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Friday, July 30, 2004

Entering the shameless spin zone

Or Unfair, Unbalanced and Proud Of It.

With the end of John Kerry's speech, the end of any pretense to fairness by most of us pundits has now ended as well. For us Democrats, John Kerry is all that is Good and Righteous while Bush is the Worst President Ever (tm), compared to whom Nixon, Johnson and Buchanan failed miserably in their striving for infamy. Republicans beg to differ, as would be expected from those deluded fools hopelessly addicted to the drugged Kool-Aid so liberally ladled out by Karl Rove.

Okay, maybe Bush would commit a moral and unselfish act if a [redacted]. Just understand that from most of us pundits you will get loads of heat and precious little light.



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Wednesday, July 07, 2004


Sorry about my recent absence from the Lair. I was too busy teaching my first algebra class and wanted to teach it well enough to be invited to teach a second.

Teaching algebra to business-college students was a true learning experience. Some of the lessons drawn:

A high-school diploma is no guarantee that students know the multiplication tables. It is also no guarantee that students cannot integrate trigonometric functions over finite intervals. And no matter how thorough a high-school education is, twenty years of raising children or working low-skill jobs is an excellent way to forget large swaths of it.

The classroom is not a democracy. Or if it is, the students have already voted, you have been elected, and now you have to lead the class. They may vote again after your class ends.

Jubal Harshaw's ideal from "Stranger in a Strange Land", anarchy with a smattering of tyranny, is not a good classroom model unless the tyrant is extremely skillful. By definition, a first-time instructor is not extremely skillful.

Nontraditional career-college students often face many forms of purgatory. Incarceration, unplanned pregnancy, imminent military deployment, chemotherapy, crime victimization, interstate custody fights and spousal abandonment come to mind. Withhold your judgments and try to work with the individual student. (More often than not, some of these students are the most motivated and only need an assignment postponed or a test made up.)

While you may delight in algebra, your students probably do not. (Otherwise they would be in some trigonometry, finite math or calculus course by now!) Some of them hate and fear it.

Teach to the middle of the class. For those in danger of falling behind, cut off the lecture early and allow 10-15 minutes for in-class work and individual instruction and don't watch the clock when helping them. For advanced students, offer extra credit on topics not covered in class.

When designing an exam, make sure that you know how many points each problem is worth and write down on a sheet of paper the worked-out solutions to every problem and indications on how each problem is to be graded. Not only can this protect you from accusations of favoritism, but it also makes grading more rapid, accurate and is fairer to the students.

If you have an issue with a student, NEVER bring it up in class!

Do not ask the students how they want the class conducted. Students of good will and intention will disagree and some of them will be disappointed when you choose the methods that they do not like. It is also an abdication of your responsibilities. (But feel free to change your teaching style if 75% of the class flunks a test you thought they would pass.)

Find out from the dean what the school expects of the students. It will probably differ from what you went through in college.

Finally, remember that the class is about the topic being taught. It is not about you nor them.


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