Finals Week Playlist 17, grading drama edition

Something that I was never warned about as a teacher was how dramatic grading a final can be.  As much as I can play up how important it is for students to have the option to fail, it doesn’t help to watch as they do.  I’m not quite as callous as I would let my teaching persona be… which is to say, I feel invested in my students lives.

Beyond the regular frustrations of grading there are also the almost marathon aspects of final grading.   There is a swell of last minute assignments, as well as the time pressure deadline of grading (in my case) comprehensive exams.   One test took me over 5 hours to grade.

There is also the part where I’m looking forward to a week where I don’t have to get up at 5 am to come in and teach.   So… lets just say, I’m ready to be done.

And I still am me.  I like my students more than most other people, but I’m at heart a misanthrope.   I don’t suffer fools gladly.  So now I give you this quarter’s grading playlist:

Enjoy you Summer, if you have the luxury of having time off.

Patience/Forgiveness

It seems only appropriate that we follow up last few weeks posts with a few notes about patience.

Patience in teaching isn’t just a virtue, it is an absolute necessity. A frustrated teacher sends all the wrong signals to your students: that they aren’t trying, that they are stupid, or that they aren’t worth teaching. As a teacher, learning to control that reaction for long enough to find a new explanation for a topic or to track where the student’s understanding stops.

There are reasons for students to have difficulties, and reasons other than academic ones for a teacher to get irritated. Both in school and outside of school, one thing that has perplexed me.  People constantly apologize for biology.  Needing to use a restroom is natural, so why apologize for it?  Everyone poops… they even made a book about it.  Just don’t fart at me, and we’re cool.

Similarly, people apologize for their brain chemistry. Anxiety, depression, autism, or executive function disorders…. so long as it doesn’t become a get-out-of-work-free-pass, all is well.  I can understand why people apologize here, even if I feel it is unnecessary.  Thoughts-as-symptoms can feel very personal, and behavior around them can not entirely feel like it is under control… and it certainly can feel abnormal compared to the perceived social “norm.”

It is with situational things that sometimes I need to periodically remind myself to be patient. This is where I need to remind myself that everyone’s journey is their own, and their own experience has got to guide/teach them.  Students will oversleep, traffic happens, and sometimes childcare falls through… but unless it becomes a persistent excuse that I stop believing that people haven’t changed their behavior to adapt to ongoing circumstances.

Why do I need to read the syllabus?

For students who are clearly telling tales in a futile attempt to get out of work… you are cheating nobody but yourself.  I just won’t let you turn in 5 weeks late homework after you didn’t show up or bother to email me.   Just sayin’.

But being a student means that you are still a human being. So I understand that things happen. Sometimes.

 

Service Culture Redux

We live in a culture that honors soldiers.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this. These are people who go into a job knowing that they could be shot to… “defend our liberties.”  Now we can discuss how attacking people overseas who hate us makes us safer. Many hate us for our politics, much of which seems to be about how we like to interfere in world politics and support regimes like the ever peaceful Israeli states (where is my sarcastic font?).  Policy makers inadvertently perpetuate cycles of violence and distrust. Differences in religion don’t help either, but for whatever reason everybody seems to think that God is on their side.

Also, most of the soldiers I know tell me that it is mostly getting too little sleep and too little pay to do boring and menial work.

And to be clear: thank you for your service.  You signed up to take risks for your country.  I have no problem with you fine folks… politicians are another matter entirely.  But now is not the time to open that can o’ worms.

So lets change gears and I’ll ask you: when was the last time you were surprised about hearing about a school shooting (in the US)? Teaching is not a profession without risk anymore.

Sometimes people tell me that teaching is a noble profession.  But I have also had friends ask me if I am nervous about a shooter coming to my school… and I admit I am. But I’ll stay because I love to teach, and that I do it well. Lets make no mistake though, schools are not off limits to mass murderers.

I would like to imagine a culture that honors teachers the same way that it honors soldiers. Can I get my teachers discount at the restaurant?  Or allowed to board a plane early? Can we have parades? Or people on the TV saying they support their teachers in service? Or asking for more money for schools? How about celebrating the families that have several generations of educators?

Imagine a world where literacy, art, and science are valued more than violence.

Imagine a world where we can explore ideas and cultures, without needing to be behind armed barricades.

Imagine a culture that celebrates intellect and invention as protectors of democracy, more than military might.

Imagine.

The importance of failure

“Failure can be the jet fuel to success.”

Some days are easy, some are not.

I say it frequently in my classes:   making mistakes is not failure, it is just part of the process.   The willingness to make mistakes and continue to try are hallmarks of great students.

As a teacher, it can be more complicated.  I continue to try, but do I consider my students who don’t pass the class failures?   Yes and no.   I know that there are different ways to reach these students.   Some require special handling, some mere encouragement, and others may lack some fundamental skills.  That is always part of the job.

Behavior problems are more of a problem.  A lot of mistakes stem not from skill deficits, but from social ones.  A common problem for adult teachers:  what do you do about the student who would rather talk through your class and learn from their friends than from you as a teacher.   This would be fine, except the friends in class don’t have a complete skillset either, and often is a distraction for more than them.   Depending on the situation, you may want to appeal to either the student who is asking questions of their friend, or the one answering them.   There is a time and a place.

Please tell me we are turning the corner...

Then there are the mistakes you make as a teacher.

We are only human, we make mistakes. As teachers, the sooner we acknowledge mistakes the better.  When teaching a skill, if I spot an error that I made it turns into a new teaching opportunity. “See how this happened, and what it will do to the work that follows?”

Beyond mistakes, failure as a teacher can mean two things.  First, failing a student who could have been helped but who wasn’t. Life is busy, and hard, and there are other students to care for, but all of the students need you. The other failure is the student who passes who doesn’t have the skills to succeed.  These are the ones who pass, and don’t deserve it.  They will be a burden to their future classes, and they move forward with a false sense of confidence in their abilities.

Making mistakes is not failure.  I hope my students make mistakes, and continue to learn from them.  I intend on not making it too easy for them until they move on.

 

Late edition Playlists

 

I’ve been out of touch for a while.   Quite a while… so here are some of the catch up videos I’ve been grading to for the past few quarters.

My winter quarter playlist was a little… angrier than some of my previous ones.   I blame the election.   Nothing like a Russian elected president to get my blood up.    This stuff is soothing to me.   Trust me.

 

Fall quarter was a little easier.   I was able to take some time to make a nice and easy playlist, with some old favorites along with some new ones.   I was much more optimistic.

 

 

More later…

Election Fatigue

I have been absent from my blog for a while.   There are a few reasons:   first, my scheduled writing time went away.   Also, every time I sit down to read and write I find myself assaulted with such awful discourse that it becomes too difficult to write.   I was tired of this election over a year ago… I even wrote an open letter to Donald Trump.

Part of being a teacher is trying to think and talk logically, offer other points of view, and teach others to think critically.   I have had no end of opportunities to do that over the past year.    But I am so tired… separating my personal feelings from my professional life.

My predictions:   if Hillary Clinton wins, there won’t be big changes.   Her main crime in most people’s minds is that she is a centrist.   If Trump wins, I think that good people will try to keep him from starting world war 3, and that his name will be attached to the “Trump Depression.”    But I won’t have to worry for my safety… mostly because I am a white man.   People of different color, faith, and women all would have to deal with a culture that will shift (quickly or slowly) to someplace hostile towards them.   I will keep fighting for critical thinking and reason regardless.

Whatever the outcome, the election will be done soon.   There will be fallout, but hopefully there will be room for more civil discussion.    Yes, that seems like a lot to ask.  I know that “civil” is not something that I can expect after the trajectory of this election, but I can hopefully stop the monitoring of this awful election.

In the meantime, I hope to be back to more regular postings soon.

Old Hat Tricks

I like to say that I have a Velcro brain, in that stuff tends to stick to it.  Being an experienced teacher, I find that I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for teaching, but I can focus more on it now that I have a complete-ish library of teaching materials.   I also have a regular venue for airing some of the stranger or frustrating pieces of teaching so it doesn’t stick around to haunt me…

There is a familiarity that comes with teaching when you have been doing it for a while.   It is simultaneously very comfortable, and a great deal of fun.   I have been teaching for about 6 years now, and I it is still the best and most rewarding work I have found.

Fall quarter brings this out of me especially.   It is the start of a new academic year and students are filled with hope and optimism, so I get to encourage their passion for learning.    More and more, I find that I have my tools for helping people learn.   Keeping my class entertained and engaged keeps them asking questions.  I can keep them coming back, and knowing that they have a safe community where they can get support.

I will admit that I watched other teachers struggle with burnout, and I wondered if that was where I was headed.   At least for this term, the answer is no… I love teaching too much, and I’m too damn good at it.

 

Also:  even though “Summer break” is fun to have (my classes unexpectedly canceled… welcome to the life of an adjunct!) I have missed teaching, blogging, and Zeus help me, I’ve even missed grading.

It’s good to be back to school.    Does anybody know of any Back-To-School tattoo deals?

Procrastination Station

I suppose I could apologize for being out of commission for the past month… but I don’t feel particularly guilty about letting this slide for a while.   Life has been busy, and I’m finally starting to see my way through to easier and better times.

I’ve missed my blog though.   This has been a weekly outlet for years.   Sooo…. what has been on my mind this week?

Procrastination.

Not original, I grant you.   So much has been said about procrastination, what is destructive about it and how to quit doing it.   I want to pause and consider procrastination though in a more positive light.

Most people could use a bit more time to relax in their life, and putting things off (however important) can give your brain a break.   Much of our life (especially in American culture) is built around some intense or non-realistic work-ethics:   work/study long and hard so you can achieve… whatever.    The downside of this is immediate.   Somehow, self-care turns into a selfish act.

Lazarus-long-Quote-2

Leisure and downtime are necessary,  in moderation.

When the pressure to return to work does take over, it also forces people to prioritize what is important.   “Don’t sweat the small stuff” may sound trite, but it is useful to trim the excess details.   Pressure can lead to some breakthroughs, although not always obviously.   What did you consider important in those last minutes?   What could you have done better?  Smoother?  How could you streamline your work for next time?

The problem that many people have isn’t in the act of taking some time away, but in our emotional reaction to our work.   Not every project is do-or-die, and feeling guilty about not working every free moment isn’t something that leads to making more progress on personal/professional goals.  There are minimum standards that you have to meet, but those are going to depend on your own life and needs.

So why do I bring this up on my teaching blog?

I bring it up because all students procrastinate to some degree or another.   I don’t believe a perfect student exists, nor a perfect teacher.   It is okay if a student can only squeak by on a topic or two because they needed to have more fun playing hooky for a while.   It is also okay if teachers don’t hand back student work immediately or reuse some old lesson plans because they needed to catch up on sleep (or playing hooky  for a while).

Just remember that when the dust settles, you have some things that you should learn from your procrastination.   Was it worth it?   What should your priorities be?   Did you enjoy getting back into the swing of things, or did you fantasize about never needing to do that again?   What are your real responsibilities?

My answer:  yes it is worth it.  My priorities:  family, career, and the pursuit of evil.

Now go forth and kick some ass.  In your own time, naturally.

 

P.S.   My priorities are rarely about editing and polishing this blog.   :p

Horoscopes for Spring Quarter (2016)

Spring break is winding to a close, and you know what that means!    Another fun filled quarter is just around the corner.   The time has come to put on the sunglasses, show up to class (hopefully not to hung over from the break… I’m not just speaking to the students), and start the process of learning anew.

For now:   here are your horoscopes for the next 12 weeks.

Aries (March 21 – April 20) 

I know you like to live in the moment, Aries.   You are someone who lives for now, which is nice… but the skeletons in your closet are starting to collaborate with each other, so it looks like it is time for some Spring cleaning.     Look at the promises you make, versus the promises you keep.     Do you think that maybe “Living in the now” may just be a way of avoiding those pesky obligations?

This term, keep up with your homework or suffer.

Taurus  (April 21 – May 21)

Springtime is the right time.   Love?  Check.  School goals?  Check.   Family?  Check.   Time to wait?   Nope.

Opportunities that come your way now may not come back, so keep alert.   Also, “perfect” opportunities are an evil lie sold by Wall Street… so take the risk (and the work) that goes with the reward.

Also,  a Libra is hatching a plot against you.   It’s kind of flattering, really.

Gemini (May 22 – June 21)

You know that feeling that you’ve missed something?   You are going to have that.   So check to see if there was another class on your schedule that you didn’t attend, or that you are ready for your exams, or that you are wearing pants.

Don’t look into the browser history of any Aquariuses.   There are some things you just can’t unsee.

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)

Cancer, I appreciate that you are taking the time to read this, but you just don’t have the time.

Run.   Run like your life depends on it.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

“Love without pain is like food without flavor” is something that you may or may not agree with, Leo.  But I can tell you this, you will need some variety in your life.  You are passionate about what you love, just keep doing a couple different things for contrast!    It is helpful to embrace some changes to keep things fresh for you.   This keeps those passions as a slow burn, instead of just a flash in the pan.

A Virgo is going to pelt you mercilessly with mixed metaphors.   Be ready.

Virgo (August 23 – September 23)

I know that Virgos are notorious for planning things to death.    There are two things to keep in mind with this:   you can plan things to death (thus sucking any spontaneity out of your life), and you can still be blindsided by events.

There aren’t enough contingencies in the world to account for your life this Spring.   Buckle up, buttercup, because this is going to be fun.   If you let it.

Avoid Aries holding syringes asking you to trust them.

Libra (September 24-October 23)

You know the saying that “God never gives you more than you can handle?”   As a working hypothesis, it is disproven by the number of suicides every day.   So here is the thing to consider:  you don’t have to handle things alone.   Also, it is fine to acknowledge that you aren’t good at everything, Libra.   I know that isn’t easy to admit, but it could save your life.

Seek out a Capricorn for some advice.   And some really, really good sex.   Seriously.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 22)

Your life this term is going to feel like you’re living in a fairy tale.   Not the Disney fairy tale.   There are going to be ideas that will abduct your consciousness, and run you through a thousand years of life… and you will discover that only a week has passed.   Your transformations will be profound, but only in how you perceive the world.

Also, avoid fairies.   They’ll eat you and wear your skin for boots.

Sagittarius (November 23 – December 21)

I know you had planned on taking it easier this quarter, Sagittarius, but the world has other ideas for you.   While your workload is going to be doable,  a lot of your education is going to happen outside of school.   You are going to learn some valuable lessons, if not always comfortable ones.

Also, don’t hide bodies in your trunk.   The police will look there.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 20)

Does life feel like a tango to you Capricorn?   Intense, then twisting away from you at the last moment?    It isn’t always about the forward progression, so don’t concern yourself with the number of steps forward and the steps back you have taken.   The joy is in the chase, the tension of push and pull, and in the passion of the moment.    Don’t worry about the grades, just shut up and dance.

Also,  a Virgo will probably make an astonishing offer to you.   Do you dare?

Aquarius (January 21 – February 19)

You are done.   I know that you feel like you have more to do, but the rest is just busy work.

Play is where you are going to shine.   Have fun, expand your horizons, and whatever you do don’t get caught.

Pisces (February 20 – March 20)

I know you consider yourself fairly worldly.   On the other hand, you haven’t had a quarter like this one.

So, if you find that you suddenly dreaming that you have been abducted by aliens, they were all cats, and they chased you because they thought you were a spider… don’t discount it as just a dream.   This quarter you may so much time in the realm of the bizarre that you may want to get a reality boost from some grounded friends.

Also,  avoid a Taurus with an axe.

 

Enjoy your quarter.  Stay sane-ish.

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.