According to one of my precalculus students, a girl apparently unacquainted with the notion of the self-fulfilling prophecy, I “derive pleasure from seeing [my] students fail.” This, I am told, is a consequence of my gross narcissism, which leads me to show off in front of the class and on tests by demonstrating what a mathematical genius I am, instead of giving tests that everyone (even the students who don’t always come to class or do their homework) can do.
Student in question is one of those fresh-out-of-high-school blondes who doesn’t look a day over twelve. When she provided this input, chin raised and eyes narrowed, I was reminded of a pet budgie I’d has a kid, who would raise his head feathers whenever he wanted to appear intimidating. I’d had an altercation with this student before, when she confronted me about not having brought her test to class the week after I’d graded it. I bring the graded tests to class the class after my students write them, I’d told her, and then I leave them in a folder outside my office, unless they don’t fit because half of my students didn’t show up to the class in which I returned them, in which case the tests are available for pickup during my office hours. Didn’t I think, she asked, that that was an awfully passive-aggressive way of getting the students to show up the class after the test, HMM?
It should surprise no one that Budgie Girl is majoring in psychology.
My studies in psychology (PSYCH 101, 1996; weekly viewings of America’s Next Top Model, 2003-present) can rival any first-year slacker’s, so I know enough to respond to students’ character attack by tilting my head in a concerned fashion and asking, all sweetness, Now why would you think that?
Because, replied Budgie Girl, suddenly a bit less sure, otherwise I would either give easier tests or grade on a curve so that my students who needed passing grades, or, like her, C+’s, would get them. (I assume that by “grade on a curve”, she meant “increase all of the marks by the same amount“, but we’ll let that go.)
I nodded in some parody of empathy, and continued, “Can you think of any other reason I might be such a tough teacher?”
Budgie Girl looked at me, suddenly scared, and said, “No.”
“Because,” I continued, “Precalculus I is a prerequisite for Precalculus II, which many of my students, such as you, are going to need to take. And Precalculus II is harder than this course, and builds upon it. A mark of C+ or higher, from me, means that you have the background that you need to pass Precalculus II. If I just increase marks of D’s to B’s, that doesn’t mean that a D student has the understanding they need for Precalculus II – they’ll still fail it. So I wouldn’t be doing anyone any favours if I made this course, or my tests, easier. It’s only by showing me that you have C+ understanding, or more, of this class, that I will be able to see that you’re prepared for Precalculus II.”
I could see her breathing slow, her expression change. “Right now,” I continued, “You’re not doing work at a C+ level. If you’d like help working on study strategies and ways of thinking mathematically, I’d be happy to talk to you about that.”
And that was how I managed to neutralize a student’s overwhelming arrogance and replace it with a more manageable veil of self-loathing, on top of which one can build an understanding of Precalculus I.
This is why I am not a psychologist.