Friday, August 21, 2009

This is What Not Teaching on Friday Looks Like

Puttered around at home responding to emails from the people who teach the course I supervise and the TAs for the course that I actually teach. Responded to emails from students in my class. Responded to emails from students who are trying to take calculus but who may or may not have taken algebra. I've been in touch with hundreds of such students (out of the thousands who are signed up for the course).

Arrived in the office around 10am. Met with a student who has been making a major fuss about how he needs to take calculus without taking algebra. While yes, he might have failed calculus the last time he took calculus without taking algebra, this time it's different because he is going to try harder and yadda yadda yadda and if I don't let him take calculus without taking algebra, he's going to make a bigger fuss. This morning's meeting (scheduled for first 11am and then for 10:30am -- although he shows up at 10am) was for him to show me just how much more algebra he knows since he scored around random chance on our algebra placement test many years ago. I gave him a copy of the final from algebra class from last year. After about an hour of effort, he comes back to tell me that he will be taking algebra this fall. Dude has invented a new operation that I call "multipladdition" for combining monomials. Like 3x2 + 7x4 = 10x6.

Meanwhile I met with two students who are up against our three strikes rule. This rule says that if you fail a class three times, you can't take it again without permission of the department. Neither student bothered to get in touch with the department until the first day of classes, which is not a really good sign about turning over a new leaf and being on track for being a better student. But this is OK because one of them won't get into the class because it's already full of people who haven't yet failed it three times. I'm not sure about the other. When queried about how much time the student will have to devote to passing the class this time, the student was optimistic, as the student is only working 20 hours a week this term. Good luck with that whole math thing.

And then I continued working on processing a stack of transcripts and such that is about two inches high when you press down hard on the stack. This is all the evidence that the hundreds of students are bringing to show that they really have taken algebra. Some of them took it at community college and never bothered to transfer the credit back here. Some of them really did transfer the credit here, but the registrar's office won't give me the information even though I've asked for it five times since May. Found my first forged document. The math department is nice enough to let you bring in the unofficial transcript that you can print off the web site for free instead of making you spend money on an official transcript. Well, unless you bring me a forged document. Then I'm going to need to see your official transcript.

Got lunch, came back. Another student was waiting for me. Student came in my office and cried. Student never took the placement exam, so we are not letting student take calculus. Student claims that student's advisor told student to sign up for math without taking the placement exam because "the math department will never notice." Nope. That would not be correct advice. Student complained bitterly about this university and whined that the high-priced, student-centered, small, private, liberal arts college where student had attended the past three years never gave bad advice or did anything to upset student and how by comparison this place sucks. Grass is always greener. Hoping that student will recount this story to the head of advising.

Grabbed another copy of the current class lists off the registration system. Reran my software that matches the ID numbers of the students in calculus against my list of ID numbers of students who have taken algebra and my list of placement scores by ID number. Sent out another bulk email to the 140 or so remaining students who haven't yet shown me that they are elibible for calculus. Did not include a special secret message to my forger that my offer to accept unofficial transcripts only applies to everyone else. The obvious flaw in the system I'm using is that the ID numbers on the placement exam are entered by the students themselves. Not the most reliable set of data.

A few more students came by my office explaining that they would also like to take calculus without having taken either algebra or the placement exam. Several more emailed. A few called. Discussed with a colleague what it would take to get a machine to be able to tell the students "no" when they first try to sign up for calculus without having taken algebra.