Snarky Behavior


October 15, 2008 · 4 Comments

Without getting too specific here, since God knows who reads this:

As a teaching assistant for my stats class, I have been responsible for administering a weekly computer lab.  The professor for the class gives me the assignment, tells me what his expectations are, and sets me free to drop knowledge to a room full of about 25 students.

Again, without getting too specific, I have faced considerable challenges in how to best utilize these two hours.  There are constraints in terms of instructions, objective, pacing, differentiation, skill-level, attention, patience, technology… you name it, I face it.

AGAIN, without getting too specific, I have done my best to organize those two hours in a way that best serves the needs of ALL of the students.  I don’t want anyone leaving lab without having done the exercise, so that’s priority #1.  People work at their own paces based on their tech-level, so I’ve strategized to create step-by-step power-points on how to use the data-analysis program, and helped people on an individual level as they encountered problems.

Some students are very frustrated with a “learning-by-doing” approach because they’re not entirely sure whether their outcomes are correct or not, since I haven’t provided an examplar or group hand-holding session.  Today I listened to them explain their frustrations with my approach, and I could certainly understand their perspective.  I tried to be diplomatic without over-sharing the considerable constraints I felt I faced, just as I’m trying to be diplomatic now as I write this.

Some students were more… constructive… in their feedback than were others.  Other students seemed to complain out of a sense of entitlement; that whatever approach I was using didn’t meet their expectations for learning objectives.  And they weren’t interested in my theory that data analysis programs are hard, and part of the learning of the program is the struggling with it.  “We pay a lot of money to learn, not to struggle,” was the quote I believe.

Obviously I felt some of the criticism was…unjustified… given my constraints, objectives and perspective.  But it made me very self-reflexive.  The students who were particularly harsh demonstrated no empathy for my perspective.  They were critical for the sake of being critical.  I feel as if there were no circumstances under which they would not find something to complain about.

And I’m like this a lot of the time.  A lot of people are like this a lot of the time.

It’s really easy to complain about what’s wrong.  It’s harder to understand why things might be wrong.  It’s hardest to figure out how you can change things.  And it’s damn near impossible to apply this kind of systematic, analytical reasoning in a relatively reasonable time frame.

Step 1 (Anger):  Things are Bad –> Step 2 (Empathy and Understanding):  Why are they Bad?  –> Step 3 (Analysis):  How can I change the things that make things Bad?

Most people are perpetually stuck on Step 1.

Only managers understand Step 2.

I’m voting for Barack Obama because he gets step 3, and he can do this kind of thinking on the spot, all the time.

Categories: Opinion
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4 responses so far ↓

  • KC // October 15, 2008 at 9:05 pm | Reply

    Wow and no mention that you are underpaid for your work. Wait, was that rubbing salt in an open wound? I’m sorry.

  • John // October 15, 2008 at 11:26 pm | Reply

    All my friends (including my dad) that teach at the collegiate level hear the same complaints. People complain because they think they deserve to be treated better. Few people actually want to earn their degrees. Heaven forbid you actually have to take a few minutes to learn something! I think there was only one case in which I complained about my grade in college – and it involved a group project with non-participating members complimented by a genius that decided to cite Wikipedia!

    Funny teaching story, a girl came into my dad’s office and asked if there was some way she could earn extra credit on an assignment she didn’t do too well on. My dad said he would review her paper and give her the opportunity to rewrite it. She then asked if there was anything ELSE she could do. I told my dad he should send those girls my way.

  • Rohit // October 16, 2008 at 1:17 pm | Reply

    First, while I do not necessarily know the specifics of the class you are teaching, I think that most math/stats isn’t taught, but learned—that is, struggling is learning. Some people probably never get that, and hopefully, they will never go into academia and publish hopelessly inept empirical research. Second, I like the way you brought it back home to the election. Not-so-subtle these days, eh?

  • X // October 16, 2008 at 4:26 pm | Reply

    We have someone here, a former teacher who is big on the pedagogy “I do. We do. You do.” Then again, he taught fourth-graders.

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