In this installment of the Getting to Know Us series, I interviewed Ramzi Elkawa, one of our newer tutors, and somewhat of a polymath! With a background in linguistics, English, and writing skills, as well as a passion for math and science, Ramzi is a tutoring heavyweight, and a pleasure to talk to.
L: Hey Ramzi! So, what do you tutor?
R: For the most part, math and physics. It's what I'm best at, so I go all the way through AP physics. Over winter break, I've actually been getting back into my old college calc textbooks just in case I need to bring out those skills again! I used to teach English and writing skills, and I'm actually teaching an English course right now with Strive, but I'm not as drawn to it because it's more abstract. You know, with math and physics you can just teach the exact lesson, but with English, it's not always as clear.
L: How did you get started with tutoring?
R: I'm not sure why exactly I figured it would be a good career, haha! I studied linguistics in college, and I've always been pretty confident in my math, physics, and science skills. I felt a connection to communication and rhetoric, so one of the things I wanted to do was use my linguistics background to simplify complicated mathematical systems by tapping into some of the visual methods. I started tutoring, and I was relatively successful!
L: That sounds like a really intersectional style!
R: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you really want to have a core relationship with the world, and the structures in it, it's basically a good idea to study the brains that came up with all that stuff. None of this was plucked from thin air - rules were made by our brains! Getting kids to understand, "oh, if I had the right circumstances, I could have come up with all of these concepts too," is what I find important.
L: Wow, that makes me wish that I had someone with that philosophy teaching me math as a kid.
R: I was teaching this one kid, working on the unit circle, and talking about why radians are used instead of degrees. None of the foundational stuff had been explained to him, instead it was just like "we use radians, and they're different, but it's basically the same." Which isn't true! It's not just a kilometres vs. miles situation - they're intricately linked, and unless you can understand the connection between the two, you won't be able to flesh out the relationship in your mind. You need to memorize deeply rather than just wondering why that's the way it is.
L: Is there a person, or people, any influences that set you on this philosophy?
R: I actually get frustrated with my younger self, now. I always had natural math skills, so I never really paid attention in my classes. In college, I hit my first stumbling blocks, which were the concepts that were more difficult and complex than I initially gave them credit for. I rethought my methods, really. Two of my professors in the linguistics field were very influential to me, they developed ideas on pedagogy and how you use metaphor in pedagogy. I was very into pedagogy in many things, like politics, and so sitting and talking with them was pretty formative. Reading Noam Chomsky and John Dewey, learning about nurturing kids to flow as they are instead of holding up a measuring tape and waiting for them to catch up, was another big thing.
L: Amazing. So, What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?
R: Well, because I've been in the teaching space, that's really been taking up my focus. Hmm - I'm into middle eastern history, the history of Europe... The birth of the modern economic forum, and kind of where our society comes from. those things are interesting to talk about, and think about. I haven't been practicing as much as I should, but I also play guitar! I enjoy video games in my spare time... I also like cooking, I spend most of my not-teaching time doing that, making the flavors I want to taste. I recently got a wok, so I'm making a lot of stir fry dishes, and going over to Tokyo Central for groceries.
L: I wish I were a better cook! I'm not the chef in my family.
R: So, being in college and living in an apartment without student meals, I had to cook. And when I moved to Scotland with my partner, since they're not a cook, I had to learn.
L: Oooh, why Scotland?
R: So, my partner and I were in high school together in Lebanon, and we went our separate ways in college, then we met up again, and things happened... We basically decided that after graduation, we wanted to live in the same place. I have UK citizenship, but we didn't really want to go to the UK, so we settled on Scotland.
L: That's awesome! Is there anything you're looking forward to doing once COVID is under control?
R: I miss going to talks and in-person things where you can meet authors, or poetry slams... things where it's a social or academic event, and there's usually wine available! That nice weekend evening event is a missing fixture right now in my life. I didn't take advantage of concerts and live music in college, or in Edinburgh, but being in the crowd, feeling the music, that's something I would like to do again.
L: Me too, definitely. Finally, do you have any advice for students right now?
R: Even for students for whom life is not so physically difficult - if they're safe, healthy, etc. - this is a really unpredictable time, and students are learning in a way that no student has learned throughout history. This is exceptional, and if they can make it through this, they can do anything. The hope is that students will be able to develop techniques, learn self-motivation, come to a realization about how important it is to have a strong network of peers... Hopefully, kids will come out of this with lots of learning techniques. That's definitely how this time should be looked at.
L: Great advice, thank you!