Sadism: Reflections on being a Teacher

“I only hurt you because I care.”   Every sadist, ever… also every teacher.

I have said before that teachers all engage in a special form of schadenfreude.  I love to make my students think, and push them beyond their comfort point to where they are questioning what they think they know, or think in entirely new and novel ways.  And I love doing it over, and over again.

This is part of the job of being a teacher.  You have to push people in order for them to grow.  The only question is how painful does the process really need to be.  This leads to the inevitable question: does being a teacher make me a sadist, or does being a sadist make me a better teacher?

While this question remains open for many instructors, I think that it is a truth that it can certainly help.  At this point, I also want to point out that there is a lot misunderstood about sadists. Most that I know don’t enjoy inflicting undifferentiated pain, they enjoy consent. Pain is a great teacher, but in many ways it also marks great progress.

“No pain, no gain.”

Let’s examine the parallels between personal trainers and sadists for a moment.   Every fitness trainer and physical therapist I know understands that pain is an indicator of progress.  They will measure how much their clients (read: victims) can take as a measure of their ability.  And as soon as their disciples have crossed the threshold that certain exercises are no longer challenging, they will devise new and different things to challenge their students.  The exact same thing is true of all the sadists or Dom/mes that I know.

There is also the symbiotic relationship we have with students. They know that the process of learning is uncomfortable, and yet they continue to sign up to learn. For many this is simply because the discomfort of ignorance is worse than the discomfort of learning.  There are others who want to learn just for the sake of learning… and these delightful perverts make my job a delight.  No matter how much work I pile in front of them, no matter what details I pick on, no matter what grueling course I have them learn they keep coming back for more.

I love these students who never use their safeword.

And for a final parallel: in (consenting) sadist/masochist relationships it is the masochist who holds the power.   They can make everything stop simply by saying no and leaving… but they enjoy the process as well.  The sadist provides imagination and shapes the scene.  The same thing is true of teaching a class.  Students show up because they want something.  Sometimes it isn’t fully defined, but teachers will help them find it.

I get to help students find themselves.

So there we have it… teachers have to have a certain willingness to push people out of their comfort zones.  But in order for us to do that, the students have to want it.

Oh how I love my job.

 

Midterm misanthropy: I’m not with Stupid

I wish stupidity hurt.

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” (Sam Clemens)

To be clear, I wish I didn’t get hurt by the entitled and ignorant actions of others… I think those consequences should be limited to the perpetrators themselves. Unfortunately, their stupidity can cause grief far beyond themselves… the best the rest of us can do is try to locate a minimum safe distance from the havoc they cause.

This quarter has been a welcome respite: I have great students who seem to be taking responsibility for their own actions. Excuses have been reasonable, and (so far) extended absences have been accompanied by doctor’s notes.

Which means that most of my misanthropy has been directed at people I don’t get to fail, per se. There is a world of difference between naïve and stupid. I love teaching because I get to give information and skills to those who want it. If only I could find a way to disarm wilful ignorance and motivated reasoning outside of class, I would be fantastically happy.  Ironic that I understand why so many misguided evangelists me promise that I will go to hell as an atheist… I understand that they are engaging in a type of wish fulfillment fantasy.

I understand that my wishing it were so won’t make it happen, but I think it is fun to fantasize anyway:

  • I wish that people who honk less than 1 second after a light changes would have their car stall in that moment.
  • … or need to pay an “unnecessary honking” tax.
  • … or be afflicted by a sudden fear of car horns.
  • I have a special wish for rabid anti-vaxx folks to be bitten by a rabies infected critter.  (Dually ironic because the first treatment is get a rabies vaccine or become literally rabid).
  • … I’ll add this treatment to folks who abuse their pets… just let them know after the treatment window had closed.
  • … and for the folks who shield child abusers/rapists (yes, I’m looking at you Pope Frankie).
  • How about we castrate the self labeled “incel” bros.  Maybe less testosterone would make them less misogynistic…
  • … and lets take away their internet access.
  • … and if that doesn’t work, I’m sure they would make excellent fertilizer.

I will not kill people and wear their skins… I will not kill people and wear their skins…. I will not kill people and wear their skins….

 

 

 

Midterm Misanthropy, Spring Edition!

Spring term is wearing on, in more ways than one.

At the beginning of the school year in Fall, both students and teachers have a lot of ideas and a lot of energy.   A little bit of time takes the shine off of those lofty ideas, and after months and months of schoolwork (of varying quality) and low sleep a summer vacation seems like a wonderful plan.

Summer break is still weeks away for us though.   Students are getting tired, and so am I.  There are some issues that come up in every class.  For example, no matter how well thought out my lessons or exercises, some students seem to want to learn by osmosis rather than practice.  It is also an ongoing frustration when I have to remind some of my students that they are in college, and I expect adult levels of work (and communication).

Change isn’t easy so I have some helpful, if non-conventional ways of helping my students to learn.

  • I would like to have obituary announcements for my recently deceased red pens.    “Sadly, it was killed mid-test by a gang of rogue students bent on free expression in mathematics.”
  • Some students have trouble doing the reading.   I think having a set of stocks with a reading shelf could be a nice addition to the classroom.
  • Many students will turn in their homework on pages torn from spiral notebooks, with ragged messy edges.   I think lighting the edges on fire to remove the mess would be appropriate.   Although this brings up an etiquette question:   do scorch marks on homework send the right message to the student?
  • I think a small black hole would be nice for class, especially for students who don’t show their work.   Spaghettification is educational, isn’t it?

 

spagettification

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

Math or Crucifixion?

This was a previously written and redacted, because it was a bit offensive.  I decided to … resurrect it … because it was apropos for Easter weekend.    Please remember, this is meant as comedy.

Also, if you have a good answer to the question:   Why is it called “Good Friday” if it is the day of remembrance for someone’s torture and death?  (Answer in the comments!)

Here we have it:   the comparison between math and crucifixion


Some days my sense of humor gets the better of me, and today is one of those days.  I was having a conversation with a colleague about teaching linear algebra.   The subject matter is interesting but with many details to keep track of, and we got to the point where the students usually say “I just don’t know where to start.”   And many found it excruciating.   One of us (probably me) had a moment where instead of saying they found it excruciating, they found it like being crucified.    Something about this was incredibly funny to us.

Yes, I know some people will be offended by this.     If so, I will remind you that *you* installed that particular button.    If you feel you may be offended**, then skip this post.

 

  • The process of crucifixion is an act of torture that is meant set an example for others.
  • (Linear) algebra uses examples that are torturous.
  • One involves a painstaking process to things started, in the other they just nail you to something.
  • It seems excruciating at the start, but it gets worse before the end.
  • If you do it right, you will end up killing trees
  • It seems beautiful from a distance, but the closer you get to it you realize how messy it truly is.
  • Both will yield “Cross-Products”
  • There are fanatics who will practice these things to this very day.   There are also religious zealots.
  • Orthogonal Transformations.

Yes, it is a horrible image, I know.   It’s funny if you are me ***.

 

**     If you are offended because you are of a Christian or Catholic faith, then you can be both titillated and offended, then you can practice forgiveness.

***   If you somehow missed/ignored ALL of my warnings, then I don’t take responsibility. Also, if I believed in hell, then I’d probably go there.

In the red zone…

This term has been rough for a couple of reasons, and scheduling has been one of the main difficulties.   This blog is one of my methods of teaching self care, and timing has gotten weird. I find that I’m behind on both my grading and my sleep.  I’m hopeful that time will be working out better soon.

Things have been busy this quarter, I’ve found myself swamped.  I have had to get back to basics when it comes to teaching.

For some teachers “back to basics” means working with rote assignments, or teaching from lesson plans, or evaluating their scaffolding.   For me it means something different:   Watching horror movies while grading.

After classes, it takes a few minutes to sort out assignments and cue up the movie.   As the ominous credits start to roll, I set up my rubric.   I can usually grade an entire set of midterm exams in a feature horror film.

I like big brains and I cannot lie...

Torture, rivers of red, disaster… all made better by simple cinematic violence.

I don’t know how else to put it, but there is nothing that quite puts errors on paper into perspective as watching someone being dismembered on screen.   Something about bone chilling terror, apocalyptic disasters, and pain, help the process of grading and giving constructive feedback so much easier.

I do sometimes wonder why this is.   It could be that perspective of cinematic disaster makes seeing academic disasters easier.   Or perhaps it is comforting to think that the shallow (if pretty) characters on screen are getting bloodied for their insipid behavior.  Probably its just my taste for horror and the macabre that I don’t get to indulge inside the classroom.

Students:   I love you all, but sometimes I need to stab your tests until it stops hurting.  I’ve already gone through three red pens this quarter.    And be glad you don’t have to watch me grade… that would be more terrifying than J-Horror.

Now we are in the last few days before finals, which means that students and teachers alike are stressed out…

… so take some time…

… find your happy place…

… and breathe.

The quarter will be over soon.   Spring break is just around the corner, and a new quarter can begin the cycle anew.

Donald Trump

Dear Donald,

I was going to start this letter with the request that you shut the fuck up.   Instead, I think I want you to keep talking.   You see, the more you talk the stupider you look.   I want to say that you represent the worst of America.   You have money to spend, and yet you are morally bankrupt.   You are a hateful and bigoted man, and your jingoist speeches highlight your attitudes.   I was briefly concerned about you, now I just pity you.

Willful ignorance offends me.   I think that your profound lack understanding of complex issues would be a disaster for this country.   I’m a teacher because I want to fix ignorance, while you seem to celebrate it.

Don’t expect me to address anything else to you.  I don’t care for adolescents of any age.

Sincerely,

Colin Leetham

Founder of the Evil League of Teachers

 

P.S.  Donald, I changed my mind.   Shut the fuck up.

As a reminder:  The views expressed by the Evil League of Teachers do not reflect those of our employers, friends, family, or any other membership organizations.

Midterm Misanthropy Madness!

It is the middle of the quarter, and I have already burned through 3 red pens.   3.  Red.  Pens.

Imagine the number of comments, mistakes, and the sheer volume of … creative … math that I have had to wade through to go through that much red ink.    This is just the grading portion of teaching this quarter.  I’ve also had a bumper crop of over-participators, students who feel that a calculator is a right rather than a privilege, and a few folks who defy description.

Midterm misanthropy has set in.

Now don’t get me wrong.   I love teaching and I love my students, but there are a few things that would improve my mood.

  • A big red stamp that just says “NOPE” that I can use on repeated mistakes.
  • I need a mute button for some of my over-participators.
  • … and my younger students who don’t understand this isn’t high school.
  • … and my chatty students who don’t realize that when I’m lecturing, they need to stop relating drinking stories.
  • … and the people on the ferry who asked me if I speak “white”  (True story.  It didn’t end well for him.)
  • Maybe a cattle prod instead of a mute button.
  • More red pens.
  • A set of stocks* as a teaching tool to get people to stop trying to add denominators together.
  • “Force choke” the next person who asks me to teach them the ENTIRE lesson of the day they were absent.  (My sympathy is with Darth Vader at this point in my life).
  • Banana spiders.   For educational purposes.
  • Access to all of the student’s Junior High School yearbooks.

Petting zoo

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

 

*  Not the financial type of “stocks”.   Think old-time village square “stocks”.

Fall Frenzy

It begins.

Fall term is starting… the air is crisp in the morning, hinting at cold days to come.   Already, all of my Summer attire is put away.   What has taken its place is an incredible crush of last minute revisions to classes, syllabi, homework, and trying to finish up Summer projects!   Amid the training sessions,  onboarding meetings, and early fall celebrations, it pays being organized and taking out some time for self care.

Which is unfortunate, really.  Where did the time go?

The beginning of every quarter always seems to have a tidal wave of work attached to it, but Fall quarter especially so.   Why?  Perhaps the shorter days?  The crop of new students?  The implementation of new programs or policies (often well-intentioned, but not always useful)?  Whatever the cause, Fall term is crazy.   There is a lot of hustle and bustle during the first few weeks, with a lot of work to take care of before things start to settle down.

16-Tons

That’s all right, I didn’t need more than 5 hours of sleep regularly anyway.

So far, classes have been good to me.   My classes seem to have good personalities, and my grading pile is small.   I only have 13 things to plan and write before Monday.  Plus proofreading.  Plus photocopying.   Plus 100 new names to remember.

Pleasure reading?  Oh yeah, I can add things to my fun reading pile.  Maybe I’ll get to them after finals.

Oh by the way, unemployment decided to mess up your claims for the past two weeks before classes.    As an adjunct, I won’t get paid until mid-October.   I have at least 2 weeks of 14 hour days planned, before things will start to smooth out and calm down.  But in the meantime, my bank account is getting thin.

I love my job, but parts of your psyche twist under these pressures.

I love to teach.   The rewards are incredible, watching people learn.

I just know that I’ll feel better once I collect my first paycheck.  I also remember why I’m evil…

I’ll also be plotting the downfall of mankind.    In all of my ample free time.

Snark Week

Some weeks I should get an award for self restraint.    If I can keep this up through the next election cycle, I will call it as one of my miracles on my path to sainthood.

…but I so long to sink my fangs into someone or something stupid from time to time.

One of the things that was going well last quarter was I had very few people making excuses.   Somehow, I seem to be making up for lost time this summer.   I didn’t mean my “Student Excuse Bingo” to be predictive.  What the actual fuck?  I shouldn’t score a bingo until at least two weeks go by.

I can deal with student excuses.  That is one reason why I have a syllabus… “Sorry you forgot there was a class, did you check the website to see what was due?   No?   Then I’m afraid you are out of luck.”  I suppose it make sense that I’m feeling put upon this quarter, since last quarter was so exceptionally good.   Honestly, I’ve got good students this quarter… there is just more drama somehow.  One of the few reasons I like teaching is that there people are trying to make themselves smarter and more capable.

What I have been having more trouble with is people outside of school.

People at bus stops.  People on the buses.  People in the store.   People, people, everywhere!  Seriously, who the hell brings a yapping dog on a standing room only bus?   Why is it so hard to drive down the road without texting and running other drivers off the road?   Is it really necessary to block an entire aisle at the store while you browse types of soup?    Or do you expect me to listen to you while you scream at everyone why you think Obama is responsible for SCOTUS (do you understand there are different branches of government)?

*grumble*mumble*Grump!*stupid*

Evil geniuses, it is time to unite and take over the world!  Join the ranks of my minions for adventure and benefits!  Loose the battle drones!  Set up the education camps.  (I say education, because frankly we are just undoing the damage of apathy and inane media misinformation).  Let the smarter ones live.  If nothing else, a culling the population will make traffic easier.

Okay, deep breath.  I haven’t hurt anyone, despite my general attitude of stabbiness.  I don’t even push the big, shiny, personal buttons that people show me.

 

Don’t think you’re safe yet, though.   Stupidity just makes my fangs itch.

Evil League of Teachers, now EXTRA STABBY!

Many changes are incremental: one, two, three…

Some changes are more transformative: one, two, chrysalis, butterfly…

Evil Butterfly

I’m hoping that the Evil League of Teachers is out of it’s plodding phase, and is moving into its chrysalis.   Soon, we can be a beautiful butterfly, spreading doom even as we pollinate young minds.   Which is to say, I’m making some changes to our site that will hopefully transform us into a powerhouse of EVIL!   READY FOR WORLD DOMINATION!!!  Just after I get my coffee.

Some things will never change, of course.   Students occasionally learn their lessons the hard way after they discover that procrastination is not a winning strategy.  And teachers learn from their students (hopefully) new winning strategies for their students.  Which is to say that learning isn’t always easy, and requires a healthy dose of humility from time to time.   Which sucks, because I’m not especially humble.

Which is why I’m here a the end of the week, and I’m feeling extra STABBY.

Partially because I’m being pushed out of my comfort zone (which is good), but also for more personal reasons.*   But I will say, this is about growing.  Busting out of caterpillar status, and moving on to be a scary evil butterfly!  And now I’m going to lay this belabored butterfly metaphor to rest.

So you can continue to count on continued things like finals week playlists, midterm misanthropy, student and teacher horoscopes, as well as our going critical (critical thinking) segments.  We can look forward to some new things like confessions from an ex-corporate whore, more teaching advice from a dominatrix, and maybe (let’s say it softly) a new blogger or two? The Evil League of Teachers marches on,  with a new look,  weapons-grade sarcasm, and extra stabbiness!

Now go forth, educate, and use your powers for whatever the hell you want to… they are your powers.

 

 

*Honestly, I don’t like it when the people I love get sick, and there is nothing I can do to help them feel better.   It’s a kind of helpless feeling.   Also, migraines suck.