Next year I am going to teach science to high school students and right now this thought thrills me more than anything else in my life because I articulated why I really want to do it.
I want to make students feel confident and love themselves by giving them something that excites them and showing them that THEY can be good at it. I almost don’t care about the science.
Here is what it means to me. In summer 2022 I have been teaching at Czech Chemistry Olympiad Camp, Běstvina and there was a student I distinctly remember (and I realised why I remember her in particular just now). When I was teaching organic chemistry, I noticed that she wasn’t attempting the problems I was setting during the lecture. From her expression I guessed this was because she was certain that she can’t solve these problems. So at some point, to prove her wrong I asked her to come to the whiteboard and solve it. She seemed very unhappy about that because was certain she wouldn’t be able to solve it. I didn’t give her any hints, or tell her any new information, I only asked few questions and she was able to solve it. I made sure to emphasise that I didn’t tell her anything new; she knew enough to solve it herself. And that’s when her approach changed. She started solving all the problems and was more engaged. She even went to all of the optional advanced lectures for this.
To me that was the most amazing thing I have done at the camp. I couldn’t care less whether someone knows what is the product of a hydrobromination of butadiene. But I can’t care more if someone thinks “This is hard, I can’t solve this, only the other, smarter students can do this” vs. “this is a really interesting question, how can I answer it”. Making someone realize that they can do it, that there is no “the other smarter students” is what completely moves me.
This resonates with me so much because it is my story. I distinctly remember looking at the Czech ChO website, seeing a photo of the team that represented Czechia at the International Chemistry Olympiad and thinking/feeling “these are completely different people than me. I’ll be glad if I ever got to the top 3 in Prague”). Well, I got three silver medals from the international chemistry Olympiad. And that wouldn’t have happened without the people who presented presented chemistry in such a way that made me realise I can learn anything if I want to. My mentors made me believe in me. Learning some cool chemistry was a nice side effect, but believing in me made changed my life completely. When I think about how lucky I am for coming across these people I just start crying from gratitude.
I think that unfortunately many people doubt themselves, they don’t like themselves and feel like a failure. I certainly did (and do on the worse days). And I think that potentially a first good step to solution (apart from getting therapy) is finding something you love and are good at. And I hope to help people with that by 1) showing them how amazing science is, so that they love it and 2) teaching it in so accessible way that it is clear beyond doubt that they can understand it.
(just a fun question to think about: “is the school system making students believe in them?”)
Fuck, realising how much excited I am by this I am seriously considering dropping school and starting this full time now. I am curious if I feel the same way tomorrow, before I have cup of coffee, though.
P.S. I think science is amazing, I also want to teach it so that I can share the beautiful “aha moments” that feel better than orgasm. But that doesn’t compare to making people believe in them.