I Fucking Love Science has informed me that this week is National Teacher Appreciation Week. Well, I do not live in the US, but I still can appreciate the hell out of teachers.
So, to commemorate this week, I would like to tell a story about my high school PreCal teacher who, through her amazing abilities, taught me some very important lessons.
Right before our winter exams, we started to get heavy into probability theory. It was intense but we thought we were following along quite well, after all, we all understood the basic concept of probability. The exams arrived, and the entire last page, approximately 15-20% of the exam, was dedicated to probability. No problem, we thought, and we all walked out of that exam thinking that we had done reasonably well.
Flash forward to January, and our exams are back. She stood in front of the class, papers in hand.
“I am sorry to say, that none of you did well on the probability portion of your exam. In fact, it was by far the worst part of the exam, for all of you. While the rest of the exam went reasonably well, the probability portion dragged down the average in this class considerably.”
We stared at her, stomachs dropping. This is it, we thought, our grades in this class are going to suck. The winter exam is a giant portion of our grades for this term, how many of us might actually fail? She sighed and shuffled the papers, looking highly disappointed.
“It is clear that I have failed you. I thought that you were following me in class, but evidently you were not. I have obviously dropped the ball as a teacher. When the standard of one section of an exam is, across the board, poorer than the standard of any other section of the same exam, it is my fault, and not yours. I have decided to strike that portion of the exam from your grades, and anyone who managed to get some of the questions right will have those counted as extra credit. Now, we are going to start from the beginning, and I will teach you probability theory properly, until you fully understand it.”
We were flabbergasted. The humility she showed, the admission that a teacher could be wrong, and acknowledge her shortcomings, that was a first for all of us, and we respected the hell out of her for it. I never forgot it, and I learned a lot from it.
I learned that, when you teach someone something, you have to escape your own context. Following a certain train of thought might be perfectly clear to you, but not everyone’s mind works in the same way, and sometimes you have to approach the concept from a different angle in order to get your point across.
I learned that being treated fairly feels a hell of a lot better than receiving special treatment, and that being fair brings respect.
Finally, I learned that math teachers can be awesome too. She was the only awesome math teacher I have ever had, but she made up for all of the other ones in spades.
So, thank you Mrs. A, for being damned good at your job. You were one of these