Teachers gain inspiration for their work from exciting ideas, from energetic students, and from great teachers. For many years, I had held Nobel Laureate Richard P. Feynman as an exemplar, not because I had seen him teach, but because of his reputation as a great teacher of physics and his highly-engaging books about teaching. I had heard about his classic introductory lectures on physics, but never seen them…until I saw them today online. They are wonderful.
You can sample the Feynman lectures at the following link: http://research.microsoft.com/apps/tools/tuva/index.html. My son, who told me about the link, wrote, “Bill Gates bought the rights to film recordings of several Richard Feynman introductory physics lectures, and Microsoft Research has made them public via an interactive viewer. You may have to download Microsoft’s free Silverlight browser plug-in to view the videos, but it’s well worth it. Feynman’s delight in both his subject matter and his teaching is brightly apparent, and the lectures are an excellent introduction to both physics and the history of science.”
“Delight” indeed. You can watch the lectures for the sake of their content; but I’ve enjoyed simply watching the style of a great lecturer. He is articulate but not overwhelming. He speaks in complete sentences and paragraphs with no “ums” and “ahs.” He is animated, moves around, smiles, and gestures actively. He reads some parts of his lectures but improvises considerably—of special note is his use of humor and asides delivered with good timing. At one point in his lecture on gravitation, he discusses the attraction between two bodies (planets) and asks the audience, “do I attract you? …I don’t mean physically!” This guy is plainly having fun. He delights in his subject and his engagement with the audience.In my career, I’ve probably spent several thousand hours learning to teach, preparing to teach, or helping other teachers get up to speed. Though there are lots of tricks of the trade, I’ve learned that Feynman’s kind of delight simply can’t be faked or borrowed. You must feel it inside. If you do, you will probably excel at your work—this is a lesson relevant to teachers, students, and pretty much everyone.
Feynman said, “Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.”