## Monday, May 6, 2013

### Personality Transformations Make Me THIRSTY.

Many years ago, the parents of a friend were kind enough to let me use their basement bedroom while I was temporarily between apartments. They asked no rent, but, as they were still finishing the basement, the deal was that I would occasionally pitch in to help with the renovations. They really only asked me to help once, and didn't even ask much of me at that. They were very kind people, and I think of them fondly to this day.

However, this is not a place for kindness.

My friend's mother, see, had been a junior high math teacher for many, many years, though she had since moved on to teaching some lower-level computer classes at a nearby university. She had not escaped from grade-school pedagogy unscathed, however. The day they asked me to help, I had been tasked to measure an area to determine how many square feet of linoleum would be needed to cover the floor. The measurement was a simple one - I don't remember the figures exactly after so long, but it was something elementary like 6.5 by 9. I walked over to report dutifully that we'd need 58.5 sq.ft. of linoleum. The math isn't that hard. And yet.

Before I could say a word, she asked - sweetly - what the measurements were. Without thinking about it, I told her, commenting, "So, that's fifty-eight-and-a-half square feet." She just nodded as if she hadn't heard me, muttering to herself, "Where's my pencil?" When she finally located it, she produced a sheet a paper, narrating, "Now, we take a clean sheet of paper..." Then she started to write.

"So, you said the length was six and a half feet..." She drew a nice neat "6 1/2."

"...and the width was nine feet." She drew a lovely "9."

"Now," she went on in a pleasant, even voice, "we take the product..." She put a precisely executed "x" between the two numbers.

"...of the two numbers." She put an admirably even "=" to the right of her "9."

Then she turned to me and looked over her glasses expectantly. It took me a full minute, I think, to gather my wits. Finally, I stammered out, "Uh, fifty-eight-point-five."

"That's right!" she beamed.

I should note I was twenty-four at this time.

Now, I hadn't thought about this in years, until last night, when I was watching an old episode of The Amazing Race, and there was a pair of schoolteachers who talked and acted like they were still in front of a classroom, the whole time they were on camera. I was struck by how some educators, after years of putting on a very particular "classroom persona," just get consumed by it, unable to "break character" even in what we laughingly call "real life."

So, here's my Thirsty:

Q: Do you have any "classroom persona" habits that have infected your "real" life?

I have noted that this tends to affect college instructors less prominently, but I'm still curious.

1. I have the exact opposite problem. My real life persona of "parent" (as a father of several young children), has become my classroom persona. I find it much more effective in dealing with students when I put on my 'parent voice.'

1. Watch that. I got in trouble for treating a student just like I treat my own children. I told her she should "Shut up, quit bitching, and do the damn homework."

2. My kids are still very young, so I'm not there yet on the foul language, but thanks for the warning...

2. I've noticed some long time instructors have "teacher volume" that gets used when they are talking to more than one person. If they are having a one on one conversation they are at an acceptable conversational volume, but if another person walks up or joins in, suddenly their volume goes up a couple of decibels.

1. I've been accused of this. But it doesn't take an extra person in the conversation. My volume goes up when the topic is something I teach, especially if I've been teaching earlier that day.

One sister says I'm unbearable on certain topics, particularly pseudoscience. She offered me a homeopathic remedy, and in my view, I thanked her and considered it a teachable moment. In her view, I ripped her a new one while being insufferably patronizing.

She's probably right.

2. I'm the same way on pseudoscience. Some of my friends joked once that it was like "hitting a button." There's also the incident from last week where my brother asked "what IS hamsterosophy, anyway?" and I inadvertently went into my first-day-of-class spiel.

3. I go into what my wife calls "lecture mode," especially when it involves my discipline. "Well, actually, it's not quite that simple. You see, when....." and off I go.......

4. PG, you must be a Libra. Libras are very intolerant of pseudoscience. ;)

5. MA&M, oh my Goddess, that is like so true! Also, my height in rods divided by my weight in stones has an uncanny relationship to pi.

6. I, too, have a tendency to explain far more of the complexities of a situation related to my research than most people want to hear about, especially when it comes to the intersection between the particular social justice movement the literary products of which I study and religion (also a subject about which I have strong interests and opinions). Many of my co-religionists (especially the more conservative ones) want to say "oh; so and so supported social justice because (s)he was a Christian." Unfortunately, it's not that simple. I also manage to annoy skeptics of religion of varying degrees by insisting that faith actually did play a role.

3. Is Cal off his meds. That's a Friday Thirsty graphic!

1. I put up the graphic, in an effort to be "helpful"... and messed it up. Best left to the professionals, eh?

2. Cool your jets, Hiram.

Les

4. As a high school teacher I sometimes need to check my impulse to tell random teenagers to quiet down and behave. Though to be fair, my actual students generally behave better than many adults I encounter in public places.

It's funny how many people will obey a total stranger as long as the stranger reprimands them with authority.

1. My kids hate it when I do this. It happened just a couple of weeks ago at a film festival. A physics professor had offered extra credit to students who saw "Flatland" and "Sphereland." I shot mean looks and hairy eyeballs at students around me who were talking and reading their cell phones during the films. This taught me how well my teenage son can hiss.

And yes, Surly, these students obeyed me, grudgingly.

2. Proffie Galore, I did that once at the town fireworks display one July evening, and finally told them to either pay attention to the fireworks or to leave. I did notice, however, that a bunch of people around me looked very grateful for my intervention. Geez, it's not like these kids were Droogs in a Clockwork Orange type dystopia, if you tell them to shut up with even a hint of authority in your voice, they will.

5. Dealing with freshmen students for so long provided me with many skills that are helpful in raising my children, at least through fourth grade. After that, my kids' honesty, inquisitiveness and work ethic exceeded those of my students.

1. Same here on both counts!

2. We don't have kids, just dogs. I'm not sure how well one affects the other... Although, i have been known to snap "SIT!" at students sometimes.... And they do beg for grades. None have rolled over and asked for a tummy rub yet...

6. One of our (now retired) faculty member was like this when he gave research seminars. He has published for a long time but really didn't present his stuff at conferences. Hence his research talk presentation was, well, very much like a college freshman lecture style: "We see that X is a product..."of what", "of a surface and the unit interval", etc.

His stuff was actually decent (for research at such a small, "teaching oriented" university), but he was stuck in Freshman calculus mode.

7. I have rental apartments and I rent to mostly college students. I noticed that I speak to them as I would speak to my students. I repeat everything twice and then check for understanding. Also, I noticed that if a student comes up to the podium after class to ask me a question, I always respond in lecture voice, as if I was speaking to the whole class. I don't do this purposely; it just comes out that way.

8. My parents. My god, they cannot leave the classroom behind. We get together for a reunion, a lecture on public parks; we eat dinner together, a lecture on table manners. All in that lipstick-like sugary voice that hints at detention.

I can't even talk to them about hobbies anymore.

1. My stepmother has these tendencies, too (even though she's been retired for decades). But she refuses to talk to me, so that simplifies (some) things (and, of course, complicates others).

9. After I stopped teaching Public Speaking as an adjunct and started my PhD, it took me ages to stop taking notes about the professor's speaking style during classes!

10. Also, I know several kindergarten teachers who use their mad skillz to get a noisy group of people to listen at a party.

1. I'm told sheepdogs (and other herding dogs) tend to nudge the attendees into a group in the middle of a room at parties, so apparently it isn't only humans who can't leave work at work.

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