Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


Next term, maybe.

File under: Those Who Can't, Know Thyself. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:05 pm.

Less than two weeks before classes are scheduled to begin, Department Head finally emailed me my teaching assignment. The first line read There’s been a slight change in plans. I’m afraid the hours are not very good, and ideally we’d have you teaching different classes, and… Bear in mind that Department Head is British, and characteristically, prone to understatement, and you can imagine why I was hesitant to scroll down.

The damage: Sixteen hours a week teaching four classes, three preps. Thirteen of those hours are spread over all of two days, and the other three are spread over another two days. If I weren’t teaching the class, I wouldn’t show up for that single hour I have calculus on Mondays. None of my classes start before 11:30 am. On the heavy teaching days, four and a half hours of my teaching are uninterrupted. Four classes, three preps - two sections of statistics, one of precalc (the same one I taught last term), and one of integral calculus. But it’s not so bad, really. I’m - hesitantly - excited about the stats assignment, as I think I may be able to incorporate some interesting topics from John Allen Paulos’ Innumeracy and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper - but I don’t know how flexible the curriculum is. The textbook is typical of stats-for-arts-students books: enough mathematics to legitimately file it with the other math books, but definitely on the squishy side of the spectrum. Precalc so far has an enrolment of twelve, touchwood, and none of those twelve are among my flunkies from last term, touchwood. Integral calculus, presumably, will not contain any students who don’t know that fractions are numbers.

All of this, alas, may be a nonissue, because lately my union - without a collective agreement since February, apparently - has been making noises about bargaining, which I know from experience will soon give way to noises about striking. I also know from experience - that’d be the $GRADSCHOOL TA Strike of ‘03 - that noises about ineffective mean that a strike vote is imminent, and we’ll be on the picket lines sometime between mid-January and, well, let’s give the administration one more chance to bargain in good faith…

My prediction: the union executive will give the administration another month, and take a strike vote around beginning of February. Assuming the vote passes, this will put the beginning of the strike right after Spring Break ends, much to the delight of the many instructors who accidentally scheduled their return flights for a week after classes resumed. Picket lines will go up in mid-March, which coincidentally is right as the weather is turning picket-line-friendly, as well as being a few weeks before the end of the term, but not so close to exams that we’d be legislated back to work immediately.

Hey, that’s exactly how the TA Strike of ‘03 unfolded. I’ll be.

This, of course, is contingent upon the faculty voting to strike, which seems somewhat less certain than it was in ‘03, when I was at a big urban school and the administration’s underhandedness was truly beyond the pale - they tried to take away our health benefits and hope we wouldn’t notice; when we did, the president of the university pointed out that TAing wasn’t a career for us, so we couldn’t expect health insurance from this job. This time, the issues are things like academic freedom, wee wage increases, and greater flexibility, none of which are even slightly relevant to us temporary faculty. I reckon many of the adjuncts will be voting as I will - reasoning that they’re only around for a year, and that they sure as hell didn’t move to $ISLANDTOWN so that they could walk picket lines.


  1. One funny thing about Paulos’s A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper is that he doesn’t actually do it. Read the newspaper, that is. Some real clippings would have been cool. It’s a weaker book than Innumeracy, which made both his name and his fortune. How about Darrell Huff’s How to Lie with Statistics? That’s a cool little book and a real eye-opener to the uninitiated student. Our students today may be more cynical than their predecessors, though, so maybe they won’t be as surprised or shocked as I was when I first read it.

    - TonyB — 12/23/2004 @ 11:40 pm

  2. Yes, timetabling is not fun. I managed to land four consecutive hours of Advanced Calculus for next semester, as well as having two classes overlap by one hour (the solution to which, my course co-ordinator has advised me, is to skip an hour of one of the classes each week - I would never have thought of that :-)
    With regards to stats textbooks… when I took introductory stats at the beginning of this year (ironically after already taking a secondary stats unit - ah, the wonders of studying for two degrees at once!), the textbook was written by the lecturer herself. As a result, it fit in perfectly with the material being taught. But, since the methods in the textbook were 100% exactly the same as those tested in assignments and on the exam, one could simply memorise the text without actually understanding the concepts and get close to perfect marks. Odd that having the text written by the same person teaching the unit can actually work against people’s thorough understanding of the material!

    - rohan — 12/23/2004 @ 11:54 pm

  3. TonyB - I seem to recall that AMRTH contained some excerpts from actual news stories, but yeah, I was disappointed on how short it was on actual “here’s something that was reported last year, now let’s dissect it…” Innumeracy was definitely Paulos’ tour de force. And I’m going to try to grab a copy of HTLWS from the library; while I do think that tdoday’s students are more cynical than my generation’s, I don’t think that they’re any more media numerate. (You’ll hear a lot along the lines of “I don’t trust $NEWSSOURCE because it’s owned by $MEDIACONGLOMERATE”, but you’ll seldom hear any of “they’re publishing the success rate of $TREATMENT, however, compared to the placebo and taking into consideration the number of people who actually have $DISEASE, it’s barely effective at all…”

    Rohan - a handful of my students had classes overlapping with mine last term, which was a pain in the ass when it came to scheduling tests. They seemed to take for granted the fact that I’d be ok with them missing 1/4 of my lessons each week. I put my foot down when they asked if i could make special accommodations for them with regards to quizzes, which took place during the overlap.

    And I hear you on the 100% correspondance between the text and the class; one of my strengths and weaknesses is that I’m too fickle and not organized enough to use the same material in the same way year after year. I can imagine writing a text and then thinking a year later, hey, I left out this or that, I’d better incorporate it into the next class.

    - Moebius Stripper — 12/24/2004 @ 8:37 am

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