It's not the first time that it has happened to me, but I think many times, tons of times. I'm a bachelor's student with Physics as the major. Let me tell you about today's incident:

So we were taking this elective class online on Modern physics. The topic was Tensor. The teacher asked, "Tell me about tensor and try to tell in one sentence" (which I think I find kind of ridiculous in itself). In any case, I said,

Tensors, like vectors, are objects that transform under rotation of coordinate according to some specific rule.

I couldn't tell the rule as I have only one sentence.

The teacher says I will say, Tensors are a generalization of vectors.

And I kind of find it to be the same thing. But I get out of my mind (it might be my fault) when someone does that, that is, giving their own explanation without explaining or even commenting on my answer. They just say, Well Well I'll say......

What should be my reaction to this? Should I just listen and let it go? Or should I ask what's wrong with my definition or my explanation (my thinking)?

  • 2
    In modern mathematical terms, the definition of tensor (and also that of vector) you gave is wrong, or somehow obsolete. I discussed (briefly) the various definitions of tensors, from a physicist and mathematician's point of view, here.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Apr 20 at 10:21
  • What I had said is mention by the OP? So Is it wrong? In any case, I'm not concerned with definitions here. Apr 20 at 10:36
  • I think the example really detracts from the question, here. Apr 20 at 10:38
  • @YoungKindaichi I understand that the definition is not of concern here, and in fact mine was just a comment, but maybe you can find useful for your studies a broader perspective.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Apr 20 at 10:39

There are various reasons why teachers (and people more broadly) do this. In most cases, they think your answer sounds wrong, and want to give you the textbook answer, but in addition:

  • They may not feel confident pinning down precisely what's wrong with your answer.

  • They may be feeling lazy and not want to engage with your answer.

  • They may not be feeling particularly lazy, but your answer may be so confusing/confused/oddly worded that they can't face trying to engage with it.

  • They may not want to get bogged down in dissecting your answer, for time reasons.

Basically, if they'd wanted to engage with your answer, they probably would have done. You ask whether you should try to cajole them into answering you anyway. I would argue that it depends on why you think they haven't engaged with your answer, and what result you're after.

  • If they haven't engaged with your answer because they don't understand it, then trying to cajole them may force them to admit that, which they may not like (depending on their personality).

  • If they haven't engaged with it because they're feeling lazy, they might engage with it if cajoled, perhaps.

  • If they haven't engaged with it because they think it's confused, they might attack the answer, if you irritate them.

  • If they haven't engaged with it because there's no time, they might tell you that and possibly ask you to talk to them at the end.

So it depends on what you want to achieve, ultimately. Arguably they should have engaged with your answer, if it was understandable. But if they didn't, and you force the issue, you run the risk of annoying them (whether that's fair or not). It's up to you to judge the situation at the time, I think.

For what it's worth, I've been on both sides of this, as a student and as a teacher. From a student's perspective, it's very annoying if a teacher isn't perfect. From a teacher's perspective, it's easy to feel bad for not being perfect (which is impossible actually), and to wish students could empathise a bit more. The reality is that most students wish their teachers could be some kind of all-knowing Yoda figure, and that sadly most teachers aren't, and can't be. The older you get, the more empathy you develop for your former teachers, I find.

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