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.