Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


Why Needs-a-B is Barely Pulling a D in My Class

File under: Sound And Fury, Those Who Can't, Queen of Sciences. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:31 pm.

Below, the fruits of half an hour of excruciating conversation during office hours. In the interest of fairness, I present two readings of my pupil’s abysmal performance in my class:

Needs-a-B’s take:

  1. The question about the CLT, she really thought she got full marks on that, but she got zero. And she wrote practically the same thing that she wrote when I asked the same question on the quiz last week, and she got three out of four on it that time. Okay, not quite the same thing. She didn’t give the standard deviation this time. Or mention that she was referring to the distribution of the sample means. Oh, and that third sentence she wrote was missing a verb. But still. I knew what she meant, didn’t I? I agreed she basically understood the concept, right?
  2. Maybe it’s the way she’s studying? She’s studying with a friend, and the friend’s doing really well. Maybe the friend is messing her up?
  3. Family issues that I can’t even begin to imagine. (Aside: yes, insinuating that your problems are beyond your interlocutor’s comprehension is a great way to curry favour. “[I] can’t even begin to imagine”? Are you calling me unimaginative? For crying out loud, have you seen my BLOG?)
  4. A bunch of little tiny mistakes adding up, like the one where she did part of a computation, ended up with a huge negative number, divided it by a hundred and got rid of the minus sign to get a number between zero and one, and then said that that was the probability.
  5. Because after the previous quiz I’d told her that the probability had to be a number between zero and one, which was why she’d lost marks for that other tiny mistake, where she’d said that the probability of getting five heads on a series of coin flips was 11.
  6. Dog died.
  7. Oh, so all she had to do was look up the area corresponding to the z-score? And then subtract it from 1? And realize that it corresponded to a probability, and that’s basically what the compalence interval refers to? That’s it? If she had done that she would have gotten three extra marks on that question? That’s a lot of marks, her friend got full marks for doing basically the same thing, but with the looking up of the z-score and interpreting it properly.
  8. Seriously, she hadn’t known that the stuff in the normal tables were probabilities. And areas. And that those are related. It’s confusing when I draw pictures of the bell curve and shade stuff, why have I been doing that for the last two months? Maybe it would make more sense if I stopped doing that?


  1. Because she doesn’t listen when I say that I’d be happy to talk to her about her performance in my class after she looks at her test and the comments I took the time to write. But she doesn’t want to look at her test. Can’t I talk to her now?
  2. Her general insistence that she understands everything that I say in class and in the homework. No, you don’t. I’m the judge of that.
  3. The dead dog and the family shit. Seriously, that’s got to be stressful. Look, I may be an insufferable curmudgeon, but I’m not that coldhearted.
  4. Because she went the past six weeks without knowing why the hell we even used the normal tables, which is one of the most important concepts in this class.
  5. Because when I pointed out what a big problem that was, she replied by pointing out that she knew how to look stuff up in them and that was the most important thing, right?
  6. Because, in general, she interprets everything I say as validation of some form. Maybe she just doesn’t respond to subtlety. Like when I say something subtle like, “Your mistakes indicate a serious lack of understanding of one of the central concepts in this course,” and she replies, “But I’m basically getting it, more or less.”
  7. Because, dammit, she doesn’t respond to feedback, period. I could have replaced myself with a talking doll that said “You’re doing great!” and the results would have been the same. Dammit, woman, haven’t you ever watched any reality TV? Do you not know what happens to the contestants who shrug off Donald or Tyra’s suggestions?
  8. Heredity. Or environment. Which is the one responsible for crippling stupidity?


  1. She has a case of galloping immaturity. This is showing itself in two particularly pernicious forms: (1) Imperviousness to good advice (e.g., doesn’t want to go over her test, just wants information now before she’s ready to process it). (2) Dissociation from reality (e.g., grasps at straws to claim she understands things, never takes responsibility for anything, sees that her high-performing classmate used letters and numerals in racking up points and wonders why her letters and numerals don’t also score big points [some of them are even the same!]). The poor thing is doomed until she grows up.

    Today I talked to a student who missed an exam exactly two weeks ago (last week was spring break). She claimed she had left me a message about having to take care of her sick child. I pointed out that her message had given her child’s illness as the reason she missed class on Friday, the last school day before spring break. The exam had been Wednesday. Why didn’t she take the exam on Wednesday? Oh, that was because she wasn’t in class on Wednesday. Yes, I told her, I know that, but why wasn’t she in class on exam day? The light dawned: Oh, she needed a reason for missing the exam. Nevertheless, she is a bit miffed that I won’t give her a makeup exam. Reality sucks.

    - TonyB — 3/30/2005 @ 7:55 pm

  2. What’s most frustrating about her is that on the one hand, she is obviously not acting on any of the advice I give her; but on the other hand, she is so utterly insecure that she is clinging tightly, at least on some level, to everything I say. When she asked me the other day if she should just drop out of school, I have a feeling that if I had said, “that sounds like the best idea at this point”, I’d never have seen her again. If only she would act so readily on my actual advice, such as “look over the comments I wrote on your test.”

    It’s gotten to the point that I can’t stand her so much that I worry that I am being unduly harsh in grading her tests and quizzes. I try to be objective in grading, but I am only human, alas, and humans can’t be expected to put up with this crap.

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/30/2005 @ 9:23 pm

  3. I, um, enjoy (is that the right word?) the Needs-a-B Chronicles. That’s, in part, because I was recently also in a situation where I needed a B. In particular, my degree programme has this ‘minor’ requirement. I had not taken any math classes since Fall 1999. Of course, I also hadn’t taken any classes at all since Fall 2000. Also, I hadn’t taken any classes that are not math or computer science since Spring 1996 (yay CEGEP — nope, didn’t take anything other than math and CS for my undergrad). So I was, like, well, what else am I going to take? While I know a CS student who did a minor in theoretical CS, this seemed kind of lame to me.

    All right! Must take minor! Sign me up for Introduction to Topology (taught by one Prof Emeritus J.R. Munkres) and Introduction to Lie Algebras (by V. Kac). Topology is an undergraduate class, how hard can it be? I took lots of undergrad classes when I was an undergrad! I was expecting Lie Algebras to be hard, and Topology to be something that I’d just breeze through.

    Classes for a minor must be passed with at least a B. [It seems that nothing bad happens here if you fail a class.] B-, actually, since modifiers don’t matter.

    So there I was happily topologizing. Except, well, I hear that I’m supposed to publish or something. Indeed, we submitted 7 workshop and conference papers last term. I’ll just say three things: 1) thank goodness for coauthors; 2) math is hard; 3) I wonder if I used to be saner.

    But I got my B-.

    - plam — 3/30/2005 @ 10:03 pm

  4. That conversation took only half an hour? How did you end such a thing?

    - Mitch — 3/31/2005 @ 1:26 am

  5. Honestly, it sounds like she’s got some kind of learning disability going on. I’d be wary of suggesting this, though, as she could then be the type of student who ends up saying “well, I can’t do X, I have a learning disability, so just give me my B”. Maybe suggest it after the class ends?

    - wolfangel — 3/31/2005 @ 5:42 am

  6. Mitch - it helped that I had other students waiting outside my office to talk to me. And after awhile I said to her as explicitly as possible, “Here is what you need to do before we talk further about this,” and sent her away to do that.

    Wolfangel - maybe. But if that’s the case, it’s a learning disability that manifests itself in not listening to anything I say. This isn’t just a matter of her not getting the math, though that’s certainly part of it; the real issue is that she does not listen to any feedback from me. Clearly she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I don’t think that her persistence in interpreting my comments as “you’re getting most of the material! Keep on trucking!” stems from a learning disability.

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/31/2005 @ 6:59 am

  7. Wolfangel,
    While I respect that many students have serious disabilities (I have taught two blind students in my career, both of whom I am happy to say worked hard and passed my courses), but I find some of the subject-X-phobia claims a bit troublesome. At a Large University where I used to teach, my college had a foreign language requirement for a B.S. degree. And there was some Associate Dean who would waive this requirement for any student who claimed some phobia or disability related for foreign languages. I fear there are probably schools that do the same with math, because as the talking Barbie used to say “Math is hard.”

    - William — 3/31/2005 @ 7:00 am

  8. In the core finance class at a previous school (FIN-330), we had some students that took it 2, 3, or 4 times (the record was 5 times). We referred to them as “FIN-330 majors). If faculty hold their ground, Academic Darwinism kicks in sooner or later (they change or leave the academic gene pool).

    - Unknown Professor — 3/31/2005 @ 7:52 am

  9. These continuing chronicles are addictive. It’s like watching an auto accident. Especially because most of us reading this have been in your “car” at some point in our careers. My condolences. And take my advice: everyone needs a violent hobby.

    - John — 3/31/2005 @ 8:35 am

  10. MS,
    As John said, “everyone needs a violent hobby.” I installed Doom on the PC in my office and I imagine the “needs-a-B” as one of the targets for my large-caliber weapons :)
    I happen to teach an entire course of need-a-C students; the course is called “Contemporary Mathematics” and is the math requirement for non-math, non-science, non-education majors (poli-sci, art, history, theater, etc.). Every single person who has to take this course only must take ONE math course, and needs a C or better to pass. I cannot tell you the number of students I have dealt with over the past five terms, but I am glad that this course has a small enrollment (limit of 30). I hope you get better at it that I am.

    - Joshua Sasmor — 3/31/2005 @ 8:50 am

  11. We’ve talked about this a bunch…

    Having considered it, I think you would make her quite upset but would ultimately do her a favor if you could stop being (barely) nice and be harsh… maybe it would finally snap that narcissistic world-view of hers. You’ve tried to be polite, and that hasn’t worked… maybe you have to be rude?

    On the other hand, as far as grading goes… just try to grade her paper last and then for as many problems as possible, compare her answers to other answers you have already graded? It may not be perfect but it would help me.

    - Moses — 3/31/2005 @ 8:52 am

  12. I agree that most people who are single-subject-phobic, especially (a) when that subject is math and (a.i) when they are girls, are, well, maybe phobic, but not entirely incapable of doing math, and shouldn’t be told, well, ok, then, don’t do it ever. But I never said that she was just incapable of doing math; probably she would be, if she had ever learned things like fractions.

    But — and I realise that this story may well have been edited for amusement value and privacy — the way she’s responding to you especially makes it seem like she just doesn’t get things that are said to her; it’s a verbal comprehension thing, not math. Maybe I’m wrong, but maybe not.

    Not that I think you need to do anything except, possibly, suggest she get herself tested (and possibly not) — it’s up to her, not to you to coddle her. I just think there’s more than someone who just expects things to work out because she wants them to.

    - wolfangel — 3/31/2005 @ 8:54 am

  13. “just try to grade her paper last…”

    It may be more monotonous, but grading problem by problem, rather than paper by paper might lead to more uniform grading.

    - Jen — 3/31/2005 @ 9:56 am

  14. Well, Jen, she could do it problem by problem (which I think most people do) and =always= do this student’s paper last.

    The main problem here may very well be a situation of someone who was admitted to college who should not have been admitted in the first place. Indeed, her problem may be a whole string of nice people who keep wanting to “give her a chance”, even though she hasn’t shown one piece of evidence that she’s ready to handle college material. Someone who considers math, or any field of knowledge, a matter of writing down a bunch of magical words and figures — that to learn is a matter of tricks and hacks — is not ready for adult education.

    - meep — 3/31/2005 @ 10:11 am

  15. Not long ago I had a student who was repeating a class he had taken the previous semester. He told me that he did well enough in that class, “except for my test scores.” I didn’t ask, but I wondered what part he did well on.

    In a related story, I’m thinking of spending the summer climbing Mt. Everest (except for the uphill parts).

    - Tarid — 3/31/2005 @ 10:17 am

  16. I didn’t mean to imply that some folks don’t have genuine learning disabilities or that Needs-a-B doesn’t have some mental deficiencies. Only that in my experience, too many people are quick to label their sloth or average intellect as the disability du jour. Every student at every major univeristy (such as Island U.) ought to be expected to pass Calc, Prob/Stats, Economics, and some Logic/Philosphy class in my opinion (so as to understand the ongoing debate about Social Security reform, for example). Of course, those days are long gone and I try to be happy that 2 students in my Discrete Math class seem to be paying attention.

    - William — 3/31/2005 @ 12:17 pm

  17. I tend to think this sort of thing is fallout from the self-esteem “movement” (better to say “corruption”) in primary schools today. They wind up producing students who require a constant stream of praise in order to get through the day. If at any point they get the slightest impression that someone out there doesn’t think they are absolutely swell, they get all hyper and nervous and are unable to focus on anything.

    It puts the poor instructor in a catch-22. You can’t correct or criticize them because they’ll go off the cliff mentally. On the other hand, you are doing them no favors if you tell them they are good when they aren’t. Maybe students like this don’t need a professor — they need SuperNanny!

    - Cousin Dave — 3/31/2005 @ 2:22 pm

  18. Wolfangel, regarding the verbal comprehension thing, I actually think that what I’m seeing with Needs-a-B is just an extreme example of confirmation bias, people tending to believe things that support their worldview. In this student’s case, the worldview in question is her belief that she does not completely suck. In addition, further to what Cousin Dave said, I’m disinclined to label the sort of intellectual feebleness that she has exhibited as a learning disability. (I’m biased, though, having worked with a number of learning disabled people who were not stupid. Many just needed some special provisions made, and they’d deliver. Needs-a-B, if I may put this so indelicately, is stupid.)

    (To wit: remember this? Well, Needs-a-B has decided that now she’ll be happy with a C, and what does she need to get that? Again, I told her that tests are worth suchandsuch an amount, and that the exam is worth the rest, so she can figure out how many points she has so far and how many she needs.

    “How do I do that?” she said.

    And, because I’m a saint I knew I’d be blogging this later, I went over the procedure with her. Slooooowwwwwwllly.

    She didn’t get it. She had had the guy next to her explain it to her earlier, and she hadn’t gotten it then either.

    Halfway through my explanation, she started computing things (”I have a 57% in this class, and you want to know how many points that is out of 70? So - 57/70? No wait, 70/57?”) and because I had been teaching for four and a half hours straight, I decided to watch this spectacle play out. By the time it was over, she had somehow concluded that if she’s going into the exam with a 57%, and wants a 65% in the course, she needs a 54% on the final.

    I asked her if that made sense. “Um, I guess?”

    I prompted further: can 65% be the average, in any sense, of 57% and 54%?

    She didn’t know.

    So we went over the calculations YET AGAIN and discovered that if she wanted a 65% in the course, she’d have to get around 70% on the final.

    “So,” she said, “I’m in big trouble.”

    “Yes,” I replied, not elaborating. Look, if someone cannot come to my office hours to talk to me about shit despite me constantly inviting them for same, and insists instead on ambushing me in the middle of my 6.5-hour teaching day, they forfeit their right to tact, which isn’t my strong suit under the best of circumstances.

    So, yeah. Stupid.)

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/31/2005 @ 4:11 pm

  19. I’m not saying she’s smart. I’m just saying that it sounds like more than *just* stupid. I know people with learning disabilities at all levels — mostly they’re average students, with trouble in whatever spheres. Some are smart. Some are stupid (which is compounded). But it’s a more complex issue than just “people are lazy and claim they have disabilities as an excuse”.

    I don’t have anything invested in this girl (except that I, too, am enjoying the stories). I have no idea who she is. I am not even sure what school you’re at. It still sounds like she’s just not processing (correctly) anything she hears. You can agree or not. You can tell her this eventually or not. It’s just my interpretation.

    - wolfangel — 3/31/2005 @ 7:31 pm

  20. Fair enough. But it’s one of those “well, she got through life up to this point, apparently able to process what other people said to a reasonable extent, and now this” things. I agree that it’s something deeper than her just being stupid, and I certainly don’t think that this particular student is lazy. (I agree that it’s a more complex issue than “people are lazy and claim they have disabilities as an excuse”, though it may or may not be much more complex than “some people aren’t very bright and claim to have disabilities as an excuse”.)

    Insofar as I’m willing to play armchair psychologist here, however, I’d be more inclined to wager that rather than her having a learning disability, she has some sort of emotional/psychological issue here. Insecurity writ large, in a sense: the more I talk to her, the more I suspect that she craves validation more than anything else. And if there’s one personality trait that I have trouble dealing with, alas, it’s insecurity (largely because it tends to go hand-in-hand with crassly manipulative behaviour which is even more difficult to deal in insecure people than in general, because insecure people are inherently pretty fragile).

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/31/2005 @ 8:32 pm

  21. Doesn’t your institution have some kind of support service for students? My guess is that every professor is having similar experiences with this poor dear. A math class is not really the right venue for solving psychological problems. You shouldn’t have to deal with this. She shouldn’t be wasting her tuition money. Other people shouldn’t have to have her as a co-worker when she’s not capable of doing the job.

    Or perhaps she’s just imitating some movie or TV star. The dumb “blond” schtick does seem to succeed quite well.

    - Susan — 3/31/2005 @ 9:11 pm

  22. I’m coming to the discussion a little late so I may have missed something–forgive me if you’ve already posted the answer to this: Does your college have a math placement exam? A student who does not understand averages has no business in ANY college-level math course. She may be the victim of some of the horrible “fuzzy math” programs popular in K-12; she may indeed have some sort of disability or at least a low aptitude that prevented her from acquiring the foundational skills; but regardless of the reason, she is not prepared for the course. I would be interested in whether your school has remedial math courses and if so, how students are screened for them. Also, do you give any sort of pre-test to your students at the beginning of the term? That might be a way to screen for Needs-a-B types and recommend a more appropriate course for them. Again, I apologize if you have already addressed this.

    - Garbo — 3/31/2005 @ 9:19 pm

  23. Susan - actually, apparently Needs-a-B has been doing just fine in her other classes, so I’m not so sure she’s being as much of a pain in the ass to her other instructors.

    Garbo - yeah, I’ve addressed it somewhere. In short: no, we don’t have an entrance exam; instead, we just have prereqs for the courses I teach: students need at least grade 11 under their belts. This would be fine, if students actually learned anything in high school, which they don’t. In one of my classes I gave out a “things you should know by now” handout at the beginning of the term; I told them that that sheet contained prerequisite material, and that I would not be teaching it during the term. That’s as much power as I have right now to “place” students. We don’t offer a lower-level, more appropriate course; in theory, that’s the high schools’ job.

    The other day I talked to my (wonderful) department head about this. He told me about the adult ed upgrading course that some of my older students took prior to taking mine: it’s three years of high school (in theory), condensed into one year. 80% of the students in that class get A’s. 10% get A-’s, and the remainder get B’s. All of a sudden, I was able to put a conversation with another student of mine in perspective: “I don’t understand why I’m failing this course,” she said. “I’m working really hard. And I got a B in the upgrading course!”

    - Moebius Stripper — 4/1/2005 @ 6:54 am

  24. That is a sad situation and you have my deep sympathy. Back when high schools taught things like Algebra 2/Trig, the “prerequisite” approach to college course placement was sufficient; but now that it’s anybody’s guess what if any math high school students are taught, lots of colleges are going to the placement exam/remediation model. Students receive no credit for the remedial courses. A college my son applied to looks at the math score on the student’s ACT or SAT to determine whether remediation is needed. They take remedial math until they can *demonstrate* the skills required to succeed in college math–they can’t just say they got a B in some course.

    I hope you can work with your department head to initiate some sort of institutional change in this direction. In your current system, everyone loses: the unprepared students can’t learn the material, the strong students are held to a slower pace, and you’re going nuts as I’m sure are many of your colleagues. If your department head really is wonderful, he or she should be able to get someone’s attention with this and point to some successful placement models at other colleges.

    Hang in there. It’s April already.

    - Garbo — 4/1/2005 @ 10:52 am

  25. A tangential comment here, MS, appropos of the last bullet point, the one about heridity vs. environment . One thing that’s always been fascinating to me is that heredity, in many ways, influences one’s environment, in a sort-of self-perpetuating loop. For example, suppose a child is born with a *slight* propensity to enjoy a certain cerebral task — say, reading, or doing math. That child then tends to spend more time doing that task than she otherwise would — thus, the environment becomes more enriching, doubly enhancing an innate ability/propensiy that was only slight or moderate. And so on. And of course this trend can work in the opposite fashion, causing someone to spend *less* time on a certain kind of enriching task, perpetuating and accentuating an initial innate slight lack of ability. //End tangential remark.

    - wes — 4/2/2005 @ 7:42 am

  26. “But it’s one of those “well, she got through life up to this point, apparently able to process what other people said to a reasonable extent, and now this” things.”

    After a couple of decades doing engineering (software), I decided to take up geology. Although I’m in a Master’s program, I had to make up undergraduate deficiencies. Only one of these was a lower-division class, a lab that many students take to fullfill a general education science requirement because it uses almost no math.

    The number of humanities students in the class who did poorly ***because they didn’t listen or weren’t able to process the simple instructions in the lab*** was shocking. Well, to me anyhow. My lab “partners” just went blank when asked to think logically. It was freaky. I was quite willing to drag them along and help their grade, but they couldn’t deal even with that. They seemed not able to process what they were told.


    - Karen — 4/2/2005 @ 10:15 pm

  27. With this student it seems to be a matter of not being able to put simple concepts together. She can plug stuff into the formulas, as long as I tell her exactly what stuff to plug in. Certain intuitive principles (”probabilities/proportions are numbers between 0 and 1″) are things that she’ll read, remember, and then have no clue how to apply.

    I just graded her last quiz. This quiz was quite well done, overall, but Needs-a-B did miserably because she blindly tried to match the numbers in the paragraph to the letters in the formula, and guessed incorrectly. Argh. She tells me (and I believe her) that she spends hours every day studying, but here’s what I suspect: she tries the problems, checks the answers in the back of the book, saw she got the questions wrong, and then reverse-engineers things by plugging different permutations of numbers into equations until her numbers match the book’s. Then, she starts the next problem afresh, goes through the exact thing again, because she didn’t figure out WHY the last set of numbers she tried yielded the correct answer.

    Of course, there’s no point telling her this, because…she basically understands the material, right? Right?

    - Moebius Stripper — 4/3/2005 @ 10:31 am

  28. I found the comments above really interesting, mostly because I just took a college math course and failed it. I have used various excuses to myself, including “I didn’t have the prerequisite math concepts” (this was an upper level undergraduate class–Set Theory–and I have taken CS/logic classes before), “I was over committed” (4 other classes), “I didn’t try hard enough” (though spent 8-10 hours per homework and 2-3 days studying before the midterm and final, each), and finally “I just don’t understand math” (probably not true since I used to enjoy math in high school and got a perfect score on the math SAT’s). But enough of my attempts to explain my problems with the class…

    (A quick note: I do take full responsibility for my grade and am not trying to blame it on “personal problems” or poor instruction–my professor was a great instructor and his lectures were always interesting.)

    But… I think that had I approached my professor regarding my lack of understanding, he would have shared the same frustration that you did, and for that reason, I never asked for help with the concepts that I didn’t understand. I now have huge insecurities, especially in regard to math. I currently have no confidence in my mathmatical abilities and it will take a lot before I am even able to read a problem without immediately assuming that I won’t understand it. I didn’t want to irritate and frustrate the professor by continually asking for explanations of even simple concepts, so I quietly failed the course. Wes–this is your self-reinforcing loop working in the worst ways. But I don’t really see a way out of it.

    Like your student, I would read various theorems, try to prove them, and then read the given proof in the book. If I was wrong, I tried to understand the proof given, but unfortunately, I always missed the insight or intuition behind the correct proof. I would understand why my proof was wrong (and why the one in the book was right), but I continually failed to be able to generate correct proofs on my own. I’m still trying to figure out how I could have gotten the required intuition to be able to succeed in the class (I’m not sure memorizing proofs would have helped, though I tried that too).

    So, this is in part a plea to be more patient–I understand you are probably both frustrated. Perhaps also you can find a teaching assistant who would be able to share more of the burden of explaining and re-explaining the same concepts?

    My “solution” is to further avoid all math classes…

    - a "dumb" student — 4/7/2005 @ 3:13 am

  29. I should apologize for posting before reading the rest of your blog(I came here from the education carnival site). Your situation is a bit different from my prof’s–and my guess is that you don’t get the luxury of teaching assistants.

    - a "dumb" student — 4/7/2005 @ 3:46 am

  30. not so “dumb” student, I always sniffed a strong dose of denial in the stories of Needs-a-B that I don’t in yours. I hope you can make your peace with this failed course.

    - Jen — 4/7/2005 @ 10:03 am

  31. Like, Jen, I don’t want to address the “dumb” student by his/her chosen moniker; as Jen said - my student is in denial, unlike you, DS. She’s weak, but I’ve had weak students before; the issue with Needs-a-B runs far deeper. It’s self-esteem, and an inability/unwillingness to listen to what I say.

    Last semester, I had a student who, in terms of raw mathematical ability and experience, was on par with Needs-a-B. Like Needs-a-B, this former student hadn’t taken a math class in years; like Needs-a-B, this former student lacked a lot of the prerequisite knowledge. Both students spent a lot of time in my office.

    The difference is, my former student listened to what I said. If I said to her, “[blah] is an important concept; think about it next time you’re working on this problem, and try to set up the equations as follows,” then the next time she came to my office, she’d bring half-worked solutions from which it was clear that she was taking my advice. Needs-a-B, on the other hand, nods whenever I’m talking, and then goes off and bangs her head against the wall studying the exact same way as she did the previous term. My former student, by the way, got a C+ in the course, and I’ve never had a student work so hard before.

    So, dumb student (and no apologies needed for not reading my whole site; it’s a big blog) - know that I don’t approach all of my strugging students the way that I have come to approach Needs-a-B (with whom I was very patient the first five times she asked me for help - before it became clear that I wasn’t listening). I am infinitely patient with students struggling with the math. I am less so with student struggling with their own pigheadedness and senses of entitlement.

    And, you’re right - I have no teaching assistants. Fortunately there’s a tutorial centre, and many of my students have benefitted from it. But I do all of my own grading; over 3500 pages of tests and quizzes to date. At the end of the term I plan to post a tally; it’s been pretty crazy.

    - Moebius Stripper — 4/7/2005 @ 9:07 pm

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