Today is the end of my summer precalculus course. In fact, my students are struggling through the final as we speak. It took some effort, but I convinced them to read through the entire test first and to start with the easiest problem. I asked them to circle the first problem on which they work, so I should have that to interest me while I’m grading. I helped them out by making the first three problems graphing problems (which students seem to abhor, at least in my classes).
But I don’t want to talk about my final. I want to talk about my high school class (you remember, it is the one that drove me to write that self-serving melodramatic structured paragraph with a rhyming pattern that passes for poetry in my warped mind). Anyway, I showed up today without a quiz. I gave them a homework assignment, but there was no formal assessment.
Yep, that was their reaction. One student blurted out, “How come every time I study, you don’t give a quiz?” I told him that this was the second time I hadn’t given a quiz (the other was the first day of class) and so I take it to mean that this was the only time he had studied.
Student: But I know this stuff, now.
AG: Great! I can’t wait for you to show me.
Student: Can I show you now?
AG: We’re going to cover some new material now, but after that you may show me, or you can wait for the next quiz on Tuesday.
Student: (mumbles for a little) But sir, I got it.
I’m silently thinking to myself during this whole conversation that I am at the doors to math teacher heaven. This guy is not one of the stronger students and has shown some, but not much, interest. Now, he is begging me to test him, to show off what he knows. He is seeking validation and I am the only one he knows that can give it. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but I’ve got it and I don’t want to let it go.
And then I did. I turned a boring lecture into a long boring lecture. He never did get to show me what he knows (there is always next Tuesday, but let’s face it, that might as well be next year). It is as if someone succeeds after spending hours trying to light a fire in the wilderness and I walk by moments later and blow it out, remarking, “If this got much bigger, we might have a forest fire on our hands.”
I cheated the student out of his glory, his satisfaction, his reward for a job well done: I stole his enthusiasm by making it subservient to my purpose.
Dude. That sucks! What is wrong with you?
I don’t know, man. I don’t know.