Something Doesn’t Add Up Here

, , , , , | Learning | August 7, 2020

When I was in middle school, my math classes required a graphing calculator. My older brother and I were both math geeks, so he showed me how to use the “programs” feature of the calculator to do some cool stuff — not related to class.

Eventually, we learned the quadratic formula in class. After finishing the unit and passing the quiz, I had the bright idea to create a calculator program to do the formula for me. I then showed the program to my teacher, expecting the teacher to be impressed by my ingenuity, but instead, the teacher told me I wasn’t allowed to do that. I tried to point out that the mere fact that I had created the program was evidence that I had mastered the formula, but my teacher wouldn’t hear it. So, no time-saving shortcuts for me.

Looking back on it now, I wonder if the teacher didn’t believe I had created the program myself, but I’m still annoyed; as I said before, I had already passed the test on the formula itself, and using my calculator for the formula should have been no different than using it for basic arithmetic.

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Rowing Your Way To An Entire Mess

, , , | Learning | August 6, 2020

The professor in this is one of my favorites to this day. I took many of his classes. He was my mentor, gave great advice, was funny, and made me strive to be the best I could be, and I visited him a few times in grad school to catch up. But this one story still gives me anxiety to think about.

In my junior year, I take [Professor]’s class that requires all students to go on a mandatory field trip as a group during spring break. However, I am attending university under two separate scholarships, one academic and one athletic for rowing. Every year, spring break is dedicated to three-a-day practices and is extremely mandatory; it’s a big deal.

I approach [Professor] on the first day of the semester after he speaks to the class about what to expect for the required field trip.

Me: “[Professor], I’m really sorry but I can’t do the field trip. I have spring break training every year and it’s mandatory. Can we find an alternative option?”

Professor: “Then you’ll get an incomplete in the class.”

Me: “…”

Professor: “…”

Me: “I… I’m not really sure what you want me to do here. I can’t go, and this class is required to graduate. I can’t have an ‘incomplete.’ But I can’t miss spring break because of my athletic scholarship.”

Professor: “Can’t you talk to your coaches? They need to know that this field trip is essential.”

Me: “With all due respect, so is spring break training. It’s the final race prep before racing season begins and because it’s such a team sport, if one person misses, it messes everything up.”

It doesn’t matter a ton, but the position I usually sit in the boat sets the rhythm and pace for the whole boat, and I try to explain that to him. Also, for those thinking, “Well, the field trip will set you up for your career,” I already know I don’t want to go into that particular field, and I am going to an additional five-week field course this summer anyway, also required in order to graduate in that major.

Professor: “What if you take this class next year and take the field trip then?”

Me: “That’s the same issue; we have spring break training every year. And I’ll be a senior so that would be even worse to miss.”

Professor: “Well, then I need you to ask your coaches to bend the rules for this. This is extremely important.”

I agreed to ask but warned him it would be a no-go. I did ask earnestly because I respected him and knew I was missing out on something valuable and fun, but I was right about their response.

Thankfully, after some back and forth between [Professor] and my coaches, he agreed to let me skip the field trip and assigned me an independent project that I would need to turn in before finals in order to avoid an “incomplete” in the class. All seemed well. My team had a great racing season — my boat placed first in conference championships — and I dove into the project.

Fast forward to the end of the year. I turned in the project with plenty of time for the professor to grade it before grades were due. Then, I waited. And waited.

As the deadline was approaching and I saw my other professors posting their grades, I still saw my grade for [Professor]’s class listed as “incomplete.” I bugged him and he assured me that he could change it after the deadline passed, and it wouldn’t matter in the long run if it said “incomplete” for a week or so. So, I stopped pestering.

Then, a few days after the deadline, when I was already home for the summer, I got a stern email from the university saying I had lost my academic scholarship because I had an “incomplete” in a class. Turns out, even just having that there on my record for a short time triggered a cascade of problems.

After a panicked email, [Professor] quickly posted my grade and apologized because he didn’t know that would happen with my scholarship. But after several weeks and calls to the administration, no one could help me sort out why I wasn’t able to get my scholarship reinstated.

I eventually called my coaches and had to escalate the issue up in the athletics department because I would not be able to cover costs without both scholarships. I had to get them to intervene and get someone to actually fix my issue in administration and get the records and scholarship cleared.

Say what you want about whether college athletics are overrated or not, but I was grateful to have those resources to help me. To this day, I still don’t know what the holdup was. Maybe it was because it was summer vacation, but that’s not a great excuse when a student is uncertain about whether they can return and pay tuition and rent in the fall.

Thankfully, everything worked out and [Professor] presented me my diploma the next year. He even wrote in my grad school recommendation letter, “She excelled in school while being a varsity athlete; imagine what she can do if she isn’t rowing.”

I took it as a compliment and commendation, but still, it seemed like tough love. Also, I’m still rowing and have even been a coach at times. You shouldn’t have to compromise your passion for your career… though I recognize that’s said from a place of privilege!

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Teachers Aren’t The Only Ones Teaching Lessons

, , , , , , , , | Learning | August 5, 2020

I was in an advanced class in high school; we were supposed to be the “smart” guys.

The new teacher had the habit of stomping into the classroom for every lesson. He would noisily stomp onto the short podium and forcefully throw his books on the teacher’s desk. I assume he did that to assure he got our attention.

The class quickly became fed up with the teacher’s repeated displays. Some of the students moved the teacher’s desk so the front legs were just barely on the front portion of the podium.

When the teacher next arrived, he did his usual attention-getter, making plenty of noise and throwing his books on the desk. The front of the desk fell off the podium, and the angle caused his books to slide off to the floor. None of the students laughed. All stared at the teacher.

The expression on the teacher’s face was priceless. He looked at the staring faces and shouted, “Who did that?”

There was no answer, just more stares. He then raised the desk back to its proper position and went on with the lesson. He never tried the stomping and throwing again.

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Lack Of Empathy Trumps Anxiety… Or Reality

, , , , , , | Learning | August 4, 2020

We all have that one teacher: the teacher that is completely horrible, has no empathy for your situation, and just does everything to make your life a living Hell. I had one of those. 

She was the type of teacher who would assign a lot of homework every day. It didn’t matter if it was the first day of school or the day before leaving for Thanksgiving break, Christmas vacation, or Easter vacation. Not only that, but we all also had huge projects to do every month. Papier-mâché a planet, create a dragon for Chinese new year, even a complete project of one of the fifty states. She also made plays that we would have to perform on top of that.

The worst part was that she would assign the homework and then teach us about it the next day, so we had to figure it out before we were actually taught it.

I was a special needs student, so I was only supposed to have a set amount of homework every night. She still expected me to do all of it, no ifs, ands, or buts. If I didn’t, I would still have to do it the next day for one letter grade less. My parents complained; she didn’t care. Cue anxiety attacks.

The last straw came in the second week of June. We were cleaning out our desks one Friday when she announced that she had tonight’s homework: two sheets of English, a sheet of math, and a sheet of science.

That’s right; she assigned homework on the last day of school. And once again, it was stuff we hadn’t even learned yet. Also, we had already turned in our textbooks the previous day so we were up a creek without a paddle.

Here’s another thing. We were at an American elementary school on a US Air Force Base in England. Half the class had a parent who was getting transferred either to another duty station internationally or back in the United States. They couldn’t turn the work in because they weren’t going to be there. She said we couldn’t mail it; we had to physically hand it in.

When we students mentioned to her that there was no real way for them to hand the work to her, she said, “I don’t care. Turn it in on the first day of fifth grade, or I’m not passing you. You’ll repeat the fourth grade again.“ Our pleas fell on deaf ears. 

Since it was a half-day on the last day of school, I mentioned this to my mom and she and I bolted back to the school to complain to the principal. It turned out that no less than ten other parents were already there, including my best friend’s mom and my crush’s dad. 

My mum had the loudest voice there, saying that I have had high anxiety the entire year because of the amount of work she forced on me even though I wasn’t supposed to have it. I had never seen her so pissed off at anyone that wasn’t either me or my two older brothers. 

We had just gotten home when we received a phone call from the principal. He told us that we didn’t have to do the homework and that the teacher would be dealt with accordingly. Hearing that, I was so relieved that I didn’t have to do any summer homework.

When I showed up the first day of fifth grade, the principal came up to me and told me that our teacher was removed. He apologized for the amount of stress I had the previous school year, and he made sure that I had one of the more popular fifth-grade teachers who knew how I was. 

My fifth-grade year went a h*** of a lot better than my fourth-grade one.

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Math Skills! Ooh Ha Ha!

, , , , , , , | Learning | August 3, 2020

I am a private tutor. To make math more fun for my students, I often play a modified version of a Pompeii-themed boardgame with them during our lessons. For every question they answer correctly, they get a certain number of moves — depending on the question’s difficulty — to help their pawns escape the city, which gets increasingly consumed by lava as the rounds continue. For every wrong answer, they forfeit their turn and I get to move my pawns instead. The person with the most escaped pawns by the end of the game is the “winner”.

To try to instill a habit of always checking their work, I’ve also created a rule that if they don’t read over their steps or at least double-check the question again when they get to their answer, I get to just take one of their pawns and pop it straight into the volcano in the corner of the board. I am brutal with this and it has worked tremendously well; I don’t usually have to punt a pawn into a volcano more than once or twice before double-checking their work becomes an automatic process. 

I am playing this game with one of my fourth-graders — age nine. After giving him a two-digit multiplication question, I look over and check his answer once he’s finished — and double-checked!

Me: “You missed something in your addition there. Check that last column again.”

Student: “What do you mean?”

Me: “That shouldn’t be a zero. Check it again.”

Student: “No, that’s a nine!”

I take the whiteboard back from him, at which point I can see that he indeed wrote a nine, not a zero; I missed the “tail” of the nine from the angle I was viewing it from and the fact that he’d written the answer right on the edge of the board. But he got the right answer, fair and square.

Me: “Whoops, you’re right. It is a nine. Sorry, I thought that was a zero. My bad.”

Without skipping a beat, the student wordlessly takes one of my pawns off the board, and, without breaking eye contact, puts it straight into the volcano.

Me: “…”

Student: *Deadpan* “You didn’t double-check.”

Okay, kiddo. You win this round!

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