Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


I am not a doctor on call, dammit

File under: Righteous Indignation, Sound And Fury, Those Who Can't, Know Thyself. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:43 pm.

Just returned home after a few days away, and was greeted by an inbox filled with queries from students who apparently don’t appreciate the sanctity of Easter. Among the notes is a polite “reminder” from Needs-a-B, who’d asked me on Thursday to email her the grade from the last test, “you know, no rush or anything, just whenever you have them marked.” Evidently she’d changed her mind; either that, or “no rush or anything” could reasonably be interpreted as “it’s not like I’m rushing you if I still haven’t heard from you by SATURDAY already.” Of course, maybe I’m just being insensitive here; after all, she really wants to know how she did!

You know, I’d really planned to age more gracefully than this, but screw it: back in MY day, our teachers graded our tests when they graded our tests, and we wouldn’t have even thought of contacting them outside of school time, let alone on a holiday weekend, if we thought that they weren’t grading our tests quickly enough. Honestly. And some of my teachers - unlike me - wouldn’t always return our tests the very day that their students got back to class, either. They’d sometimes make us wait, like, a week. So we waited a week, and nobody died. Even though I know this deep down inside, however, and even though I know that this is no big deal - part of me still feels guilty for not arranging my four-day weekend in the way most amenable to my more anxious students’ preferences. Not so guilty, mind you, that I didn’t consider for a moment writing back to Needs-a-B, No, sorry, haven’t gotten to it yet, my whole family died in a fire this weekend and I was busy making funeral arrangements, but as soon as that’s taken care of I’ll grade your test and get back to you right away - but guilty nonetheless.

[At this point, my mom, who’s reading this, is saying, “God forbid! Don’t even joke about something like that!” So I just want to take a moment to assure my mom that I would never joke about something like that. Oh, no: I was very serious about telling this student that my whole family had died.]

My family, of course, is alive, and I didn’t spend the weekend burying them. Nor, so far, did I spend any of it grading tests. On Thursday I realized that I could get away for the weekend, so I did. And it was lovely. I highly recommend small, remote islands for relaxation.

More about that-all sometime this week, after I’m done doing all of the work (grade 50 tests; grade 50 quizzes (done!); set test; plan classes) that I actually need to get done this weekend. I’d started describing my holiday in this space, but the visit to the tiny island deserves a snark-free post of its own, and so it will get it. (The description of how phone psychics work - told to me firsthand by the brother of the brother-in-law of Josie the (Late) Phone Psychic from Quebec! - also deserves its own post, but for that one, I shall permit myself some snark. Honestly, it’s a doozy: it’s a lot more sophisticated than the “oh, they just say sufficiently general stuff that could be true of anyone” that I’d originally believed.) Not putting a timeline on any of this, mind you; in the next four weeks I have two tests and two and a half exams to set; 100+ tests, 150+ quizzes, and 100+ exams to grade; and three comprehensive review sheets to make - so even if I weren’t into preparing classes, this space wouldn’t necessarily be my priority. If you’re looking for something to do in my absence (or, more likely, my sporadic presence), I got three words for ya: Precalculus Bingo Contest.


  1. The only teacher to whom I’ve complained to about the delay of marking things was my grade 10 science teacher, who gave back our December exams after we got our marks for them from our late-January report cards and who took so long to grade a test that we were a week away from having two (quarterly) report cards given to us between the time we took the test and the time he returned the marked version. The rest of the time, however, I try to convince others that, as you said, there won’t be a death if the tests aren’t returned the next class (even if a death may have caused the delay *knocks wood*).

    - Nicholas — 3/28/2005 @ 12:13 am

  2. Yeah, well, that’s completely different. But even still, I presume you asked the teacher in class, when you saw him. Question to you, though, as well as to all of my readers who are under the age of 20 and grew up with new-fangled stuff like email: did you email your high school teachers? If so, how often and for what purposes did you do it?

    I put my email address on the syllabus, because email is the best way to reach me, but that doesn’t mean that students should email me every single week (some do) with question that they could wait two days to get answered. (The worst are my precalc students who just don’t feel like coming to class, and want the homework assignments. Sick students are another matter - I’ll happily indulge them. Mind you, I prefer the students who don’t want to come to class emailing me to the alternative: ambushing me in the half-hour break before class while I’m eating dinner in the cafeteria, to ask for the assignment. It’s not like they’re even sick - they’re on campus - but they’d rather go home before, or in the middle of, my class. But I digress.)

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/28/2005 @ 8:04 am

  3. You know what’s really bugging me about this? I don’t get this whole “I need a grade of X in this course” business. When I was in school, the grade I “needed” for any particular course was the best grade that I could honestly earn, whatever that turned out to be. I won’t say that I never argued about grades with an instructor, but when I did it was always because I honestly thought I had earned a better grade. (And, if the instructor made it clear that their decision was final, that was it. Only once can I say that I was really shafted by a teacher on a grade; that’s another story entirely.)

    What are these kids doing these days? Do they sit down and figure out “OK, my GPA is currently 3.05, and I only need a 3.00 for (whatever purpose), so I only need C’s this semester”? (Aside: from what we’ve seen of their math abilities, how can they possibly do that calculation?) Is the ethic these days something like: “I’m doing precisely as much work as I need to get by, and not a second more”? If that’s what it is, it’s a totally foreign idea to me.

    - Cousin Dave — 3/28/2005 @ 8:41 am

  4. Dave, I think it’s the other way around. They need a grade *higher* than they’re currently mustering, not that they’re contemplating sitting on their laurels because they’re doing better than they need to be.

    - Jen — 3/28/2005 @ 9:35 am

  5. MS said:it’s not like they’re even sick - they’re on campus - but they’d rather go home before, or in the middle of, my class. But I digress.)

    So, in defense of such students, I was sick this semester for about 3 weeks, the worst of it in about a 4 day span which included 2 important midterms. For the first midterm, I slept through all of my previous classes so I’d have enough energy to try to bike to campus (nearly fell off a few times) and hazily take my exam. I turned in that morning’s homework late and saw my other morning professors and sort of apologized (both of whom edged away from me a little due to how much how i looked reflected how i felt). So, yah, you can totally be sick and on campus.

    Dave said:
    Do they sit down and figure out “OK, my GPA is currently 3.05, and I only need a 3.00 for (whatever purpose), so I only need C’s this semester”?

    Yes, but this isn’t new. My uncle’s about 50 and he had a guy in his undergrad who was quite smart but decided efficiency was the best way to go, and got an engineering degree with all Cs because that was the least he needed. Needless to say, he had a bit of trouble getting a job afterwards, though.

    So, don’t blame this on today’s misguided youth. :)

    I think many people have a min GPA they have to maintain for scholarship purposes. Other than that, certain colleges (e.g. business and engineering) may require certain min GPAs to stay in the college.

    - rosona — 3/28/2005 @ 11:46 am

  6. Cousin Dave - yup, what Jen said. They need marks of at least B’s, or C+’s, and if they don’t get them then their futures are in jeopardy. And they won’t get those marks, because it’s been ten years since they’ve taken a math class before mine, and I can’t teach university courses, even basic ones, without assuming some background.

    Rosona - yes, I understand. However, realize that we’re talking about regular occurrences: students who routinely meet me in the cafeteria right before class to get the homework assignment. They’re not sick. Either that, or there was a wave of illness during the first half of the term that abated after Test #1, when my students found out that sometimes I say stuff in class that’s important and that maybe they should make a point of being there when that happens.

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/28/2005 @ 11:58 am

  7. MS, what does it say about their reasoning skills if they select a major that requires math, but didn’t take a math class for a decade?

    - John — 3/28/2005 @ 12:10 pm

  8. What I don’t get (and my students used to ask that a lot too) is what information would the answer to “how I did on the last exam?” help them in any way? If, say, the answer is “You got 65″, what good is that to the student? How would they know which 35% they need to study better or am I totally missing the point?

    - Guy — 3/28/2005 @ 4:44 pm

  9. I got so angry at my calculus students asking me for the homework that I refused to tell them. I would reply with, “It’s on the course webpage, which I gave you on the syllabus on the first day.” When they protested that they no longer had the syllabus, I would tell them that my homepage was linked from the department and they could find it that way. They usually got the message.

    - KimJ — 3/28/2005 @ 4:59 pm

  10. John, every practical program requires some math. I don’t blame my students for signing up for programs that require it; they’re a lot more employable if they have degrees that indicate that they know some math. I do, however, blame the wussy guidance counselors who merely suggested to them, “well, you might want to take a math class to upgrade your skills before you take a university math class, but it’s up to you.” Then again, I am vaguely acquainted with those updgrading classes, and they really don’t provide the required background. Ugh.

    Guy - not only does knowing their mark not help them…I think that in a way it hurts them. I write comments on all of my students’ test papers. I post the full solutions outside my office. Some, possibly most, of my students take advantage of this. However, I think that many of them take a look at the number on the top of their test, and then leave it at that. (I can tell which students do this: they’re the ones who get the same questions wrong when I put them on the final exam.)

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/28/2005 @ 5:54 pm

  11. I tell my students bf=efore the exam that I try to be as generous with partial points as I can “reasonably” be - if they demonstrate partial grasp of the topic, they could conceivably get some partial credit. However, grading this way takes time. The quickest way to grade an exam, I tell them, is to give no partial points (either you get full credit for a question, or none). So, they can either get more partial pointws, or they can get their grades faster. Then I ask them which they prefer.

    So, when I get a “have you graded it yet” email, I respond back, “do you want it with or without the partial points?

    I had a spaniel, and I have two younguns (age 6 and 4). Training puppies, children, and undergraduates is frustrating.

    - Unknown Professor — 3/28/2005 @ 7:56 pm

  12. Just one more comment on my original “I need a grade of X” post: I understand and agree with all of the responses, and I realize I didn’t make myself totally clear. I realize that a lot of these students are begging for better marks than they deserve because they are in trouble GPA-wise. The points I should have made better are: (1) Some of them got that way by trying to ride that “3.00 and not a point better” line I described; if you play that game and screw up just once, you are in trouble. (2) If you are going to beg for a grade, why not beg for an A, damnit? Are today’s youth so lazy that they can’t even be bothered to put any ambition in their begging? (Said only partly tounge-in-cheek.)

    (And yes, Rosona, some of that isn’t new. I had a classmate in school who never did an ounce more than he needed to get by, because he was assured of an executive position in his father’s very successful business as soon as he graduated college. And it made him one of the most insufferable people I’ve ever known.)

    - Cousin Dave — 3/29/2005 @ 10:45 am

  13. Dave, my impression isn’t that these kids “play that game and screw up just once” but that they have real deficiencies in math. It’s not just their overall GPA that counts, but their grade in this particular class. They didn’t merely screw up one test in this class; they’re consistently below the mark.

    - Jen — 3/29/2005 @ 11:27 am

  14. I should outsource the clarification side of this blog to Jen, who knows my kids.

    (Today’s experience - a ten-minute conversation with Needs-a-B, who’s trying really hard! and understanding everything I do in class! but still bombing the tests! Is there any chance she can get a B in my class, or should she drop out of school and never take another university course again? Yes, those are the two options she gave me.)

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/29/2005 @ 4:15 pm

  15. (Today’s experience - a ten-minute conversation with Needs-a-B, who’s trying really hard! and understanding everything I do in class! but still bombing the tests! Is there any chance she can get a B in my class, or should she drop out of school and never take another university course again? Yes, those are the two options she gave me.)

    You know what I really don’t understand? My Algebra students who insist (forcibly, sometimes) that they understand all this, they just can’t solve the problems, or that they understand the lecture but they don’t understand the worksheets (which are almost-identical to the lecture, and if not the lecture than to the book). I wish they’d own up to not understanding.

    I don’t know, maybe that’s something you gain after a college education. I go to office hours and go “I don’t understand this”. And quite blithely answered my Algebraic Number theory professor when asked if I had understood that day’s lecture (which may have been the lecture which involved proving two 3-part theorems simultaneously, using bits of one to prove the other), “NOPE, not at ALL .” To be fair, I’m quite fed up with said professor, for things like what’s in ()s, so perhaps that was my way of trying to get back at him, instead of really being adult and owning up to my ignorance.

    Eh, one can dream.

    - rosona — 3/30/2005 @ 11:20 am

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