the nature of teaching

I wasn’t supposed to do much teaching today, comparatively speaking. I got off to school, printed some quizzes with time enough to proof them and even resort to copy machine #2 on the 6th floor, due to two blinking red lights on standard (shitty) copy machine #1. (We’ve learned: when the copy machine blinks a red light, just step away and hope that you didn’t leave behind any fingerprints. This time it really wasn’t me. I swear.)

In class, for about half an hour, I got to do the exciting thing of fielding questions ranging from “how do you do #42” to the more gratifying question about the non-change in kinetic energy when a moving electric charge is in a magnetic field. Modeling this with myself as a charged particle, I ran across the room with my right hand on top of my head, thumb pointed in the direction I was moving, fingers pointed in the direction of the magnetic field, and palm pointed towards the center of a circle I was running about. Yes, it’s confusing. That’s why I had to run around in circles with my right hand over my head. It’s my job.

And then they took the quiz, setting down their pencils only long enough to hold up their right hand and see which way the positive charge should be circling. The rest of my day I could spend catching up on more mundane things.

But after class I met with two students about the homework; and then two more about the quiz. All this was more about right-hand-rules and how-do-these-fields-get-drawn and why-did-you-substitute-that-variable and how-long-did-you-date-before-you-were-engaged?* And then a student who had been waiting longer than the others stayed a few more minutes and sat down and did a good job of not crying (this time) and we worked on another strategy for how to study for the course. That seemed like a good use of office hours, and more “teaching” than I was thinking of doing on a Friday when I had all that other stuff to catch up on.

Then I went to refill my coffee, and that’s when I ran into a student who’d presented at the capitol yesterday, and she recapped why it was such a ridiculously frustrating waste of a day. Since yesterday, she’d gotten a good night’s sleep, and now she’s learned a little bit more from the whole experience. I told her it wouldn’t be the last time. She knew.

And then someone else showed up at my door. I’d just sat down. I don’t remember if I’d gotten the coffee. She said that she was told that I was supposed to be her new best friend. Alarmed? Not really. It turns out I was her advisor, and I advised. No, what they told you was wrong. Here are your options. Keep going. It’s all good. And maybe you should try this course next semester. And take more math. Always take more math. It’s all good.

She left. I sipped a sip of coffee. (Apparently I did have the cup of coffee.) And then a friend and colleague from upstairs was at my door. She was checking on Karyn. And then I asked how the meeting was on Monday, the one I’d missed, the one for the committee that I get to chair and the professional development that I get to run next year. At some point I started pointing at the poster for the technology symposium that this group is starting. I hate the idea, I told her. Why do we need a symposium on technology’s use in teaching when we don’t even do one on teaching? It’s like learning to tune the radio and expecting that this will give someone the insight to drive a car. I paged through my book on the pedagogical uses of an overhead projector and wondered out loud if I should give a presentation on that.

And then the person who actually had an appointment showed up. She also needed advising, but as a graduate student needing endorsements to teach.

I stepped into the hall. There was another advisee (Sure, we can talk. Let’s go sit down.) working (supposedly) on her senior project, a piece of educational research that is supposed to bridge physics, math, and Spanish. Problem is, she wants to interview three students (originally it was her idea to interview only one) and come up with a general solution to why an entire ethnic group doesn’t become physics majors. I suggested she focus a bit more. She agreed. It was painful but groundbreaking.

That was my morning. A little busy for a Friday, but not atypical. It reminded me that the “teaching” I get to do isn’t just me running around in circles with my hand over my head, but all the other stuff, too. Sure, I didn’t finish three other things, but I guess that the nature of teaching.


*Yup, even that last one, but it was part of a longer conversation, though still right in sequence with the other questions.


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