Sixteen Years’ Promise
It was not the first time I met him, but he still amazed me with his outfits. His ubiquitous white shirt and black tie I remembered from class was now replaced by a casual T- shirt with a printed slogan: “Don’t trust an atom.” He was also wearing sneakers, and the sunglasses under his black baseball cap cast a cool look on his face.
Since he first arrived in China in 2002, Alan has been teaching students at the Wuhan Britain-China School. His answer to the “Why China” question was quite special. During his job hunting, his mother always got up at 6: 30 am to learn Chinese, which more or less affected his decision to settle down along the Yangtze River.
Alan is undoubtedly a truly competent teacher— and his face was lit up when our conversation moved to teaching. Over the years, his passion towards teaching has motivated him to constantly improve his methods. “Now, I am trying to cultivate students’ potential and change their wrong ideas that physics is only for the smart people.” He said, “Because interest, initiative, and mental diligence are all indispensable when it comes to studying.” Alan hopes sincerely that all of his students can do well in class because he believes that they are all smart.
When mentioning the relationship between teachers and students, Alan believes that students should play the decisive roles. Teachers, not as
dominators, should monitor students to develop their abilities. Once they begin to acquire an effective learning method for themselves, teaching is much easier. He further explained, “I have a student who loves physics. I don’t demand he attends my classes now that he already knows a lot about it. Instead, I lend him my Berkeley Physics Course textbook, which will broaden his horizon.”
By focusing on an equal and personalized relationship between teachers and students, Alan has adopted a rich and flexible teaching style in his class. During the interview, he frankly told us that he seldom followed the textbook as he believed that his lectures could be arranged in a more logical and interesting way. In 2017, after the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three scientists who conducted the research on the gravitational wave, he immediately scheduled a special class to explain gravitational waves to students; when discussing energy issues, he shares with the students the reasons for the decline in oil prices from a physics perspective. Suddenly, he asked us, “Do you know the definition of the Avogadro Constant is going to be amplified?” To him, it indicates that physics is always changing, and the changes can be reflected in his teachings.
In his sixteen years of teaching, some of his students have been enrolled in many prestigious universities both at home and abroad. A student who was admitted to Cambridge University told me gratefully that Alan was like a captain, steering him to sail freely in the ocean of physics.
In honor of Alan’s contribution to China’s education, the Wuhan Municipality awarded him the Yellow Crane Friendship Award in 2016. For it, Princess Anne of Royal Britain summoned him during her visit to Wuhan in 2017.
In spite of all these awards, Alan stays humble and grateful. When talking about his future plans, Alan has no other desires but to continue teaching physics at the school. He feels a deep sense of accomplishment from his 16 years of education.
Dr. Alan Laine in the classroom