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Bad Classroom Experiences

This is a rant about some bad classroom experiences I've had. This isn't a list of personal grudges or gripes about teachers I hated (that would fill a small encyclopedia), but a rant about people I who think perverted their role as an educator, and would do the world a service if they never taught again.

Dom

I once had a total wuss-bag of a thermodynamics professor. This guy thought he was totally unique and cutting-edge because he was an oh-so sensitive guy who did things no one else did, like assign people to do homework in groups (no one except every single other professor on campus did that...). One day he decided he would indoctrinate the whole class with a video about sexual discrimination, which all men (except him) were perpetrators and all women victims of. The scenarios in the video were so ludicrous it was hilarious. I mean, even the women in the class agreed that the video was only marginally relevant... for 1940.

Naturally, the guy knew shit about engineering.

Ms. Fisher

In my last semester as an undergrad, I had Technical Writing with the amazing Ms. Fisher. This woman ran the class like a kindergarten. One day when I slept through class, she decided that I didn't understand the importance of the subject (actually I was pretending to sleep, trying to avoid the kindergarten stuff), and gave my name to the composition office director. The composition office began calling me every day to offer me their "help" (read: beat me into submission); I resisted. Finally they threatened me with probation if I didn't go to talk to them, so I went. They beat me into submission. I obediently participated in Ms. Fisher's kindergarten fun for the rest of the semester. In fact, I behaved so well that it convinced Ms. Fisher that they had "gotten to me" and made me into a good automaton, so she reversed some of my disciplinary markdowns and I got an A in the class.

Oh boy, did I let her have it on the student evaluations. It was the foulest, most insulting thing I'd ever written. I mean, I said I'd do stuff like get her name tattooed into my anal sphincter. I made it very clear that they hadn't "gotten to me".

Payoff came sometime later, as a grad student. While walking around I saw her catch sight of me. She looked down and tried to pretend she didn't see me.

Tim

I was a TA for this instructor. Until I met him, I didn't really have a good sense of what, exactly, it meant to be a "prick". But this guy was a first class one.

The defining moment came late in the semester. While checking a homework assignment, I noticed there was a lot of confusion on a certain problem. I notified Tim, and immediately regretted it. You see, I told him this so that he would know that it was a weak point and could then spend more time on it; perhaps by going over it again in the next class or something. However, he didn't do that. The first thing he said after I told him was, "Oh my God, how could they not get it?" He actually seemed offended and disgusted that they didn't understand it. I was totally taken aback. I told him they were really tired from the long semester, and he shouldn't get too upset about it. (This, by the way, was "Hell Semester": fall of the junior year of aerospace engineering. It was a long, grueling semester, with four relentless nitty-gritty classes, and everyone was totally fried at the end of it.) He said something like, "Ok, fine," and I left him.

Now, if that was all that had happened, it would have been no big deal. I probably would have chalked it up to him being pretty fried himself. But it was followed up by something so cold I couldn't believe it.

When checking the final exams, there was a problem on it that was ridiculously hard for undergrads. In fact, it was so hard I took the unusual step of emailing Tim urging him to drop it. His response? He was punishing them because no one had asked for any further help after I told him they were having trouble with it. The problem would be counted, and they deserved it.

WHAT THE FUCK: YOU'RE A TEACHER, NOT A FUCKING CORRECTIONS OFFICER. If they're having problems, your job is to help them with it, not to dole out extra punishment for it.

A little later he had the nerve to criticize me for taking so long to check the tests (you know, maybe if you hadn't put Ph.D. level problems on it, I wouldn't be). I took my grand old time with them after that.

Looking back on all this, Timmy here is the one guy I always regretted not giving a piece of my mind to when I had the chance. I wouldn't even have suffered (it was my last semester as a TA). At the time I thought it was best to keep your mouth shut in such situations. But if anyone ever deserved to get a tongue lashing from me, it was Timmy.

The One I Do Not Name

In order to put the sins of The One I Do Not Name into context, let me tell you a little hypothetical story. Say you have two third graders, Jack and Jill. Jack sleeps through class, doesn't behave very well, and is inconsistent in doing his homework. Jill never misbehaves, always does what the teacher asks, and always does her homework. And Jack consistently outscores Jill on tests. Now who is Mrs. Jane Third-Grade-Teacher going to say is the better student?

Jill, of course.

But why? Jack evidently knows the material better. Jack is better educated. If education is the point of grade school, why is the better educated person considered a lesser student?

The reason, simply, is that education is not the point of grade school. The point is to teach obedience. Education is indeed a goal of school, and also the justification for it, but it's not the point. The point is obedience. For this reason, I often facetiously refer to grades K-6 as "obedience school".

Generally, teachers at least give lip service to the idea that education is the point and not merely a goal, which is better than nothing: it gives you something to hold them to and bargain with. However, I once had a teacher who didn't even do that. Guess who that was.

Yes, The One I Do Not Name actually claimed right to my face that schooling was about obedience (in Its words, "developing self-discipline", because in Its deluded mind we really wanted to do whatever the person claiming to be an authority told us to, we just didn't have the discipline). This came out in a conference with my parents, while discussing the purpose of homework. I was questioning the value of them forcing me to do homework, seeing that The One I Do Not Name, my parents, and I all knew very well that, from an educational standpoint, doing it would be useless to me because I already knew the stuff. But in this case, The One I Do Not Name openly acknowledged that obedience was the whole point, which pretty much nullified my whole argument.

Note that, at the time, I wasn't actually trying to weasel out of my responsibility. And in fact, I was more than willing to accept the bad grades that would result from doing homework inconsistently, and even the occasional scolding. But The One I Do Not Name believed that it was positively immoral to care so little about your homework (that it was utterly useless was irrelevant); It treated this as a behavioral problem in me, which meant involving my parents. That's what I didn't want. (Fortunately, my parents either saw through Its bullshit, or were too lazy to keep up with It on it.)

This was a poignant example of The One I Do Not Name's total chauvinism for teaching "self-discipline", but it permeated my whole experience with It.

I got the satisfaction of returning the favor once, and making It accept an issue on my terms. At my school we had to do those stupid Christmas pageants, and they made us practice like hell for them. I was able to learn the words and music after about a week or so of daily practice, with about two weeks of daily practices looming. So, being uselessly herded off every day to practice singing a bunch of songs I already knew, for a pageant I knew I wasn't going to (my family managed to remember to go it maybe once), I naturally started goofing off and being generally silly (though not bothering anyone else) during the practices. I would have died of boredom otherwise. The One I Do Not Name evidently decided that It would punish my behavior by filming my silliness and showing it to the whole school.

After the practice ended, The One I Do Not Name and the music teacher stopped me and asked me why I was goofing off, and told me that It had filmed it and would show it to the whole school. After playing dumb for a bit, I told them I didn't need the practice, because I had already learned the lyrics, and I was just acting silly because I was bored. Now, The One I Do Not Name was very familiar with my protests on educational grounds, and I think It thought It could catch me in a lie here, thus proving I didn't really care about education and was just trying to weasel out of work. So It challenged me on the spot to recite the whole Christmas pageant right there. I did it. The music teacher was amazed; all The One I Do Not Name could do was apologize and send me off to lunch. Thenceforth no one talked to me about acting silly in practice.

Tags: bad_teachers, brick, college, grade_school, rant, teacher
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/bricksinthewall
Last Edited: 8 August 2006, 6:42 PM
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