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It’s Not You; It’s Me

When I took calculus in high school, it was with a poor teacher. She took questions as threats, perhaps because she wasn’t quite firm on the material herself—I’m told she flunked calc at ECC. I learned straight from the textbook. Fortunately I could. Still, on the first test I scored only a B. Three other students got D’s. The rest failed. Results like that are not a failure on the students’ part; it’s a failure on the teacher’s.

I bring this up because my students performed quite badly on these first homework assignments in probability, in a way that indicates the problem lies with me. That’s not as hard to take as the bored stares or, worse, bored lack of eye contact, but it’s still hard. So I have work to do. I have to rack my brains for a new approach. I have to backtrack and handle this twice, as the semester clock ticks away. And I’ll have to start with an admission that I’m the weak link here.

Maybe that admission will help with bonding; the kids have reacted well in the past to an admission that I’m under scrutiny, just as worried as they are. A novice teacher’s grace period doesn’t last forever, but it can motivate students. Regardless of whether I can exploit that bit of psychology, however, it’s important to reassure the kids that the trouble they’re having doesn’t lie in themselves. I’d rather have them lose confidence in me than in their own ability to do math. And my ego be damned.

So I guess I learned something from my high school calc teacher after all.

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