll never understand that something.

Second, accept that when you do something another does not want you to do, it will upset them.

Third, humility, sincerity, and contrition go a long way in getting people to do what they do not want to do.

Fourth, you are at school to learn, the teacher is there to work, neither of you are there to become friends. It does not matter what either thinks of one another. What matters is what you learn, and can demonstrate what you've learned.

My advice is to be a pest and apologize for being one after the teacher has answered your question.

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I am an Indian. To be honest, these situations are very common in Indian Education System. The easiest answer I could give is, just give a complaint on the teacher to the principal. It always works. When I had the same problem with my biology teacher ( my students had the same issue ), so all of our parents gave a complaint against the teacher. Then she started addressing all our doubts. If possible let the teacher know that the student has this issue in a parent-teacher meeting.

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I am a person that has a hard time explaining to other people, especially when they are asking questions about matters far more basic than I am used to tackling.

The deeper you are in a subject matter, the more difficult it is to trace down other people's understanding of something, because the areas where they could be getting it wrong increase in number.

I had a few teaching experiences (but am not a teacher), and I would say that I struggle to answer questions as they are thrown at me. Many questions can blindside, as they often come from misunderstandings, and misunderstandings can come in a whole palette of colors.

Maybe the problem is that you are expecting the teacher to answer clearly and concisely, when he cannot even construe the question thus. You should try to ask a question in a detailed, clear fashion that does not pressure for a quick answer (e.g. a text form, detailing what you understand and what you don't), he would have a higher likelihood of construing what you were doing, and responding in kind. Additionally, it could show him that you tried to figure it out, which is always more endearing for a teacher.

Considering the great amount of details you've poured into this Stack Exchange question, I'm sure you should have some gist of how you could ask the teacher a better kind of question (or helping your friend do so).

1

All your cousin's other teachers know him because he is a "repeat" student. I would talk to (or have your cousin talk to) the other teachers, and have them intercede with the physics teacher. Have them explain that your cousin is a diligent student with a bright future who is "slow" and therefore has a lot of "doubts." He can pass his classes, but with difficulty, and they've made every effort to help him pass. You might have the teachers emphasize that the cousin respects the teacher's knowledge and competence, but is having difficulty in (receiving) "communication."

The physics teacher may then deal better with your cousin's "doubts." He may find a different way to help your cousin pass. But given that he is new, and (probably) wants to "fit in," the best way of communicating may be through "peer pressure."

"Plan B" might to get the cousin's classmates to help. When he asks a question. others will stand up and say, "I have the same doubt."

This problem doesn't seem to occur that often in U.S. schools, but students from other non-U.S. (e.g. Latin American) countries I've emt seem to have the same issues, including their questions being treated as "doubts" (or the Spanish equivalent).

1

I needed very good marks to apply to university, so i asked my Calculus, Algebra, and Physics teachers, at the end of the first class:

"How do I get an 80 in your class."

All three teachers had very lofty ideas of themselves, but responded immediately to my having come to them directly to ask their opinion about how I could succeed in their class. (fyi two 96s and a 94)

The next semester I had enrolled in Chemistry to enable applying to programs that were less mathematical, more anatomical. I waited until the end of the first class, and went up to talk to the teacher after the other students had asked their one-on-one questions, and asked:

"How do I get an 80 in your class."

His answer was immediate, and silently devastating to me.

"I don't give out 80s"

So I went to the office and told them everything I've said in this answer, and they all looked suddenly sad. They said they knew what he was like as a teacher, that there were no alternate sections for Chemistry that semester, and worst of all that he was retiring at the end of the semester.

They said that they would talk to him about how university admissions requirements had gotten more strict over the past 50 years he had been teaching, but they told me they already knew he wouldn't listen. You can't threaten a man with dismissal who has already announced his retirement.

I politely thanked them for their time and left. I applied for programs that didn't need Chemistry, and left my average untarnished by his class.

While the rules are probably very different in India, maybe the question could be asked jointly by the student and a parent, during the teacher's office hours rather than during class time.

Also, it was very heartening that the office staff had already been made aware of the problem teacher, and would have taken actions they believed to be futile if I had asked them to.

The question is about asking the teacher after the student realises they need help, and my story is about having preemptively asked all my teachers for help in advance, in speculation of any problems I might encounter during the semester.

"How would you say I should best take steps to master the material you will be presenting"

I hope this helps. :)

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