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Stories from school and college

Making Learning Even Harder

, , , , , | Learning | August 26, 2021

When I started student teaching, I had this site supervisor from the district who would frequently come in to observe and give feedback to student teachers from the school. She had a philosophy that if she told someone that they were doing a good job when they were not, it was not helpful. I completely agree that giving constructive feedback is crucial, but the supervisor took it to the extreme. Here are a few examples.

My students were doing a round-robin share among their tables.

Supervisor: “[My Name], you need to walk around with a purpose and ask these students questions during their share time. Engage with them; you are not doing it enough.”

During the next share time, I asked a table some questions to guide the conversation.

Supervisor: “Now you’re engaging with them too much.”

Another time, I was pulling a small group and needed the students to listen quietly to me for a minute so I could give directions. I told the students, “Shhh,” but I did not do so in a harsh tone at all, and that was a way my mentor teacher frequently got the students quiet.

After the group, my supervisor approached.

Supervisor: “You can’t say, ‘Shhh,’ to students. That’s very rude.”

And my absolute favorite incident happened during an individual meeting with the supervisor over lunch.

Supervisor: “You have to get over your anxiety and be more confident. Why aren’t you being more confident?”

Me: “I feel like I’m not doing a good job.”

Supervisor: “I’ll be honest; you’re not.”

She gave no explanation as to why she said what she did. No “You’re learning, so there is room to improve” or anything like that. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, as I was furious at this point. However, she was yelling at me for my anxiety disorder and for struggling in the classroom.

In the end, among other reasons, I decided to withdraw from student teaching for that year. I completed it at a different district the following year, where the people giving me feedback were more constructive and weren’t constantly yelling at me. I ended up doing extremely well and received excellent recommendations from my university supervisor and mentor teacher.

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You Can’t Cheat Science!

, , , , , , , , , | Learning | August 24, 2021

When I was in grad school, one of my colleagues in my lab worked as a teaching assistant for a certain undergraduate class. Students in this class were notorious for cheating, and one of the ways they cheated was to collect their graded exams, change one of the answers, and submit it for a re-grade, claiming that that the teaching assistant had neglected to give them full credit for the answer.

My colleague was lamenting to some of us at lunch about how her student submitted a question for a re-grade, but she knew there was no way she had misgraded his answer to begin with.

Colleague: “I know he erased his answer and changed it. I mean, I graded fifty exams, so I don’t remember for sure, but there’s no way I wouldn’t have given that answer full credit. He has to be cheating!”

Me: “But you can’t prove it.”

Colleague: “No, and that’s what’s so frustrating.”

Me: “Can I see the paper?”

She showed me the paper. Right away, I noticed that there was a spot where the student’s pencil mark intersected with the teaching assistant’s red grading pen.

Colleague: “See? I can’t prove whether he wrote his answer before or after I graded the paper.”

Me: “We have microscopes.”

My colleague’s face lit up. She took the paper to one of our fancy lab microscopes, and even at ten times magnification, she could see the student’s pencil mark clearly ON TOP of her red pen. She took a picture using the microscope and submitted it to the professor, and the student eventually admitted to cheating. Science for the win.


This story is part of our Best Of August 2021 roundup!

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Read the Best Of August 2021 roundup!

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Double Standards Don’t Help Anyone Succeed

, , , , , | Learning | August 22, 2021

I was in fourth or fifth grade when this happened. I’m a girl, and at this time, I was also dealing with what would later be diagnosed as high-functioning autism. As a result, I had a really hard time interacting with my classmates. I did my best to learn what kind of behaviour was appropriate in different situations, but I found it to be very difficult, because the rules kept changing around depending on the individuals who were involved. 

One bright winter day, my classmates and I were playing King of the Hill on a big snowdrift in the schoolyard. The class bully kept winning, and I found it unfair, because he was so much bigger and stronger than the rest of us, and I thought he should give someone else a go instead of just kicking off anyone who tried to make an attempt to get to the top. This inevitably escalated into a fight between me and the bully, because I thought that the same rules applied to all children and had not yet grasped that girls were not supposed to fight. 

We ended up in an empty classroom with our teacher. It’s important to note that we were both chubby children, but [Class Bully] was tall and broad while I was short and squat. I’d been bullied for being fat for years, while no one had ever dared to say anything to [Class Bully].

Teacher: “Can you please tell me what happened?

Class Bully: “[My Name] said I was fat and to get off the hill!”

Me: “That’s not what happened! I told him he should let someone else have a chance to be King! I just said he’s as big as two people and it wasn’t fair!”

[Class Bully] started crying, which was usually what he did when he was being called out for his behaviour and there was an adult present.

Teacher: “[My Name], I’m very disappointed in you. You know bullying isn’t acceptable at this school!”

In fact, bullying was very much acceptable at this school; it just depended on who was doing the bullying.

Me: “But I wasn’t bullying him.”

Teacher: “You can’t go around calling other children fat. That sort of thing hurts. I’m going to have to call your parents about this.”

Me: “I didn’t say he was fat; I said he was big!”

Teacher: “It means the same thing, and it’s very hurtful. You need to be more considerate of others, [My Name]. See how sad you’ve made [Class Bully]?”

Me: “But the other children call me fat all the time; how is that any different? Why am I not allowed to say it?”

Teacher: “Well, we can’t always say everything we think. Now, apologize to [Class Bully] and then go home and think about what you’ve done.”

In my mind, I hadn’t done anything different than what the other kids were already doing to me without consequences, but in my little mental flowchart of human interaction, I carefully noted down, “Other children may be mean to me, but I may not be mean to them.”

This, and a hundred other little incidents like it, led to me, a few years later, being scolded by my teachers for not speaking up in class and not standing up for myself. 

It was very, very confusing until I reached my twenties and finally got a therapist who explained to me that I was not the stupid one.

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No Buying Your Way Out Of This One

, , , , , , , | Learning | August 20, 2021

[Student] is in our engineering course. He doesn’t listen to anything the lecturer says, doesn’t make notes, and is often late. Halfway through the year, he brags that he hasn’t done a single assignment himself. He either paid someone to write them or bought them online.

As someone who struggles daily, this infuriates me. Just because he has money, why should he have the easy life?!

After another bragging session a few weeks on, I speak to my professor, who tells me sadly that if there is no proof and the plagiarism isn’t evident, they can’t do anything about it. But “these people never get far.”

I take that as some meaningless platitude and try my best to avoid [Student] altogether.

The rest of the year, I struggle through the course getting average marks. [Student] gets 100% every time. Right at the end of the academic year, this happens:

Lecturer: “Good news, everyone! We have decided to scrap the last assignment.”

Cheers come from the class.

Lecturer: “But we will be having a test, instead.”

Cue lots of groans.

Lecturer: “Don’t worry. We devised a special one, just for this class.”

We all crammed like crazy. [Student] was particularly panicking. When we got to the test, it was incredibly easy, with basic answers from the coursework, just simple understanding questions. Everyone finished it in minutes… all apart from [Student].

He got a redo, failed, then had a retest date, and he failed that, too. He couldn’t pass without the exam and ended up repeating the whole year.


This story is part of our Best Of August 2021 roundup!

Read the next Best Of August 2021 roundup story!

Read the Best Of August 2021 roundup!

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Word Problems Require Weird Solutions

, , , , , , | Learning | August 18, 2021

I am a private tutor. I have given my fourth-grade student the following question: “Buses need to be rented for twenty-seven children going on a field trip. Each bus can take twelve children in addition to the driver. How many buses must be rented?”

Student: “I say two buses.”

The answer is supposed to be three.

Me: “How did you get two?”

Student: “Because it’s too expensive otherwise.”

Me: “Wait, what?”

Student: “Otherwise, you’d get three buses, but the third bus is only going to have three kids in it. That’s a waste of a bus.”

I burst out laughing. My student is giggling as well now.

Student: Or, how about two buses, and we’ll strap some chairs at the top so the other three kids can sit up there.”

Me: *Recovering* “That doesn’t seem very safe!”

Student: “Right. So it’s only for the bad ones. The naughty kids have to sit on the top of the bus while the good kids can sit inside. It’s cheaper and better for everyone!”

We drew a model of her bus prototype after she completed all the word problems. I love this kid.

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