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Those Who Can Do, Those Who Can’t Teach, And Then There Are Substitutes…

, , , , | Learning | June 4, 2020

To get an electrical engineering degree at my university, all students were required to take an upper-level course on electromagnetism prior to branching off to their sub-specialty concentrations. The course in question was taken after all the “weed out” courses, so it was expected that everyone taking the course was in it for the long haul and would pass the course even if they didn’t do overly well in it.  

Two days before classes were to begin, we were informed that the well-respected professor scheduled to teach our section was unavailable, and the class would be covered by a substitute they sourced for the semester.

Things did not get off to a good start. For the first few weeks, she had a very difficult time teaching the material, often making obvious mistakes in class both with the material and with simple arithmetic. We tried to give her a chance, hoping that it was just nerves in her first big solo teaching gig, but then came the first big exam.  

The class as a whole bombed the exam with the average score around 40%. There was no curve applied, so pretty much everyone was failing. A few people went and complained to the Dean at that point, but nothing was done. Not until we actually got our exam papers back, that is.

The next class, several students publicly asked her to explain how the answer to a specific problem was achieved because none of us had gotten it right and we had mostly all gotten the same wrong answer. Her response?

“I don’t know, that’s just what it says on the answer key.”

She hadn’t even written her own exam and didn’t understand the exam she was giving us. 

That’s when the rest of us marched into the Dean’s office and demanded that something be done. I don’t know what the outcome of the high-level discussions were, but I do know the following: 1) the scores on the first exam were normalized on a curve so that most people passed, 2) the following exams were much easier, and 3) her name never appeared on the teaching roster in following semesters the entire time I was at the school.

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