I have a problem.

Well, my students have a problem.

Well, I have a problem, and my students have a problem.

Actually, even my problems have problems.

The problem is that I can't give problems to my students, because they have a problems solving problems.

Here's the deal: In order to do physics, you have to understand how math works. You and I and a billion Chinese people don't think math is all that hard, but these students couldn't be more confused if we were using Roman numerals.

Velocity equals distance divided by time. V = d/t. If that is true, then it is also true that distance equals time times velocity. d = V x t. Since we know that is true, then time equals distance divided by velocity. t = d/v. Why is all of this true? Because math works that way. I mean, it's not even something that can be argued.

If v = 10, and d = 20, then t = 2. And that works for every version of the equation. 10 = 20/2. 20 = 10 x 2. 2 = 20/10. It's math. It works. It doesn't just work some of the time, it works every time.

Now, my students don't seem to want to believe that math is unchanging. Perhaps it's a consequence of transient living, of not knowing where your next meal will come from, or from not knowing if you'll see your mom or dad any time in the next few weeks. Maybe it's a symptom of our fractured national identity. Maybe it's just that they don't care. Either way, they have to learn math. Math math math. It works, every time.


What to do?

My students took a test yesterday, and they failed. They failed so inexorably bad that I couldn't even berate them for it. There was no way that they could fail so horribly and I not share some of the blame.

I didn't do the arithmetic on the stats about their tests, but I'm guessing the median score was approx. 22/40, the average was 19/20 and the mode was 18.

When I finished grading them, my stomach felt as sick as a choleric prostitute in Mumbai (Yes, that's the simile I'm using. Just go with it). And, much like a choleric prostitue in Mumbai, I spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling wishing what had just happened was just the etching of a nightmare on the inside of my skull.

How could Frau Funkenhaus and I failed so miserably in our instruction? I was very careful to look over the entire test and certify that every question was something that we had previously covered in class. I have been working on all of the warm-ups (the problems on the board that students are supposed to work on immediately upon entering the room), and I was fastidious and fanatical about making sure they were relevant to exactly what we were supposed to be studying.

My warm-ups, in general, have between 2 and 5 questions. The first question is a review from the lesson two days previous. The second question is generally a synthesis of the previous two days' lessons. The final questions are review of the previous day. I am always sure to be building upon their knowledge and attempting to expand it beyond its current level.

For example: We studied the base units for the SI system in the chapter. So, my warm-up for every day after that was always in SI units. We then studied density, and I wrote warm-ups that incorporated density into the problems until the end of the chapter. After that, we studied experimental error/percent error. I wrote warm-ups using SI units, which had questions about density, and the densities determined through the problem were compared to the accepted value of densities of certain elements, which were then used to determine percent error. Finally, we studied accuracy and precision, for which I used SI-units in density problems that had to determine percent error based on accepted values of densities in order to figure out if the various answers for the density problems were precise or accurate. It was all quite involved.

So: What did this show me?

Problem 1: My students don't know how to take tests.

Many of them do not even attempt word problems, even though they are not all ELL. I can understand it (though not condone it) for ELL students, but students who speak English should never do this. They are just lazy. In addition: most of them don't know how to look for what the question is asking. They determine what they think the question is asking, then they guess, since most of the time their answer isn't actually on the page.

It was astonishing to see a number of students do absolutely no arithmetic on their tests, even though there were a number of problems that required mathematics.

After reading all of the tests, I came to the determination that some students don't believe that the tests will actually give you fair questions. We had one question that seemed simple. It went something like:

There are three trials for an experiment below, which one is the most accurate? The percent errors are given

Then below it, there was a heading that said Percent Error, and below that there were three choices:

Trial 1: .05
Trial 2: .02
Trial 3: .01

A majority of my students got this question wrong. Half of them did not answer it. It was as though they thought there was some trick to it, some sort of alchemical formula that they had to pull from their headspaces in order to answer it. The answer, of course, is Trial 3, since THE PERCENT ERROR IS EASILY THE LOWEST. It's not even tricky, yet they couldn't figure it out.

Problem 2: Students don't know what's important.

I've made it a policy to write all important notes on the board in black pen. Whenever I pick up a black pen, I ask the students, "Why am I picking up a black pen?" I will continue to ask this question until I am satisfied that every student knows how important the black pen is.

Having looked over their notes, however, I've come to realize that they just don't know what they're supposed to study. Too often, they focus their attention on minutia to the detriment of all other information. It's just insanity.

Problem 3: They don't feel embarrassed when they do poorly.

This is the saddest of all the problems, because it's one that I might not be able to help them work on. If students don't have any stake in their education, what point is there in learning? What point is there to anything, if they don't take pride in doing well and, conversely, feel shame at doing poorly? This is a systemic problem at my school, a one which I'm going to have to think about for a long time before I'll be able to come up with an even halfway-satisfactory answer.

First use of the "Choleric Prostitutes" tag

Ah, Youth

There are words we say at home. There are words we say at church. There are words we say in private.

We say some words with friends. We say some words with family. We say some words with colleagues.

All words have their time and place. And there are some words we shouldn't say.

One of my students said those words that we shouldn't say. We were in the midst of a lesson about SI Units, and I was failing to control the class effectively. Frau Funkenhausen was out of the classroom this day, so I was flying solo.

Much like a lone top gun pilot flying over the fruited plains of this fair country, I was at least 30% in control of what I was doing. And then this bashful little barn owl unleashed a wonderful expression that made me question exactly why I was teaching her in the first place.

My little owl wondered aloud at the mental state of her teacher. She helpfully questioned if her teacher was one of the faithful departed. Or, was freezing, dark-hearted. Fleeing the garden? Let's just say it started with a f, had a middle "ing" and ended with a tarded.

As it stands, students are not supposed to question the mental capacity of their teacher in such a coarse manner. I'm going to say that approximately 100% of teachers do not have a developmental disability that results in lowered brain function. That's just not good policy.

My bashful little barn owl's claim about my mental fitness for educatifying was a real weight on my mind. I mean, if a girl who's so smart--I mean, she did use a swear word in a class in a school that frowns upon such things--calls me something -arded, I am going to worry. She's, what, 17 years old...she must know everything, as all teenagers do. Yes, her calling me such words was devastating to my ego. I had to slink around the classroom for the rest of the day (sans my little owl, of course, since she was definitely on her way to ISS). I was forced to contemplate my own intelligence, as any student who is smart enough to mouth off is obviously a good judge of character. In the end, I went home and ate gallons of ice cream to soothe the pain. Sadly sadly sadly.

Oddly enough, my bashful little barn owl has been wonderfully sweet and jovial the last few days.

Days of Awe

I haven't been entirely honest with you.

While I say that I'm a teacher, I am in fact a co-teacher. I do not have my own classroom; instead, I'm one-half of a two-headed monster of educatifying. We're like Cerebus after a terrible guillotine accident, but less barking and more teaching.

This co-teacher of mine has been at WISoCA for more years than I have fingers and toes, so I'm in a sort of master-apprentice relationship. This has led to me learning a lot about the classroom, but it has also led to a number of problems.

Problem 1: Though I am a fully licensed teacher, students may be under the impression that I am merely a student teacher. We tried to nip this in the bud early, but it's not always easy to convince students of such things. They never have co-teachers, so they try to put the relationship within a framework they know, and the only framework they know is the teacher-student teacher.

Problem 2: Since it's not my classroom, I don't know the correct procedures for how the class should do things. I know how I would want things done, but I don't want to step on my co-teacher, Frau Funkenhaus's, toes. Frau has certain ways of doing things, and those ways are completely and totally acceptable. However, those are not the ways I would do things, and as such I'm always at a disadvantage when talking to students. Furthermore, as I don't have the sort of organic knowledge of processes necessary to talk candidly with students, I'm forced to send worried glances to Frau in order to get information about where we want students to write their names on their papers.

Problem 3: If I were running a classroom, it would basically be run completely different from how I am currently running it. While this may be a good way for me to see different teaching styles and to practice getting outside of my comfort zone, it will not prepare me for my own classroom (hopefully) next year. This is the big problem right now. Boo-hoo.


I've never considered myself racist.  The last week in school, however, made me start hating one particular race of students: white kids.

Of course, I am white myself, which makes this bit of racism all the more troubling.  Ought I to start making snide comments about myself to myself behind my own back?  Should I grab my girl and pull her tightly to me when I see myself walk by a window and I catch a glimpse of myself in it?  Would it be wrong for me to burn a cross on my own yard?  Should I call myself a credit to my own race, or am I an Uncle Tom for caring about how whites present themselves in school?

Ridiculously premised, grandstanding jokes notwithstanding, there is a serious undercurrent to all of this that I picked up on at the end of last week.  Most of my classes have, at most 2 white kids.  The Wobegon International School of Culinary Arts is quite a diverse campus, so it's not at all odd to have a melting pot of different races represented in each classroom.  About this, I have no qualms.  In fact, I really enjoy the diversity of the school, and I think that being in an environment like that is going to make me grow as a person.


One of my classes has a higher-than-average number of white kids in it, and they are the brattiest, most unrepentant snots this world has ever seen.  These curmudgeonly little koalas (yes, I realize I changed consonants, but it's the alliteration that matters...) are unproductive, verbally abusive, ridiculously entitled young men and women.  I have never had a group of students who felt that they were better than the instructor.  It's not that I think I'm better than them, but I do believe that we should respect one another, and that one should respect his/her teacher.

The little koalas talk back, refuse to do work, and generally decide not to devote any energy to class.  The saddest part about all of it, though, is that these are supposed to be the best students in the school.  My little koalas are tops of their class, are in all of the advanced classes, yet they can't manage to spend forty-five minutes staying on task, treating one another with respect, and taking an interest in their own education.

When I got into this teaching thing, I was told a lot of things re: the different races of students within my fair inner-city district.  The first week has completely blown these expectations out of the water.

Please realize that my semi-offensive statements earlier about my racism were not intended solely for humor's sake.  One of the things that Caucasians tend to ignore, either wilfully or not, is that we are privileged.  The fact that I'm saying this about this group of students didn't make my fellow white readers out there believe that all white kids are like that.  Instead, they figured that I just happen to have an annoying group of kids in one room.

What if I had told the same story and said that the students were black?  Would those of you out there who dismissed the little koalas as an anomalous group of spoiled kids have instead been unsurprised?  Would it merely have confirmed your prejudices, however latent?

The nice thing about being white, as many people have previously pointed out, is that your actions as a white person do not reflect upon your race as a whole.  Since we are the dominant culture, we get to set the expectations for everyone.  If a member of the dominant culture falls short, it is overlooked.  Woe to those in the minority, however, who make a mistake, since their mistake only confirms the internalized prejudices of those who notice.

Special Needs

Given that I have a special ed class, that WISoCA has a large deaf and hard of hearing contingent, and that the student body is incredibly diverse, I've had numerous novel experiences in my first few days.

The oddest experience, or at least the most surreal one for me so far, was trying to respond to a student with physical disabilities.  I wanted to be helpful to my precious little petunia without being condescending, attentive without being overbearing.  

I don't want to get into it too far, but my precious little petunia has significant difficulty doing anything with their (yes, this is a plural pronoun, but there is no way to do a nongendered pronoun in English without resorting to the neutered "it" that dehisces the humanity from the subject, so suck it.) hands.  Our class agenda was to create a notebook template that would be used for the entire year. Creating this template required a lot of taping, gluing, and cutting paper.  For this reason, I began to hesitate with regards to how to help this student.  

After the students had all picked up the template papers, I asked the petunia if I should go pick up papers for their notebook, and they assented.  I dropped the papers off, but then realized that they would have a difficult time taping, gluing, etc.  This left me with a choice: hover over my precious little petunia until they asked for help, or offer the help and risk being rejected.

Now, this is a problem for me, since my whole life is a study in the constant pursuit of acceptance, and by that rubric any rejection is a disruption of my life plan.  Asking the student if I should help, then, was a huge leap in the direction of dynamic personal rejiggering.  

Luckily, my precious little petunia of a student is a real class act, and they confidently answered that it would be helpful if I would put the notebook together for them.  

Thus, my trepidation was relieved, my fear of rejection abated, my life as I know it confidently run and confidently lived.  Or something like that.  Another day, another challenge.

First Day

First Day, Woo.

I've been blessed to have moved from the LoLMEECoA to a full-time job at the Wobegon International School of Culinary Arts (WISoCA). Instead of teaching the precious petunias in 7th grade, I've moved up to the big leagues, teaching the gruff giants of upperclassmen.

At this point, I have no major observations, other than the fact that I'm working with a completely new age group of students, and I am no longer confident that I can body slam them.