Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Why did they think I wouldn’t complain?

March 13, 2015

Three incidents happened within a week:

1. I went to a bank in a grocery store to close a certificate of deposit. I was told they didn’t do that there and was sent to another branch.

2. I tried to update my soon-to-be-expired credit card at my gym and the manager-on-duty told me she didn’t do that.

3. We came into a restaurant and I requested that we have a table near the front door because my husband, who walks with a cane, wanted to minimize the distance he walked. She took us to a table at the far end of the restaurant, passing many empty tables.

In all three cases, I quietly complained. The other branch of the bank and a manager-on-duty at another time in the gym both told me that the person I talked to should have done what I asked. The manager at the restaurant said that we should have been given our choice of table.

The person who seated us at the restaurant was particularly puzzling. It would not take any more effort to seat us closer to the door. When we were about two steps from the table, I complained to her and she asked if we wanted to go back to another table. I hope she misunderstood my request, because otherwise she was malicious. I presume the other two people simply wanted to pass along the work to someone else.

I hope in all three cases the person received appropriate criticism from their bosses. If this was a pattern of behavior, they should have been fired. Perhaps others don’t complain. They should.

What are tests for?

August 30, 2014

The last line in an article from The Washington Post was a quote from a Chinese official: “The habit Chinese students have formed is that they only memorize things but not absorb them. They forget about everything once the test is over.”

Most people think tests are there to measure students’ progress. That is not the only reason for tests, but some think it is.

The measurement of progress is reported to many people:

1. The student. This is often skipped in standardized tests designed to measure the teachers or the schools more than individual students, but the tests that are most important to the student should be reported to him.

2. The student’s parents. Obviously, this step should be done only if the student is a minor.

3. The teacher. Usually, the teacher grades the test, but with electronic and standardized testing something else grades the test. As a teacher, I’ve often used test and quiz results to modify reviews for the final exam and to change the emphasis the next time I teach a course.

4. Where the student goes next. This could be a job or simply the next semester’s course. Usually, the report is only a single grade.

5. Society. This helps judge the quality of the teacher of the school. It rarely names individual teachers or students.

A second goal of tests is to help student learning. Students often think they know a subject until they are tested on it. If the student doesn’t get feedback, ideally quickly, that student will have difficulty learning. How the students use the results of the test often determines how well he does in school. Graded homework, quizzes, and tests give the students an idea of how much they know. If they only study to do well on tests and forget about it afterward, they are not studying properly. Their actual learning will be incidental, not the goal of the work they are doing.

Unfortunately, American students have formed the same habits as Chinese students. If we want any real progress in education, students need to know things after they take their tests.


Be polite to strangers

August 4, 2014

Some people are too sensitive. Someone described an incident where a child was backing up with a shopping cart and when she said “Watch out,” the mother complained she was rude. She could have said, “I am walking behind you. If you back up, back up without looking, you may be hit by my cart. Please be careful.” By the time she said that, the damage might be done.

It is more important to issue warnings promptly than politely. Rudeness rarely accomplishes what one wants it to. Most people are not going to think, “He was rude. I deserved it.”  They are going to stop at the first sentence.

In this day and age of crazy people, I try to be polite to all strangers, because I certainly don’t want to offend someone who may decide to retaliate. That may sound paranoid, but it would only be paranoid if I dwelt on it. When I force myself to be polite in situations where rudeness seems justified, I almost never make the decision based on fear. I don’t think that people may be crazy,  only that I’ve decided to try to be polite. It’s like buckling seat belts. I almost never think in terms of potential accidents, just that I should buckle them. Unlike seat belts, routine politeness brings more immediate positive results than buckling seat belts. People tend to be nicer to me.

Different priorities

November 6, 2013

I talked to someone who is working part time and claims he is under employed. He’s spending more than he’s making. At one point in the conversation, he mentioned getting a bottle of water. I suggested a drinking fountain, which was actually closer than the machine selling water. No, he wanted a bottle of water. I realize this is not a major issue, but if I were short on money, I wouldn’t buy water.


I do not want this student

September 21, 2013

She asked me if she could observe my class. I am not supposed to let anyone in who isn’t registered, but I was tempted to say yes. Why not? It wouldn’t hurt. But instead of giving way to temptation, I told her I wasn’t accepting new students. Three weeks of class passed. It was late to start.

She said she was already registered for another section of the class and she just wanted to change sections. What she did not tell me revealed more than what she told me. She did not tell me she had a conflict with work or child care. She did not give me a reason for her desire for a change of section. She was not going to ask me to accept her as a student until she observed me.

She was teacher shopping. I don’t want someone who was teacher shopping. They tend to be picky. If it took her three weeks to find out the teacher was bad, it wasn’t because the teacher’s foreign accent wasn’t understandable. It could easily be because the student had a bad grade or did not understand the material.

Another student asked me to let him join my class after two weeks of class. When I told him it was too late, he started to explain. “My psychiatrist said” were the first three words of his explanation. I don’t want to deal with a student whose psychiatrist is telling him something that makes him not follow the rules. The rules say one should register before the semester starts, not at the end of the second week of class.

I did give permission for one student to come in late. It was a student I had in a previous semester and a work conflict made him have to change sections. This student had two things going for him: I knew he wasn’t a problem student and he had a good reason for the change in sections.

I can’t keep problem students out of my class if they register on time, but I no longer invite them in when they want to come in late.


An apology is not enough

August 4, 2013

It took me a long time to learn it, but the best apologies often come from people who need to apologize most often. Of course they know what makes a good apology. They’ve had practice.

A while back, I dealt with a student whose anger was disruptive to the math lab. This happened before, and he returned the next day with apologies. While I appreciate the earlier apology, I would prefer if the student changed his behavior. An apology for behavior that will be repeated sends a different message than is intended. It tells people that he knew he was doing something wrong, but had every expectation of continuing to do it.

I once heard a definition of being convinced of something: If a person is convinced of something, he will change his behavior to accept that reality. The student may think he is sorry for being disruptive, but he isn’t genuinely sorry if he does it again. I would rather not have an apology and have a change of behavior.

Why do they keep asking me?

July 13, 2013

I know someone who kept being asked to do volunteer work connected with her children’s school. She made the assumption that people spread the work among the parents and she was asked when it was her turn. Eventually, she realized she was asked because she agreed to do the work.

I’m near retirement. I’m old enough to retire, and could retire immediately. I’ve been trying to cut back on my non teaching duties. For the last two years, I was on a committee which was time consuming. I’m finished with that committee and thought I would have an easier time this coming school year. I got an email from my department chair asking me to take another job. This is the third time she’s asked me to take on a major time-consuming project.

I realize she keeps asking me because I say yes.

Blame Gerrymandering

June 25, 2013

We have gridlock in congress. We aren’t electing moderates, but ideological extremes. I think one solution is to eliminate gerrymandering.

When districts are gerrymandered, the party that has the majority in the state tries to put all the people of the opposite party into as few districts as possible. This means that the people who are elected in those districts are running from the center of their party, not the center of their state. The majority party has safer districts, meaning that they do need to appeal as much to the other party.

The center tends to make both sides unhappy. Nevertheless, I would like the country to be run from the center. Real issues can be addressed, without the fringes vetoing it. Sometimes both fringes will kill a reasonable compromise. I addressed gerrymandering before in a post. I will give an alternate solution.

If a straight lines that connects two parts of a district encloses parts of other districts, those parts are defined as “Places that should be in the district.” If the “places that should be in the district” exceed one fifth of the district, than the district is not acceptable. Maryland is clearly gerrymandered by this definition. Note: the Chesapeake Bay isn’t in another state, and thus doesn’t count, but parts of Virginia and West Virginia are on the left of the image and Delaware is on the right.


It takes me more time to be healthy as I age

June 15, 2013

A woman who was more than a dozen years my senior told me that she always understood that she would look old, but didn’t realize she would feel old. I realized I would feel old, but I didn’t realize how much time it takes to be old and stay healthy.

I don’t have the demands on my time as when I was the mother of young children. Also, our better financial situation means that I can pay for things to be done that I used to do myself. Our condo association arranges for the snow to be shoveled. I can buy convenience food or eat out. My husband is retired and does a lot of the shopping.

It takes more and more work to attend to my health. I take more medicine just to stay healthy. Two different doctors have given me a program of exercises they want me to do daily. That comes to more than an hour a day of exercises, if I include my cardiovascular exercise.

My doctor sent me to two different specialists in the past year and my dentist and ophthalmologist each sent me to a specialist. The routine things take longer. One of my fingernails keeps splitting. I have to take care of it. I move slower and tire easier than I did years ago, which means the tasks I do take longer.

Yet, I am healthy. I took only one day of sick leave this past year, and that was the first in years. Today my husband and I took a walk to a Subway restaurant, bought lunch and returned home. The total distance was about three miles. That isn’t impressive, but I’m pleased I can do it in my late sixties. I work full time, which means generous vacations, since I teach at a community college. But I like to teach. I’ll be teaching second session summer school, which is optional.

I suppose too much leisure is not really good for anyone, but I didn’t realize that I would be spending so much time trying to keep healthy.

Are we accomplices, part 2

May 18, 2013

Since writing the previous post, I’ve had several discussions with my colleagues about the subject. There are students who game the system. They know how late in the semester they need to attend class to be considered full-time students and use that information. That explains the occasional student who disappears early in the semester and shows up once, much later. It doesn’t happen often, and most probably have innocent explanations, but I’ve changed my mind about the subject.

I will be more aggressive about dropping students. I don’t want to be one of the people who allows students who receive financial aid for education to get the aid, but not the education. Nor do I want to be someone who allows a student with a visa, to get an education, deny that privilege to someone who will actually use the visa as intended. Both financial aid and visas are limited.

I emphatically do not want to be one of the teachers that allows a terrorist to overstay a visa.