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Things don’t always go as planned in a classroom.   It happens when students miss some key piece of understanding and end up falling farther and farther behind.   The atmosphere in the classroom can become tense:  the instructor tries to keep things on track, but the students who are behind feel bad that they aren’t up to speed and the students who are ahead end up resenting them because the instructors need to slow down.

So how can students get back to a happy medium?

I admit, I like to play games with the way people think.   I experiment with different ways of explaining, and different ways of getting people to behave differently.  I rely a great deal on my understanding (and remembering) emotional cycles when I was a student.

Procrastination, Shame and Blame

The beginning can be something innocent.   A late night, a bad lecture, or missing class for some reason.

Whatever the reason, the student finds themselves with a gap:  their work isn’t done and their understanding isn’t up to the task either.    To fill the gap, it will take an extraordinary effort, and being a little behind doesn’t seem that bad.

The gap in skills starts to affect other work.   The other students seem to get the material, but it doesn’t click for the student.   They feel bad, but it is hard to pinpoint where they lost control or how to get it back.    The instructor is ahead and new material doesn’t make sense.   People who try to help may come off as condescending, or frustrated with their slow progress.   The person blames themselves for the problem, or starts to feel like they aren’t “smart enough.”

As frustration mounts, the person tries to make sense out of the situation.    They rationalize that they must not be smart enough to get the concept, or that the instructor isn’t very good.  They start to feel powerless.  They will blame others for their failures, at the same time that they justify their own insecurities.

When someone feels resentful, hurt, ashamed, or angry, it is easy to put off work in lieu of other distractions.  Which reinforces the skill gaps, which reinforces the negative self-image/sense of inadequacy, which ultimately leads to a sense of futility.

To be clear:  it sucks to watch, it sucks to go through, and its hard to clean up after.   But it is a cycle that can be broken.

Breaking the Cycle

The good news is that people can be brought out of a spiral like this, but there is no easy fix.   The hardest thing to combat is the sense of powerlessness that can accompany falling behind.    As students, it is imperative to recognize that it will take sustained effort.   As instructors, we need to recognize that students don’t always have this self-knowledge.

So here is what I find works as a teacher:   (1) Prioritize skills, and cut lossesEnforce deadlines rather than pile on more work.     This basically comes down to identifying the key things that a student needs to work on rather than the complete past assignments.   Nobody likes to lose grades, but the boundaries helps students break out of looking backward and into looking forward.   (2) Praise and patience.  Acknowledging even the smallest of steps as progress is helpful, and helps relieve the sense of shame.   It also helps to acknowledge that struggle is part of the process, but making mistakes is not failure.    (3) Set out a plan with incremental steps.   The hardest part of breaking out of a procrastination cycle is the sense of being overwhelmed, so having simple (minimal) work is a good way of getting going.   Having a few things to do means that once one thing is done, then the next tier or goal can be reached.   Then the next goal will seem easier to reach.

Finally, momentum can carry the day.

…. and the horse you rode in on!

The funny thing about this is that this applies equally to teachers as it does to students.    Teachers get frustrated and will feel like they have lost touch with their class just as much as students may feel lost in the class.    It is easy for teachers to blame lazy students for not doing their work, but there is shared responsibility:  students need to be encouraged if they are going to get engaged.   It is okay to have a bad day teaching from time to time,  and sometimes you won’t be able to give it everything you want.   Focus on the successes, and it will be easier to be patient.

So:   keep up the good work.

Never give up.

I’ll have to put off procrastinating for another day.

without evil

 

I’m an evil genius, and proud of it.

Is that vain of me?  Probably.  Do I care what you think?   You may want to ask if  I respect you enough to care about your opinion.   If so, I will listen to you.   I may not change, but I will listen.   In all honesty, I strive for the “evil” part of this equation.  Being a genius is a documented fact  (the byproduct of lucky genetics and having effective education), and is nothing to be especially proud of.

The difference between being Evil and being Bad

To me there is a huge difference between being evil, and just being bad.

I equate being “bad” with being ineffectual, lazy, dull, inane, stupid, or willfully ignorant.  Bad people are the kind of people who never admit to being wrong, or even worse, they never doubt that they are right (regardless of the facts).   Bad people will harm others without a second thought.  Selfishness, apathy, uncaring and disinterest are traits of bad people, but evil is … different.

Evil isn’t passive, it is engaged.   An active, intelligent force that will adapt itself to overcome obstacles.   Evil truly CARES!

Evil may be sadistic, but it is sadistic with an intention beyond the simple infliction of pain.  Every hurt is aimed at crafting some greater goal. The glee that you feel from being evilly sadistic isn’t just for the sake of the pain, but for the direction it is taking you.

Ultimately, it challenges the very foundations of what you believe and accept.   When it hits an obstacle, it will adapt.   When it hits a boundary, evil will test it to it’s limits.   Yes, being evil is impolite, but evil never rests.   Evil is self reflective, loathing its own weaknesses and striving to overcome them.   Yes, evil people often times have a rapier wit that can leave others bleeding, but they will direct it at themselves as much as others.

I think that why people don’t like evil is because growing hurts.

On being Good, and why being good can be bad

Being a good person is supportive, empathic, caring, and often nurturing.   There is nothing wrong with this on the surface, we all need care and support!

The problem arises when people are thoughtlessly good, and end up supporting bad behavior.   Actions borne out of the desire to help often do harm.   With the best of intentions, you can make people weaker by removing obstacles that will make them grow.    Empathy that cannot bear to see a person hurt, robs another person of the growth that comes from overcoming pain.     Nurturing that is aimed at building another person up, can have the effect of creating dependence and weakness.

Have you seen what happens to kids with “helicopter” parents?    The kids will never know that they can fail if they don’t do enough.   Mediocre efforts are awarded high praise.   In the worst cases, spoiled children turn into spoiled adults.   The entitlement these people feel is horrible and revolting.

Personally, I think every child should have skinned knees and burned fingers … sometimes.   And for the spoiled adults:  I personally want to watch them forced with the choice of feeding themselves or going to the doctor because they are dangerously sick.   Irony sucks, doesn’t it?

Love is Evil

“Love” is an emotion that people try to paint as a happy emotion, the pinnacle of all emotions.   Some folks equate love with companionship, but selfishly clinging to another out of fear of loneliness isn’t love.   Jealousy isn’t a symptom of love either, it is simply a symptom of insecure neuroses.   Many people make that mistake.    Love does not demand to be returned,  loneliness and desire do.

Love isn’t desire, it isn’t sex, and you won’t always recognize it when you see it.

The painful truth is that love has a dark side.

The truth about love?     Love is not always kind to those who feel it.   To truly love means to care deeply, but not impose your own needs or desires on the loved.   It means to desire the happiness and well-being of another, without regard to our own happiness.  Love is not blind, it makes you see the flaws of another and forces you to accept them.   It forces you to grow… and if you are lucky, you can be a part of that other persons life and you can both become better, but only at the other persons behest.    Love only feels good when you love someone and are loved back.

To experience love is to accept uncomfortable truths about ourselves.   Love hurts so good.   It is often painful, occasionally harmful, and it will push your limits.

Love will either make you grow, or it will break you in the process.   And that is why I say that love is evil.

Think about it.

[…]

Which brings me back to my original statement:   I am an evil genius,  and proud of it.

Love is evil, and sometimes, evil is love.   So when I say I’m an evil math professor, I’m really saying that I care and I want my students to be happy and succeed.   And even though I am exasperated at times, I am happy you are in my life.   Thank you.   I only hurt you because I care.

 

 

P.S.    Yes, I know I’m not using the dictionary definitions of good, bad, and evil.    These are reflections on my own idiosyncratic thinking.      I also make these conceptional distinctions between the ideas of  cute, pretty, attractive, and beautiful.    Or the distinctions between smart, clever, and wise.

I probably think too much.   *shrug*   I like my brain.

My students share with me when they have math dreams.    Sometimes they make students anxious, some make students feel like they are smarter… I tell my students it is a reflection that they have math on the brain.   I don’t know how the theories of mind intersect with dreams, but I know that I had math frequently when I was in school.    It was pretty common for me to fall asleep over calculus that was stumping me, dreamed I was doing math,  then woken up gotten it right.

Generally my teaching dreams are pretty prosaic:  some simple anxiety dreams rehashing student discipline, or  imagining the first day, or even just dreaming of the homework burn barrel in class.

Last week I dreamed about waterboarding students at school with another teacher.   It was interesting, because the other teacher (in her teacher voice) was explaining in great detail:  (1) why waterboarding was torture and how it was morally repugnant; (2) how to effectively and efficiently waterboard.    We hooded and zip-tied a student to a table, tipped one end, applied water and… voilà.   We violated the human rights of a student.

So please, turn in your homework on time.

One of the other off-the-wall teaching dreams involve teaching students how to solve equations.   Whenever the students tried to divide by zero, they shot off into space.    I did use my scary teacher voice.

I like my brain.

Winter term has finally begun!Weapons of mass instruction

The first day of a class is always interesting.  You hand out your syllabus, and try to get a feel for your students.   I know students shop around for their instructors, but I sometimes wonder what attracts these particular students to my classes.   Inevitably some students will show up for the first day, and I will never see them again that term.     Whether they just found that my classes demanded too much work (possible) or whether they discovered they have important business for the next 11 weeks,  I always wonder what becomes of these students.

Then there are the students who want to negotiate.  This week, one particular student complained that I was asking them to do so much work that it was equivalent to a part-time job.  My response was “Welcome to college.   If you don’t like this amount of work you need to do, imagine needing to do it again next quarter.”   He didn’t look pleased.

Most of the work in the first week of class is getting the students used to the class.   Things in the first week that I think help:

  1.  Establish your position.  Basically, let the students know that you are in charge but they are not powerless.   I’m more apt to be authoritarian in the first week just so people don’t try to push back later in the quarter.
  2. Let them convince themselves that they need the class.  It is impossible to force people to want to learn, but they are already halfway there when they show up in your classroom.    In my class, I have them introduce themselves and tell me what their dream jobs are.   Then I try to link that dream to passing the class later.
  3.  Give structure and tools.  Some classes benefit from being free-form, but I find that most students need to have a clear idea of what is expected of them.   So,  I give it to them:   everything from classroom expectations,  how much work they should expect to put in, to how they can earn the various pieces of their grades.   After that, I give them the extras:  where to find tutoring, counseling, and financial help on campus if they need it.     My syllabus is a dense document.
  4.  Start building class culture.   A classroom culture is something that will come about on it’s own from the personalities inside it, but as the teacher they will follow your lead.   I let people know that the things that are valued are patience with their own process, and hard work.   It isn’t just about work, though.   I also get excited about math (letting them geek out too), as well as being patient with them to encourage them to ask questions.   Having some inside jokes help too.
  5. Get them thinking about excelling, not just passing.  Extra credit is one of the things that is controversial in some classes, because it can artificially elevate mediocre or failing grades.   I do like to offer things to the class to get them thinking about not just how to pass, but how to excel.  If they expect to excel (by doing extra) then they start to value themselves as good students, and become good students in the process.      (Ah it is fun to play with people’s’ brains)

 

I’m pretty happy with how my classes look this term.    I’ll know more about them next term.

The game is afoot!

 

Winter is coming!   Winter term that is.

So pick up your #2 pencils and a fresh case of RedBull, because it is going to be a fun one.

Aries (March 21 – April 20)

I know you had some ideas about what you would be learning this term, Aries.   As much as you may have grown already, this term is going to be about getting what you need rather than what you want.

I know that you may want to complain about that this term.   Okay.   You are welcome to do so.   But whining won’t actually help you.   You are going to need to choose to learn.   So suck it up, and do the work.

Taurus  (April 21 – May 21)

So there is good news and bad news:   the good news, this term you have a chance to learn some amazing lessons.   You can get not just basic skills, you can get the insights on how to use them.   The bad news:   this won’t come cheap or easy.   You are going to pay in both money and time.

Once in a lifetime opportunities come only once. Don’t miss out.

Gemini (May 22 – June 21)

It is said that there comes a point where you stop trying to be who you want to be, and start being who you are.   This is only partially true:   you should still try to be who you want to be, because it is part of who you are.   Your aspirations are part of you, and they give you the chance to be more than what you are now.   So shake up your routine, and be the better version of yourself.

Also:   you should avoid getting recruited into a cult by a Pisces or Aquarius.

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)

You are going to learn some really important lessons this upcoming term.   Your relationship will be intense, consuming, and possibly fueled by cheap booze.     While learning your Kama Sutra is fun, the real lesson comes when things start to go wrong.   You can learn humility the easy way by listening, or the hard way by pain.

The problem is your ego.   This isn’t about you.   Tough shit..

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Your moon is in Virgo, and Saturn will be hanging out in Gemini. So whenever Mercury goes retrograde, drop everything and buy lottery tickets.   This will be an investment in your future, because the more you buy and the more you tell people about it, the more likely you will be picked up by the gentlemen in the nice white coats and taken to an institution with padded rooms.     They have Jello and Oxycontin.

 Avoid being shanked by Scorpios.

Virgo (August 23 – September 23)

Here are a few things you should consider:   most murders are committed by people known to the victim.   “Stranger Danger” is almost fiction (less than 5% of abductions), as most child abductions and abuse are done by someone known to the child. People get bitten more often by their own pets than by strange animals.

This is a good analogy for your term: don’t be afraid of the unusual, but take care of the familiar topics.   “Easy classes” have some pitfalls that you may have overlooked.

Libra (September 24-October 23)

I know you have every intention to focus entirely on your classes this term.   I will say this is a good plan as far as it goes, except that the rest of your life won’t be quiet.   You have family and friends, relationships and obligations, work and money issues.     Your life can’t be compartmentalized easily, so plan some time to take care of yourself too.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 22)

The fact is that your stars and planets don’t really impact your life.   Your text books have a greater gravitational pull on you than they do.   The choices that you make are what truly impact the events of your life and your future.   It isn’t comforting, but know that the circumstances beyond your control are neither benign nor malicious, the world simply doesn’t care.

 So keep working, and don’t drink the metaphorical Kool-Aid.

Sagittarius (November 23 – December 21)

You know the old story about the caterpillar that is asked how it is able to coordinate all of it’s legs when it walks, and then loses its ability to walk from over-analysis.     You may feel like this happens to you… but you are considerably smarter than a caterpillar. It won’t necessarily be comfortable, but a little self-reflection may be helpful to you.

 Also, see if you can figure out how other people apply similar skills to yours.   They may not do it better, but having alternatives can be helpful.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 20)

There are times for you to shine, and those times will be when you are awake.   I’m not just referring to when you aren’t in bed, I’m talking about the times when you aren’t acting purely out of habit.   Try not to multi-task, you will only lose track of what is really important.

 Also:   Keep your head and arms inside the vehicle at all times.   It’s all fun and games until someone gets decapitated.

Aquarius (January 21 – February 19)

 It is true that too much of a good thing isn’t good for you.   Ask anyone who has gotten vitamin A poisoning (scary, they turn orange… too much and you can die).   Interestingly, the same goes for too little of a bad thing.   Take some risks, earn a few scars and learn a few life lessons.

 Avoiding danger simply for the sake of avoiding danger isn’t wisdom, it’s cowardice.   Learning from mistakes is wisdom.

Pisces (February 20 – March 20)

I know you value honesty in your life, but I will say that a little creative editing of events can make all of the difference for you this term. If you are truly honest with yourself, then you’ll recognize how much you edit events for your own narrative anyway.   Embrace it.

As much as you want to be liked, holding out for universal approval seems both unlikely and quite frankly boring.   Creative excuses aside, be prepared to take the consequences if your white lies are found out.

So remember, use your powers however the hell you want.   They are your powers.

As for classes:   bring them on.

Alphone Mucha - Zodiac 1896

The holidays are upon us!   It behooves us to remember when we are surrounded by the festivities, the shopping, the eating, and catching up post-final sleep there is a new term just around the corner.      There are a few blissful weeks in which we can plan for the new term.

So teachers:   here are your horoscopes for the next term

Aries (March 21 – April 20) 

This upcoming term is going to be educational for both your students and you.   There are astrological warnings about Mercury and Saturn in your sign.   Which I think means that you should watch out for American cars backing over you in the school parking lot.

At some point your class will be disrupted by a group of students addicted to MMOGs.   So a pretty typical class, really.

Taurus  (April 21 – May 21)

You are an excellent listener.   Which is good, because you can hear some of the most amazing rumors this term if you keep your ears open.   Students tend to be undisciplined about their speech, which will be good for a laugh later on.    Try not to gossip, but instead consider blackmailing others for fun and profit.

Watch out for falling rocks.

Gemini (May 22 – June 21)

You may have a love/hate relationship with your students this term.  You will see the best and the worst.   There won’t really be much middle ground:   you will have students who do everything you ask, and all of the additional work.   They will ask intelligent questions, and work hard.   Then there are the other ones:   when they show up, it will be hard to keep from grinding your teeth.

The good news is that you can level the playing field by assigning some of the good students to work with the bad ones.   You’ll hear about it, but it will keep you sane.

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)

This is going to be a good term to go back to the basics.   Students will supply their own imagination later.  Reenforcing the fundamentals now will pay off later when your students actually pass.    It isn’t pretty, it isn’t exciting, but you can prevent disasters from happening later.

Also, you should stay away from Virgos and Aries with Ebola.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

I know that you are generally busy, Leo, but this term will be crazy.   A lot of good things happen from all of your hard work, and at the very end, you will get a full nights sleep.   By the time you get there, you may just be a bundle of nerves.   Just remember,  you do get some time out for yourself to eat and sleep.     You can do it, just don’t forget your anniversary.

Stay strong, Leo.    For some reason I see your moon in Taurus.   I think that means to rely on Red Bull.

Virgo (August 23 – September 23)

Burn, baby, burn.   School will take a backseat to love for you this term.   Not to say that you will give short measure to your students, but I will say that your students may enjoy better scores if you find yourself grading post-coitus.   This is a side we don’t get to see very often, Virgo.   Run with it.

Don’t get so distracted that you lose track of the important things.   Like paying your mortgage.   Or pants.

Libra (September 24-October 23)

The stars have aligned for you Libra!   Which is to say, that entirely random events light years from your current location are sprinkling light on your head.   What does this mean for you?   Absolutely nothing.   The gravitational pull of your car has a greater impact on your life than does your stars.

Hard work and dedication mean so much more than the layout of your stars.     So teach it like you mean it.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 22)

Due to lack of interest this term, Scorpio, your horoscope has been cancelled.     I think you can do better without it, anyway.    It only goes wrong when you try to do what other people tell you to do.

Sagittarius (November 23 – December 21)

You have worked long and hard to make some of your assignments foolproof.     There is good news and bad news.   The good news is that you get a chance to improve upon your already impressive work.   The bad news, they invented a better fool.

This is a good metaphor for your term.   So remember, it isn’t just a place for your students to learn and grow, it is for you too.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 20)

This next term will feel a lot like the last term, Libra.   This is because you end up with the same students going through your classes a second time.   There are some opportunities here:   you can help them get the skills they missed the first time.   Just keep their mediocrity from passing onto others.

Administrators will also be annoying.   So, it will feel a lot like last term.

Aquarius (January 21 – February 19)

 Thank you for playing nice, Aquarius.   We know that you don’t really believe in horoscopes, so this was quite a nice gesture to read this.    Instead of vague predictions of doom or glory, how about I offer you a piece of good teaching advice instead:    take care of yourself.   Nobody else has your interests at heart as much as you do.

Also:  never cook bacon naked.

Pisces (February 20 – March 20)

The funny thing about going down a rabbit-hole of crazy is that you don’t realize that you are doing it.   One step leads seamlessly and logically to another, which leads to another.   Everything seems logical when you are in the middle of it.  Before long, you find yourself doing things you never would have believed possible.   In retrospect, it looks crazy.

So while there is a great deal to be said for going with the flow, there is something to be said for sticking up for some structure.

Also:    avoid angry Leo’s armed with axes.

So, teachers, those were your carefully crafted horoscopes.

Next up:   student horoscopes.

Ah!  That magical time of the year.   The air is crisp, and people spend their time hoping and praying.   Some people are dreaming of a better tomorrow, and some try to coast through with as little effort as possible.  The season can be stressful, but promises better things to come.

That time is finals week.

Good students don't end up in shallow graves.In spite of fervently hoping for the grading fairy to arrive, it didn’t.   I was relatively pleased with how my student’s performed on their final exams, with a few notable exceptions.    In a break with my usual grading habits,  I switched from listening to aggressive music to watching the Friday the 13th series of movies.    One thing common to both grading tests and cheesy horror flicks:   stupidity gets punished.    I’m nicer than the Voorhees family, though.   I just mark your questions down.   Although I now have the urge to go camping.

 

Callous remarks aside,  I want all of my students to succeed.   One of my steadfast rules is to give people the grade that they have earned.   Sometimes the greatest service I can do for a student is to fail them.     As much as I know many of them would love to have a teacher who always gives passing grades, they won’t learn from that sort of teacher.   Your students have chosen you to teach them skills, and evaluate how well they perform them.   So:  yes I judge you, but only because you asked me to judge you.

I lose sleep not over the number of students who fail, but what I could have done to help them learn more.

There are also the students who feel that they should be rewarded for effort and for showing up.  Those are the ones that I don’t lose sleep over.   We judge ourselves on our intentions, and others on their actions.   Since my telepathy is broken, I have to rely on the work that a person does.   Or in other words:  I won’t praise mediocrity.   Earn your own self-esteem.

I occasionally need to remind myself that while I can fix ignorance,  I can’t fix stupidity.

Now, I can take a little break.  Which way to Crystal Lake?

Okay, the time has come once again for final exams.   I will also admit, that grading has kicked my ass this quarter.   I have been swamped with student papers.   There are times that I can detach myself from the student’s work, and just grade… but sometimes it is difficult.   Sometimes I take it personally.

There are times I want to stab offending questions with my red pen, hoping that that error never occurs again.   And yet it appears over and over, like some monstrous mockery of mathematics, preying on another victim.

I’ll keep up the good fight.     I don’t want to speculate on why aggressive music and horror movies are my medium of choice to listen to while grading.   Perhaps it is because it suits the whole bloody business.   Or maybe it’s just what suits my personality.

Here is another finals week playlist.

  • Combichrist – Throat full of glass
  • Saliva – Click Click Boom
  • Godsmack – Voodoo
  • Johnny Cash – Hurt
  • Skinny Puppy – Pro-Test
  • Emilie Autumn – One Foot in Front of the other
  • Seether – Fake it
  • Saliva – Ladies and Gentlemen
  • Death*Star – The Quick and the Dead
  • Paint – Cups (Extreme edition)

 

As for folks who follow my blog – thank you for your patience.   I know I’ve been squirrelly this quarter.

But I’ll be coming out swinging in Winter quarter.

 

I had all sorts of useful things to say at the beginning of this week.   Full of encouragement and good feelings… and then I got done grading.

I like to give folks every opportunity to succeed.   I give them the chance to excel.

I give encouragement.

I give feedback.

I tutor students.

I work insanely long hours.

I am patient.

I even accept (some) late work  with the lamest of excuses.

I have no problem dealing with people who are having difficulty understanding, so long as they try.   Some students are willing!  I have a few very dedicated people in my classes.    Let me say, I appreciate these students!

As for the rest of you… Seriously students?

What I hate is apathy.   If you aren’t willing to try,  then you don’t deserve to pass.   Good intentions don’t matter.   What matters is if you are willing to work at understanding until you actually understand.     If you miss questions because you skipped class,  don’t try to make it my problem.   Quit complaining, it just makes you sound pathetic and I have no sympathy for you.

Why, oh why?   Why the fuck are you wasting my time with so much half-assed work?    I have no problem failing you.   I will fail you.   And you will deserve to fail.

So… Here are my midterm misanthropic  fantasies.

  • I want a burn barrel in class, so I can gleefully torch work that turned in late or incomplete.
  • I want to lock my poor achievers together and have a cage match fight to actually stay in class.    Top 3 can stay, if you can successful factor a trinomial.
  • Instead of giving the thoughtful, reasoned, and encouraging response to the question:   “So what are we going to use for?   I mean really in the real world.”  Just tell the student “You’re right.   You won’t need this. You don’t need to pass a basic math class if you just want to push a broom.”
  • I want to show up at the workplace of a student the next time they tell me after the midterm that they scheduled themselves for work that day, and be the most annoying customer EVER.    Then get them fired from their job.   Then fail them, and laugh maniacally when they beg for change on the street.
  • I want a box of scorpions… for educational purposes.

 

I will not kill my students and wear their skins.    I will not kill my students and wear their skins.   I will not kill my students and wear their skins…

 

 

We all need a reality check sometimes.    Teachers need it, students need it, politicians  needs it.  (I have to say… seriously voters?   Are we even on the same planet?)    I joke about handing out fast food applications with failing tests, but the sad fact is some folks are already headed that way.    The truth is that not everyone is going to succeed.   As teachers, we want our students to be smart, capable, and competent.

Truth is hard, but it preferable to comforting lies.

One of the reasons that I have adopted the persona of a and villainous math professor is because people like to project their own failures on their instructors.    Learning isn’t an easy proposition for many folks:   it entails a combination of hard work and painful self-honesty which doesn’t come easily to many students.   Since I already had some inclinations in the direction of evil-genius, I just ran with it.   Humor is a great way to both engage tough topics and disarm them at the same time.   You can hide behind your scars, or wear them as a mark of honor.    I prefer the latter course.

When the time comes to talk students about their grades, my best advice is honesty.   Tact is called for, of course.  If you alienate your students, there is no way they will be willing to listen to you.   Some people will take it well, and some won’t.   I’ve had students beg, bargain, and threaten me for telling them that they were failing.    For those willing to listen, I tell them what they will need to do to pass the next time:  whether it is just doing their homework or to re-learn their mis-learned math facts,  or figure out how to follow written directions.

To those students who thanked me for the wake-up call:   thank you.   You have demonstrated self-honesty and strength of character by you willingness to examine your mistakes.   You have learned from your mistakes, and that tells me more than anything that you are worth teaching.

 

 

…   And to the person who recently needed to tell me to “chill out” (and very nicely told me that I was acting like an asshole), thank you.   I know that wasn’t an easy conversation to have.  I value the honest assessment, and I think more of you rather than less because of it.   My sincere apologies for my behavior.