Explaining Himself In Excruciating Detail

, , , , , , | Learning | May 26, 2020

I am a math teacher at an elementary school. In the late 1980s, I had this one fourth-grader who was very brilliant but sometimes took directions a little too literally. One day, I had the class do a special math problem together after the lesson, where they not only had to show their work as usual but also provide a written explanation on the back of the worksheet detailing the purpose of each step taken to solve the problem.

While the class was working, I noticed that the brilliant kid took a little longer to solve the problem than usual. When he turned it in at the end of class, I saw why.

He had written an overly-detailed explanation explaining literally everything he had done. It was so long and detailed that he actually took up not only the whole backside of the worksheet — most students needed only little more than half — but also about a dozen lines on a sheet of notebook paper.

I laughed to myself and gave him a four — the highest score possible — because he had solved the problem correctly and, while very long, his explanation was ”technically” correct. I told him that the next time I gave him a similar problem, he only needed to explain the solution the same way that his math book explained how to solve example problems.

It’s been over thirty years, and he has since graduated from a nearby Ivy League college and gotten a career in statistics. His son now attends my school and will be in my class for the 2020-21 school year.

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You Could Also Blame The Parents

, , , , , | Learning | May 24, 2020

Twenty sixth-grade students from a specialized interest school — in this case, aquaculture — are touring the library in general and the children’s area in particular.  

Most of the kids are well-behaved, but there are four boys who just don’t want to follow the rules. My colleagues and I are not supposed to chastise kids if they are with their (theoretically) responsible adults. We try to guide them back into the activities but they are determined to jump on tables, run up walls, and climb up on the backs of chairs to get at our windows.

I have had it. After I catch one of them trying to pull apart a large stuffed animal that is our mascot, I round the four of them up and march them into the little kids’ room.

“You will sit there, mouths closed, until your bus comes. And if I see you move again, I will get your names from your teachers and you will be banned.”

This is a pretty empty threat as I am a lowly junior librarian, but even my boss doesn’t say anything because she is sick of them, too. They aren’t perfect, but at least they aren’t destroying public property anymore and they aren’t putting any more sneaker treads on the walls.  

It is their teacher who ultimately gets my goat, though.

She comes over with a big smile.

Thank you for talking to them,” she says. “I was getting annoyed with them, too, but it wasn’t my place to say anything.”

I stare at her in disbelief, and then my boss says, “Why not?

“Oh,” says the teacher, “it’s your library, not mine. It’s not my place to discipline them in your space.”

“It might be our space,” says my boss, “but they are your students and your responsibility.”

The teacher just waltzes off with another group of barely-behaved children.

It was a long time before my boss ever allowed that school back for tours and programs.

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Why DID They Have Belly Buttons?

, , , , | Learning | May 23, 2020

I’m a private English tutor in Spain, and from time to time I help my students with other subjects they are also being taught in English.

During an intense lesson in science and the reproductive system:

Me: “So, do you remember what we said about Adam and Eve, and why they have a belly button?”

Student: “Yes, I do. I also asked about it in religion class.”

Me: “Oh, really? And what did they say?”

Student: “The nun kicked me out!”

I high-fived him. Hard not to laugh! Question authority, little man!

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Sometimes Winging It… Works

, , , , , | Learning | May 22, 2020

Back in high school, I was the type of student who procrastinated and often did my homework at the last possible minute.

One day in class, at the end of the week, we were put into pairs, given an opinion on a topic, and then told we’d be debating for our opinion in two weeks, as another group had gotten an opposite opinion on the same topic. During the following week, we were to research our topic, find points to argue for our opinion, and together plan some sort of strategy. Every group had been given a few papers on their topic, but it was up to each group to find out more.

Unfortunately, I got a cold for a week and a half and stupidly did not look up anything, as I completely forgot about the assignment. Come Friday, upon entering the classroom, my mind was flooded with the memory of papers shoved into the bottom of my bag, my partner and I sitting together, and the deadline of today, the second of two weekly lessons with that teacher.

I more or less rushed over to my partner, asking her if she’d found anything, and her face said it all; she also hadn’t looked anything up. After asking around, we found out that we and our opponents would be the last to debate; everyone else got done during class earlier that week.

Fishing up the papers from two weeks before, we began hastily scrabbling for any information that would stick to our brains, when we looked up and saw the other group looking through their papers, pointing at some words, and discussing with each other. It was at that moment we knew we were screwed, and that our teacher would probably reprimand us for not doing anything.

Eventually, our teacher entered the classroom and everyone took a seat. She asked the two remaining groups to come up, and we solemnly made our way to one of two tables set up in the front of the classroom, ready to get an a**-kicking and a stern lecture on doing your homework.

The topic we’d been given was about prenatal care, and more specifically about screening pregnancy; my partner and I were for screening, while the other group was against it.

We both realized they had studied the subject, and they more or less took the lead in the debate. We did our best trying to lift up our opinion with what little we’d managed to remember from our short read-through, but we knew it would eventually turn into us going in a circle, repeating the same facts.

I somehow got into how a screening might tell if a fetus was at risk for a birth defect, which then delved into abortion, with them strongly making their case that abortion was bad, and thus screening was bad. It was then, when I knew we had nothing else left, that I pulled this line out of my a**:

“I’m not saying I stand for abortion, but I stand for women to have the choice and chance to prepare for a baby who might be born with a defect.”

That apparently threw them off, because they just stared silently at us and had nothing to say back.

We got a little applause from the rest of the class, and our teacher asked the class which one of the groups the rest of our classmates thought had made the stronger case on the topic, and they actually picked mine and my partner’s, pointing out my line as the “winning argument.”

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Presenting A Confusing Climate

, , , , | Learning | May 21, 2020

During my junior year of high school, my school decided to invite a scientist of some sort that studied the effects of climate change to come to talk to all of us. Sounds cool, right? That’s what we all thought, especially since they took up an entire class period’s worth of time for it, but we were all so wrong. This presentation went wrong on so many levels.

For starters, I’m not sure where the presenter was from, but he had a very thick accent and monotone voice and that, combined with the echoey-ness of the gym my whole school was crammed into, meant that we could barely make out a third of what he was saying.

Second, of the words we could understand, a lot of it was jargon that was quite a bit above most of our high-school brains and he had complete paragraphs on his slides you could barely read from a distance that also used a lot of the same jargon.

The most interesting part of the presentation was when the guy’s slides stopped working and IT had to come out to troubleshoot.

The next day, the administration apologized to us and praised us for being so good throughout the assembly. I’m still honestly not sure if they realized half of us fell asleep during it, which is why we were so “good.”

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