Monday, January 31, 2011

One Small Reward

One small reward to this career path comes when you realize that some of the material you covered sunk in. Every now and again I get a note from a former student who saw something on a trip, or in a movie, of heard from an elder family member that strikes them because they remembered covering it in class. How about that. Sometimes they really are listening and absorbing the material.......


  1. In my big astronomy class for non-majors wanting to burn off a general ed requirement and not wanting to take a "real" science class, I have to put up with lots of grossly immature, patently unprofessional behavior, so it can get discouraging. Our university has a plot of land in the foothills, about half an hour from campus, where the sky is dark enough to see meteors, and the Milky Way. Most students have lived all their lives in the city, so this is often the first time they've seen a dark sky. They do see it, too: at the beginning of every semester, I ask how many of them have seen the Milky Way. Maybe 5-10 hands go up, out of 100. Near the end of the semester, when we cover galaxies, I ask this again, and about 2/3 of the students raise their hands. That’s an achievement: so it isn’t all for nothing, I’m glad to say.

  2. I often have old students let me know how my courses affected them, both in and outside of their later classroom experiences. Sometimes they're even students who thought I was too "harsh" during the course but later realized the method to my madness. I even once had a student thank me for failing her! "I wasn't ready to move up," she said, "but I didn't know it then." These sorts of things are indeed gratifying. It's nice too when former students choose to take yet another course with me.

    If only they were our only students, eh?

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  4. Today was the day I covered cosmic history in my astronomy class. I pass around fossils, from my collection: meteorites, trilobites, dinosaur teeth and footprints, the whole bit. This is usually the first and probably will be the only time my students will get to handle real fossils. Even if this class almost always degenerates into a rowdy free-for-all, it does achieve something.

    So it isn't all for nothing, but I sure wish it were better than it is. I wish that at least half of my graduating seniors could write at college level, instead of what I could do in 9th grade: and I wish any of them could do math problems I could do in 5th grade. I'd get a better feeling of accomplishing something if they could do that.

  5. Like issyvoo, I really appreciate the "I'm glad you were tough about . . ." missives. They come rarely, but they always lift my morale. I've never had a student say "I'm glad you failed me," but a few who failed my class have retaken it from me, despite plenty of other options. I guess it's reasonable to be a bit encouraged by that, too.

    @Froderick: I want to come see your fossils! Actually, what I'd really love is to replace my fast-disintegrating formica kitchen counters with stone that contains fossils, so I could see them every day. But I fear that is beyond my budget and maintenance capabilities. I've looked for a fake version (which might be more eco-conscious anyway, though I'm not sure); sadly, no one seems to have decided this would be a popular pattern.

  6. Froderick, I wish I'd been in your class today!


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