Argghhhh… Frustrations and Depressions

I don’t generally whine about the teaching aspect of my life but…

So here I’m teaching a course that I haven’t taught in three years, and it is a basic, required course, non-science majors.  I put a lot into it because I have to convince a bunch of students who hate science that science, even physics, hell, especially physics, can be a) utterly interesting and b) comprehensible and c) something to do (maybe) with the world around them.  And I have, in a period of two days, a student I had to throw out for texting (after repeated warnings to the class as a whole — some people really don’t understand that professors actually mean what they say) and a student who stated quite unequivocally how much she hated science.  Now I’ve come across science-haters before — you throw a frisbee in any direction in America and you are sure to hit someone who hates science — and I even sympathize with them to some extent because I’ve worked very hard to understand where these folks are coming from culturally and otherwise.  Popular urban culture in the US is incredibly anti-intellectual in my experience.  This is why I try all kinds of things to interest my students and generally a majority of them will respond positively.  But what does one do with those who resist all attempts?  I don’t give up on any student so I will continue to try, but in the meantime it is very discouraging.  Teaching is a two-way thing, where the enthusiasm of the teacher feeds the student and the answering enthusiasm feeds the teacher.  Unlike the other class I teach for science majors, this one is a lot harder despite the “easy” course material simply because that positive feedback loop is difficult to set up, let alone maintain.

All this will eventually get me to a state of thinking creatively (I’m incredibly stubborn about this) but in the meantime, frustration is the name of the game.



9 Responses to “Argghhhh… Frustrations and Depressions”

  1. Kurt Says:

    If she’s not willing to engage with you privately or in class on why she “hates” science, sign her drop slip (unless it’s too late). Maybe she hates work? Math? Although it doesn’t sound like much is required–but even the most basic of physics requires some understanding of math. Maybe she hates it because it’s not black and white and doesn’t always go in what she perceives as a logical direction? I remember reading Richard Feyman’s description of learning how to teach science to non scientists and knowing that he would confuse them but at least get them to look at the world a little more deeply and even with humor (electrons go backward in time!). And, if nothing else, have a better idea of how scientists see it.

    Steve probably has clever ideas. I don’t have patience for people like that–most of the time they don’t seem to care. Until they get a lot older and realize they’re left out of important conversations.

  2. FoundOnWeb Says:

    Vandana is a lot more dedicated than I am. I have the same problem in my intro to computers in business. The difference between her class and mine is that she’s trying to instill love of science in those who are just passing through. I’m providing skills to business majors, and can only help those who are smart enough to listen when I say they need these skills to graduate in the program.

    I know students text in my class. I have a whole row in the back with laptops, and sometimes they laugh when I haven’t made a joke — which is disconcerting only because it’s so rare for students to laugh when I _have_ made a joke.

    My approach is the one that Henry Kissinger took towards Turkey, back in the day, when they threatened to pull out of NATO after some squabble with Greece. Essentially, he told them to go ahead. “We cannot be more concerned about Turkish security than the Turkish government is.”

    I allow open book, open notes, and (in the lab where everybody has one) open PCs on my tests. Then I make them hard enough and long enough that the only way to get through them is to know the material, and I write them in such a way that copy/pasting the whole question into google doesn’t help.

    These are all juniors, so it’s not like they don’t know the score. Despite that, the curve on my classes tends to be bimodal: more whale-shaped than standard-normal. The big end is those students who care; the little end is those who don’t.

    There’s a limit on the amount of time I have to help students, even though I put in a lot. They have my gmail address, and I keep my ‘droid beside the bed and answer questions right up until I turn out the light. The students I worry about the most are the ones at the tail end of the standard-normal part of the curve. I figure that’s where I get the highest payoff. The ones down in the tail of the whale are the ones who will come to me in week 9 and ask for extra credit work.

    • annachickenscarf Says:

      It sounds hard being a teacher. I wouldn’t know– I’m only 13. I feel like one sometimes, though, when I’m helping my uncle (he’s 13, too) in Math class when I’m showing him, in the problem 3⁴•2+(6-7+9•2⁴)+4 understand that he needs to do 2⁴ BEFORE doing 9•2. Sometimes I’m a horrible “teacher” and end up giving Alyssa the answer to question 9 in Science. Whenever that happens, I feel like people take advantage of my kindness and congitive ability.

  3. Val Says:

    That sounds very frustrating indeed. I hope things improve.

  4. FoundOnWeb Says:

    I guess my advice would be the same that they give to nurses and doctors, and veterinary technicians like MJ: You can’t save them all. At some point you have to institute a triage system or you will go mad.

  5. FoundOnWeb Says:

    Here’s an interesting item from TechDirt, on off-task behavior in the classroom.

    Includes suggestions for how to prevent it, or at least reduce it.

  6. vsinghsblog Says:

    Hi all,

    Thanks for your comments! Sorry about the late reply; my so-called spring break started today which means I have a moment or two to breathe. I am concerned about these students because many of them will go on to teach elementary school and they need to be positive about science for the sake of innocent children. Since I posted this I there has been some improvement and I’ve identified a small group of students who do enjoy science or are at least open to it, which will help keep me going.

    Steve, I love the Kissinger quote! I also looked up the techdirt article. I do every item in the list of things they recommend. This is the first class where I’ve had a texting issue. So my tentative conclusion is that unlike law students in a law course, these non-science students in a science course are incredibly unmotivated.
    They also have very little inkling that science takes effort and that the effort is worth it. You are right about the triage. While I continue to try my best, it is not worth risking one’s health and sanity.

    More on all this anon….

  7. Kurt Says:

    Have you thought about giving different assignments based on the student–in the case of the science hater, having her write a paper on the outcome of hating science, short and long term, including in her intended profession? Requiring class members to present on topics? And simply failing anyone who didn’t make “an honest effort?”

  8. annachickenscarf Says:

    I know this is late, but I really hope things got better! My whole seventh grade class got yelled at the day after our field trip by all of our teachers. It was really hard on me, even though I didn’t do anything. Literally didn’t do anything wrong. No, it wasn’t just “Since you assaulted so and so, you get a week of being expelled.”. It was “You guys messed up real bad! Teachers are gonna think (yes, my Science teacher actually said this!) ‘Crap. This is the class from hell. I can’t wait until they graduate!” Thankfully, THAT was back in March!

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