Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Imparting Wisdom

It has been a good long time since I have shared the joys of teaching with my faithful blog readers. Since I gave a final last night and another this morning and I won't see the eyes of another college Algebra student for at least two weeks, I feel that I am in an appropriate state of mind to conquer this very task.

Last night, after completing his final, one of my students was joyfully exclaiming that he had miraculously passed the class. Since we were practically alone in the classroom, I commented that had he attended class a little more often, it may not have been such a miraculous feat. He then proceeded to tell me about his life that quarter. Now, being a Math teacher, I would not think that, by nature, I would inspire people to share their deepest life issues with me. But apparently, there is something in my demeanor that screams "tell me all of your problems." Yeah, I've got to work on that.

So, his girlfriend had broken up with him. His car broke down for a few days mid-quarter. At the first of the quarter, he didn't have enough gas in his car to make it to class one night. I've heard it all before. Life can be very traumatic when you are 23. If I seem cynical, it may be because I am. I looked at him straight in the eyes and told him that not one of us had a life free of disruptions and problems and that sometimes you just needed to keep going and figure out how to still keep the important parts of your life running while you sort out the crap on the sidelines.

He sort of shrugged his shoulders and went off to celebrate his D in the class, but I really wished he would have taken a second and listened to what I was trying to tell him since I believe it was much more important than the unit on matrices or maybe even the trigonometry unit. Okay, not the trigonometry unit, but still, many of my younger students believe that in order to have a successful life, you must have a life free of "bad things happening to you". And, when bad things do happen, you are then given a free ticket to fail in whatever way is most convenient at the time, you know, as a recompense.

I don't know how to help these students. In fact, I don't know a lot of things. Maybe, I should just stick to Math.


Brig said...

He may not have had gas money, but did you ask if he had beer money?

Maybe you should do a unit on locus of control.

Kimbooly said...

I remember once hearing an NPR report on college student excuses, and one professor's comments. She explained that she required a note of authenticity for a "grandparent's" funeral (I can't remember if it was a doctor's note, or the death certificate, or what) because it was such a common excuse.

What was poignant about her comments that ties to your post is that she explained how many of her students came up with every excuse in the book, yet some students came in no matter the crap on the side that happened in their lives. One gal came in to take a test (or final maybe?) all bandaged up, even though the night before her radiator in her apt. had burst on her. Both hands were completely bundled up, yet the gal wedged her writing utensil in and still took the test.

So, to say suck it up a little more to your poor defenseless student, I give today's happenings:
My friend's car died yesterday; alternator (over 20 minutes of charging the battery still ended in a dead car the second we disconnected the jumper cables).

Today said friend had to get 3 out of 5 children to school at 8 am, get the K child picked up at 11:30, get the older two at minimum day schedule of 12:30, and go back to school at 2:20 for a parent teacher conference. She walked the kids to school in the morning (2 miles roundtrip), I got a ride for her kindergartner, & I picked up her two oldest.

She got walked the one month old baby toward a babysitter a mile away, then the half-mile walk to get to the school for the parent-teacher conference. I stopped inbetween piano lessons, went and picked her up and took her to the school for the conference, with all 3 of my kids and 4 of her 5 kids.

After all that incredible hassle, the teacher wasn't there. Sigh.

But that's life. I drove her back to pick up the baby, took them home, and went back to teaching piano lessons. Grr, but what could we do? Nothing.

If she hadn't called me to borrow a stroller (since hers was locked in their garage/storage unit and her garage door opener was in their towed, dead car), she would have spent more than half her afternoon walking around with an 8, 7, 5, 14 month, and one month old baby, all for nothing. Only because she called did I know her plan and was able to drive them around.

(and yes, I now want the award for LONGEST blog post comment ever)

Matt Munyan said...

I think you nailed it on the head.

Trigonometry really is much more important than matrices.

It looks like your student will never figure that out, as sad as that thought is. But perhaps someday he'll learn for himself the life lesson you tried to teach him.

Liz said...

When I was in engaged to Peter while in college I had a teacher tell me that I was the first student she ever had that kept it together after getting engaged. She said everyone else always seemed to forget to show up to class and do their homework. I took it as a compliment.

I also took a final during my uncle's funeral.