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Dropping like a hot potato (or: This was a Bad Plan.)

August 24, 2016

The summer math class ended in disaster, or what I (as a teacher) might have previously called “a teachable moment”: I dropped the class on the last day possible because I tried to build success on the foundation of a Bad Plan.

I ended up with this Bad Plan for Good Reasons.  These Good Reasons may sound vaguely like excuses.  But they’re not.  Totally not.  I’m detailing them here because they make me feel good.

  • After registering for Math Class, I was invited to teach one of my favorite classes during the summer session.  How could I NOT teach this class??  I love this class. It grew into two sections.  And three concurrent summer classes, whether teaching or taking, is too many.
  • Then, I was awarded a research grant to visit Ukraine during the fall.  A colleague who speaks Ukrainian offered to travel there together, but she was going the week before the summer session.  How could I NOT go with a native speaker who could help me translate?? So I flew home the day Math Class started and drove right to campus from the airport, jet-lagged and delirious.
  • The week after this summer circus began, I was invited to participate in an edited collection directly related to my research.  This was great news.  How could I NOT agree??  But it included several summer deadlines, lots of intense thinking, and a few wine-infused conversations.

On top of all these Good Reasons, I was facing the Known Obstacles:

  • Summer classes pack 15 weeks of content into 7 weeks of time.
  • The class was held from 6:00PM to 10:00PM.  PM.  The middle of the night.
  • Math takes me a long time.
  • Math just really takes me a long time.
  • Lots of time.

Looking at all this now, it’s obvious that I should have dropped the class right away.  My math instructor could see it.  He was very kind and after a five-quiz failure streak, he gently suggested that I could consider dropping so that my transcript wasn’t saddled with an F.  He suggested that I come by his office to talk about my math goals, because maybe there was a better way for me to achieve whatever it is I’m hoping to achieve.  He said I could continue to attend class even after dropping, so that when I did re-enroll into a long semester, I would be as prepared as possible.

Hearing the news that, despite your best efforts, you are very likely to fail is not easy.  Delivering the news is worse. But in a world where a single course costs over $1,000 and an F can cause immeasurable problems in a competitive job market, it feels irresponsible not to have this conversation. I’ve discussed Bad Plans with several students over the years because I could see the writing on their walls much more clearly than I could see it on my own.  As a chronic Bad Planner, I feel more than a little hypocritical offering others advice on this topic.

I do know, though, that failure for a Bad Planner is relative.  Did I fail to meet the requirements of the course?  You betcha.  But look at all the other things I got done while I was fretting about failing math.  Many of us do our best work when we’re looking at it peripherally.  And that means the risk of failing whatever we’re looking at head-on.

The fall semester starts next week, and I’m again enrolled in MATH 140.  Have I learned anything from this summer’s teachable moment?  Debatable. I am again over-committed in a dozen other ways.  And I am again underestimating the time commitment.  Because technically, I’ve already taken this class once.  And this time, it’s in the morning.  And I have 15 whole weeks.  So I’m pretty confident that this semester will be a success.  It just might not be a success when it comes to math.

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From → Algebra, Reflections

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