Friday, April 26, 2013

Just a few stories...

It's the end of the semester, the time when students suddenly realize that that they need to do something, or fail.

One student failed my first two tests, and missed the third. I really don't like giving a make-up, but I write a test up just for her. She takes it. Then she comes to my office 2 minutes before class wanting to know how she did.

I give 28 points for free (out of 100). She scored a 29...and had no idea that she has no clue whatsoever what's going on. Even the "gimme" question, just pressing buttons on a calculator, she had no clue.

The question, by the way, was like "If you invest $10,000 at 15% for two years, how much do you end up with?"

Her answer:  $17.45.  I mean, seriously, no clue at all, every answer was totally off the wall like that. She's hardly alone, several students decided to wait until the day of the test to figure how to use a calculator to calculate interest...we've been on that topic for weeks.

Another student really was angry with me that she's failing the course. "I want my $400 back!" she says. I tried to explain that this is just the same course most folks take in high school, and that she could just read along in the book, and study, and she would have been fine. "I don't have the book." The semester is almost over, and she still hasn't gotten around to getting the book (and yes, she was handed more than enough loan money to buy a book)...and it's my fault she's failing. The worst of it is she gets to evaluate me (and teacher evaluations are 22%, yes, that exact percentage, of what determines job performance), evaluating the quality of my teaching and materials (i.e., the book).

It's been over 15 years, incidently, since anyone that knows the subject matter has evaluated my teaching. Other than students, all I've had is an administrator come in, watch me teach, then tell me what topics I need to remove from the course, to improve retention. I could literally just spew random words and the administrator (and most students) wouldn't even know.

Another student wrote me a long hate-mail detailing how badly I sucked, and how it's my fault she's not learning, and that it's important that she pass the course, because it's one of her last courses for graduating. Every line of her letter (not text) had at least one grammatical error in it, but I responded. I told if she could learn 8 pages from the text one her own, I'd pass her, and gave her 3 weeks to do it. She couldn't, because, she, too, didn't think getting the book was worth it. What goes on in other courses that you don't need to be able to write a complete sentence, or be able to read a book?

I had one high point, however. All semester, this totally hopeless girl interrupts class time and again to ask, well, questions that anyone paying attention would know. The course is statistics, and the quesitons are like:

"How do you know which one is the mean?"

"What does the x with a little bar over it mean again?"

"How do you know that number is negative?"

"Which one is the standard deviation?"

"How can you tell .02 is less than .05? Is there a formula for that?"

She'd even ask the same question several times during class (much like the first two questions). I politely answer again, and again, and again.

Finally, another student blew her gasket, and told her: "Why don't you just study?!"

The whole class, sans me, laughed uproariously.  I'm sure she'll slam me on the evaluations, but damn...why not just study?

If I had thousands of students each semester, the above might be attributed to just being flukes, but they're not. I barely have 80 students total, and at least a dozen are "winners" like the above.

You might have noticed I used the feminine pronoun every time. That vast bulk of my students are female; the only time I get half or more of the class being male is when I start to teach what used to be first year math courses, like calculus. I'm hardly alone in noticing this.

I see there's a family with multiple children going to college before hitting puberty; I'm sure the kids are fairly bright, but I'm also sure college isn't what it used to be, either.

Next time around, I'll detail what exactly administration is planning to do to deal with the disaster of remediation.

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