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Her Grading Strategy Is A Little Too Abstract

, , , , | Learning | March 8, 2023

In college, I get the assignment to “create something personal, meaningful, and/or symbolic, using one abstract word”. There are no other requirements, though we are advised to show our plan to our teacher.

The teacher also shows some examples: a paper bridge on a blue sheet of paper with a paper flower to represent someone’s love for the art of Monet (representing tranquility), a self-made plush to represent youth, and a box with the face of a white (literal white) woman behind golden strings: treasure (because the woman is supposed to be Cleopatra and she was Julius Caesar’s treasure). They are fine crafts, by the way. Very skilled.

I decide on the word “friendship” because I have a friend overseas and together we have been working on a story for over four years. So, I design a funnel where ideas from both of us go in, and what comes out are scenes of our story. The teacher approves of this plan, saying she looks forward to it.

Now… I do admit my plan does not go smoothly. Craft-wise, I have a LOT to learn. The funnel looks wonky and doesn’t want to stay upright without some extra support. We get twenty hours for this project and I need every moment of it. The teacher checks by every time, giving no advice. She barely acknowledges me unless I ask her a question.

And then… the grading happens. 

Teacher: “I’m afraid I can only give a five out of ten for this.”

This means I fail the class and have to retake it; I need a six to pass.

Me: “What? But why?”

Teacher: “Well, I understand what you wanted to create, but it’s too unclear and abstract. No one else but you will understand this work.”

Me: “But… it was supposed to be a personal project — symbolizing something personal.”

Teacher: “Yes, but others have to understand it, as well.”

Me: “What is there not to understand? Two different ideas go in, one idea comes out.”

Teacher: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it.”

Me: “Why didn’t you tell me anything sooner? You approved of my plan!”

Teacher: “Plans often change. I was hoping it would become clear eventually. I’ve shown you enough examples.”

Me: “The teddy bear I understand, but the bridge and the treasure were very abstract, as well. How would anyone understand that that lady was supposed to be Cleopatra, or that this was connected to Julius Caesar? It was a white face in a box, nothing else.”

The teacher is silent, with an annoyed face.

Teacher: “Fine, you’ll get a six. But you still should’ve done better.”

And you should’ve taught, teacher. The most ironic thing? This was a college to become an elementary school teacher. This teacher taught me how NOT to teach.

She Finally Has The Words

, , , , , | Learning | March 8, 2023

I’m a teacher who works at a school in a very diverse neighborhood. We have a beautiful little girl in our third-grade class whose mother is from Pakistan, but her father grew up ten minutes down the road in the next suburb. I had the pleasure of teaching this young lady in kindergarten, and again last year in second grade. Up until this point, her dad had come along with her mum to every parent-teacher interview or school event. Her parents were both lovely people, and their daughter was so bright and well-behaved that we’d never had much cause for extra interaction.

School started up last week and we are having the initial round of meetings with parents to talk about what will be covered this year and if they have any questions or concerns. My student arrives with just her mother in tow.

Student’s Mother: “Sorry, my husband has been caught up at work and can’t make it today.”

Me: “No worries! Just us girls today, eh [Student]?”

My student laughs and proceeds to get into the Legos I set out for the kids to entertain themselves with while I talk to the parents. I start talking and handing over various forms/printouts to her mother – who is a very intelligent woman, but she seems panicked the more pieces of paper I hand over to her.

When she begins staring at a form in dismay, I think she might be concerned about the price of the school excursion later in the year. I drop my voice so my student can’t hear us.

Me: “If you’re having any problems with finances for the excursion, we have a fund here at the school to help with that and I can get you the information if you’d like.”

Student’s Mother: “Oh, it’s nothing like that, we can afford it and she is so excited! It’s just…”

She looks like she might start crying at any moment.

Student’s Mother: “I’m sorry, usually my husband comes to handle this sort of thing, but I actually can’t read English. I can barely read my own language.”

I was gobsmacked. This woman has always been very smart and engaged, has volunteered countless times to help with school events and last year personally hand-made almost a thousand ribbon flowers for a fundraiser we put on.

Student’s Mother: “I can speak it just fine; my parents taught me English as a child, but even in my own language and any language we learned in school, the words all seem to jumble up and swim on the page when I try to read them. When I was little my parents thought maybe I couldn’t see and got me glasses, but it never helped. I can write, and spell any word you ask me to, but anything more than ten or so words on a page…”

This poor woman seemed so humiliated to be admitting this to me. I scrambled in my drawer for a moment and handed her a new page.

Me: “Does this seem better?”

Student’s Mother: “Oh, wow!”

She stumbled over a couple of words but happily read out the entire paragraph that was written on the page. She looked at me with entirely different tears in her eyes.

Student’s Mother: “How is this possible?”

Me: “This is a special font we use for people with dyslexia. It’s a little bigger than usual and has extra shadows and spaces to help differentiate between the letters. You can read this?”

Student’s Mother: “I can! [Student], look! Mama can read this!”

Student: *Looking over at the page.* “Wow mama! That’s so many words! I don’t even know all those words.”

Student’s Mother: *Very quietly crying.* “I’m not just stupid…”

Me: “I never thought you were for a second.”

I sent her home with a tonne of resources I’d accumulated for people with dyslexia over the years, including a few chapter books printed in dyslexic-friendly fonts. She’s back tomorrow to help out with our swimming carnival, and I am SO excited to hear how she’s going! Her husband came to me at school pickup and told me he’d managed to set up her iPad so it used one of the fonts and he can barely get her to look up from it the past few days. He said this all with the proudest grin on his face I’ve ever seen.

Turns Out She Was Deadly Serious

, , , , , | Learning | March 6, 2023



When my best friend was in middle school, she unfortunately lost her mother. 

The first year of high school, although she obviously didn’t forget her, she went on with her life. But around February, the month of her mum’s death, she had a little bout of depression which resulted in a drop in grades.

The form teacher asked to see her with a parent (her father).

Form Teacher: “The first term went well, but the grades have dropped a lot lately.”

Friend: “Yes, it’s difficult around February. That’s when my mother passed away.”

Form Teacher: *Shocked* “You don’t lie about these things!”

Father: “She isn’t lying.”

Form Teacher: “But she often talks about her stepfather.”

Father: “Yes, her mother and I divorced several years before her death, and she remarried in the meantime.”

Form Teacher: “But she still sees her stepfather?”

Father: “I know that officially the stepparent has no rights after a death if he remains a parent, but we insist that she continues to see him. He also took care of her education.”

Form Teacher: “So, her mum is really dead?”

Father: *Exasperated* “YES!”

The form teacher apologised. Did the teacher really think that having divorced parents made it impossible for them to die of anything other than old age?

Time For The Cheaters To Tap Out

, , , , , , , , , | Learning | March 2, 2023

Many years ago, my grandfather taught carpentry at a tech college, and part of his job involved proctoring written exams.

During one of these exams, a couple of students were tapping their pens. On the face of it, this wasn’t so unusual; plenty of people in exams tap pens, drum fingers, etc., as an aid to memory — or at least, they certainly did when I took my exams. These taps, however, seemed rather more… rhythmic.

A few taps later, Grandfather — who was in the naval cadets as a boy — realized that these two students were using their pens to tap out the answers to various questions in Morse code. 

Without saying a word, Grandfather picked up a pen of his own, glaring pointedly at the guilty students, and tapped out the phrase, “I K-N-O-W M-O-R-S-E C-O-D-E T-O-O.”

Funnily enough, the tapping stopped immediately after that!

If It Seems Too Easy, It Probably Isn’t

, , , , , , , , | Learning | February 27, 2023

The most memorable class I took during my university degree was one I took in my first semester. It was held in the largest lecture hall and packed to overflowing because it was a required class for an awful lot of degrees. Unlike most entry-level classes, it had no attendance or participation requirements, the topic was pretty easy, and you didn’t even really need to buy the textbook because there were lots of copies in the library available for a long-term loan, plus the lecturer provided photocopies and slides of the relevant sections. The lectures were recorded and available at the library along with copies of all the slides the lecturer had used. The final exam was open-book, and the tutors provided several years’ worth of past exams to use as study materials.

The class was a TRAP.

If you didn’t go, nobody cared — or even really noticed. If you didn’t hand in assignments, nobody chased them up. There were plenty of ways to catch up on content if you missed lectures, but nobody checked to see if you were using them. After the first few weeks of the semester, the lecture hall no longer had people sitting on the stairs because there weren’t enough seats. By the mid-semester break, it was mostly empty, and there was a Dungeons & Dragons group sitting in the back rows, complete with character sheets, rolling dice, and “I fire a magic missile at the darkness!”-level roleplaying. The left middle section was the territory of a social club that arrived, drank coffee, gossiped, and left without ever taking their notebooks out of their bags.

I missed a lot of lectures because I hated getting up early enough to go to them, but I went to the library at a more convenient time and listened to the recordings. When I came up with a question that hadn’t been answered in the text, I dragged myself to the next lecture and asked it or went to the lecturer’s office hours. He was always fun to talk to and had lots of great stories, so it wasn’t exactly a hardship.

Then, the end of the semester hit. Some students I hadn’t seen in lectures since the very beginning showed up at the library and seemed to be trying to go through all the recordings in the last week or so before exams started, but I think most of the missing were relying on the exam being open-book to get them through.

Well, the final exam was easy, but it was long, and it quickly became apparent that the students who were looking everything up in their textbooks just didn’t have time to finish. 

The final results came out, and the bell curve you expect to see in grades was pushed hard to the left side of the graph, with a spike at the far right. Anyone who’d realised it was time to take responsibility for their own learning and study without being pushed and prompted did well. Everyone who had taken the lack of direction as an excuse to skive off all semester — three-quarters of the class — failed. And because it was a prerequisite class, they had to take it again and pass before they could move on to second-year classes… the ones that, like this class and unlike all the other first-year classes, mostly lacked the tracking and reminders and attendance requirements the students were used to having to keep them on track.

It was a sneaky and effective way to teach people how to direct their own studies and filter out the ones who didn’t get the hint.