What a former college instructor really thinks…

Posts tagged “teaching

Love Letter to a Former Student

Dear Lucy,

You were my student four years ago when you were in your first semester of college.  You despised me and made sure that hatred was known, but you also thought I was madly in love with you.  Or maybe it was lust you thought I harbored.  No matter.

Through some miracle, we made it through the semester and went our separate ways; somehow, I never was able to forget about you. And I know you never forgot about me.  It’s a sad fact of life that teachers remain psychologically connected to the students who created the biggest problems, not the ones who were exceptionally good.  But we are not just connected through our memories of one another; we are connected through our mutual intellectualism.  You like to proclaim your braininess as loudly as you can, and I can never be too far away to hear you brag.  Seriously… you brag that loudly.  That’s what makes you so precious and lovable.

But I can also see your pain.  Your student loans are dragging you down and your boasting has become muted by people asking you how someone so smart got so far in the financial hole.  In the meantime, your mind has created an idealized vision of your college experience and you have grown to love me, the teacher you once abhorred.  Or: you love my teaching, but probably not me.  I sure hope you don’t love me; you’re not my type.  (However, please send nude photos my way if you get a chance.)

You have to love me now because it’s all you have left. College is over for you and no one has to treat you like you’re special any longer.   And you have to justify to yourself why you spent so much money for a fancy school.  So while I used to be annoyed by you, I now pity you.  This love letter is not to the student I once taught, but to the one who will someday have grown up.   And you are growing up… finally.  Sooner or later, you will be someone I might enjoy sharing a coffee with, but it is saddening to know that you won’t be 25 or 30 until that happens.  College has kept you and your classmates as infants for too long.   I really don’t enjoy sleeping with infants.

And I do hope you decide to share that coffee with me sometime.  Pour it over my grave if it takes you that long to grow up; I’d prefer the coffee to the saliva you wished for once upon a time.

May our love continue to blossom!

Niekrophilia: The Love of Dead Cultural References

Phil Niekro is a Hall of Fame baseball player who was active from 1964 to 1987; he was quite popular in his day.  If you’re at least semi-conscious, you will immediately understand how flat a reference to him would fall with a group of today’s undergraduate students.  And let’s be honest: is this the kind of history you’d prefer these students to spend their time becoming more knowledgeable about?  I thought not… but if it is, I think you may suffer from Niekrophilia.

Niekrophilia is the love of dead cultural references and of information that ought to be left for dead when compared to the more important information today’s students lack.  Unfortunately, many of today’s professors don’t understand the difference between what is really significant and what is not.  And it goes without saying that many students, when given a choice between an intellectual corpse (such as “Critical Analysis of Baseball Personae”) and a living, breathing body (such as Judicial Philosophy and Constitutional Analysis), choose the corpse when both appear in a course catalog.  Students love corpses; the way some students behave, it’s as though they want to become corpses sooner rather than later.  The problem with corpses is that they aren’t very useful or enlightening, unless of course you’re stranded on a desert island and light one up on the campfire for dinner.

But I digress.

The love of corpses has taken over the American academy.  If it were simply aging professors who forget that today’s students aren’t into their old favorites, it would be less of a problem.  Dead cultural references aren’t dangerous when they’re thrown around in passing.   But instead, some professors are obsessed with these corpses and they haven’t quite realized that corpses don’t reproduce knowledge very well.   Knowledge is, and has always been, the professor’s baby.  Unfortunately, babies aren’t being made any more and many professors seem fine with that.

Postscript: My apologies go out to Phil Niekro, who is still very much alive.  This post was not meant to reflect badly on him in any way.

You’re Pretty When You Weep

I see you walking towards my desk with your mascara already starting to run.  It was a difficult night with the homework, I know, and you want to have a little “chat” with me.  At least this is an improvement over the whining and yelling I’ve seen from you already…

And so you proceed to explain that the problem set was just so impossible and it took you a whole hour to get through the first half.  And it made your life last night so difficult because you had swimming practice for two hours and there just wasn’t enough time to get everything done.  Your mascara is history by now, but you don’t seem to care.  And neither do I.

You’re pretty when you weep.

And so I calmly remind you that the problem set had been assigned a week earlier, and you suddenly stop crying.  It’s such a shame because you’re not as adorable when you’re angry.  I remain emotionless and ask what prevented you from doing the problem set earlier in the week.  I guess you realized that you had lost control of your charade because your eyes conveniently start welling up again.  I never did get an answer to my question, but your tears make my heart sing.

And so I do what any responsible teacher would do: I offer to make an appointment with you to review the material so the second half will be easier.  You finally realize that your little act isn’t working and you just sigh and say “yeah.”  I don’t know if you’ll really show up for any appointment we make, but you’ve figured out that I’m not going to let you get out of the assignment.  And so you give up and walk away.  You finally realize that I’m not stupid, or maybe you just think I’m too stupid to realize how dumb the problem set is.

And then I almost start to feel bad for you.  Almost.  I was a little tough on you as you were crying in front of me.  Have I become too jaded to be a compassionate presence for my student?  But by now you are walking out and you close the door behind you.  In the hall, your friend is waiting and you forget that there is a nice large window I can look through.  The door closes and I can see your facial expression shift immediately as you say to your friend, “It didn’t work.”

You’re pretty when you weep because it’s the only time you look human.

Pyrotechnics: The Next Big Thing in Classroom Technology

Universities love to advertise their instructional technology resources.  In the flashy brochures they send out to high schoolers, the trumpet the educational benefits of the high-tech classrooms and computer labs they offer on campus.  All this technology is said to have an inherently positive effect on student learning.  Behind the scenes, it is said to increase student engagement and allow students to get more up-close-and-personal with the content they’re studying.

I couldn’t agree more.   Because more technology is always better, I think universities should go for the flashiest equipment possible… and that would be pyrotechnics.  The fire mimics the media students so often take in during their free time, so it’s obviously logical to incorporate that into the classroom; we should never expect students to expand their attention spans in the classroom.  And for instructors who have to teach at 8:00 AM, what else could possibly rouse students from their slumber more effectively than a raging inferno before their eyes?  Just imagine how many students the university could attract with a giant fireball on its advertisements.

Of course, there is more to teaching that grabbing the students’ attention.  I truly believe that pyrotechnics offer a way of understanding course material that no other teaching method can beat.  If your class is studying Dante’s Inferno, you could simulate the experience for them in the classroom.  (Okay, okay… I know that many students think sitting in class is like being in Hell.  This would just improve the experience.)  Pyrotechnics also can allow students to witness, first hand, the horrors of book burning that have taken place at various points in history.  Trust me, books will burn (intentionally or not) if you put pyrotechnics in a classroom building.

Pyrotechnics also have one additional advantage over other instructional technologies: they are cost-efficient.  If you use the method just once, you no longer have to pay for utilities or maintenance for that ash heap your class formerly took place in.  And then you can pass the savings on to students in the form of a tuition reduction.  See?  It really is a win-win situation for everyone.

TUI (Teaching Under the Influence)

I never showed up for class drunk, although I was sometimes tempted to.  While it might have made me a more entertaining teacher, I doubt that the students would have been eager to sit in the classroom for another 30 minutes after my unfortunate little vomiting spells.

In spite of this, I have come to believe that TUI is an excellent way to improve your student evaluations.  Who among us has not had students show up drunk for class, and who could believe that being drunk together wouldn’t increase camaraderie?   If you’re drunk, you can’t cover as much information in an hour; that makes the tests so much easier for the students.  On second thought, it makes the tests much easier unless you’re someone who remembers what he said when he was drunk.  The correct answer on a test should always match what you told the students in class, so you could end up with something like:

Q: Who was the 3rd president of the United States?

correct answer: BLAAAAAAARGH

And then you could fail all of those annoying industrious students who did their homework and gave an answer that the book thinks is correct.  Since books are an outdated technology and no one pays attention to them anyway, you have no reason to accept what the book says.  Then again… if you want to keep your job, you probably should give the students inflated grades to make them happy.  So, maybe you ought to bite your tongue and say that Thomas Jefferson is an acceptable correct answer.

It’s so much easier to accept an answer like that when you’re already drunk.