My Brain Hurts!

For the past few weeks I’ve been covering classes for a teacher in a different department, and my brain hurts. I’m too old to have to learn new stuff! I’ve got three sheepskins, several professional licenses, can tie my own shoes, know which is the salad fork, and can be trusted around open flame without too much supervision. (No, my fingers are not crossed. See?) Learning more stuff is not supposed to be part of the job!!

Except “cover my class” did not mean “keep them from breaking things while I’m gone, hand out and collect work sheets, and show this film.” Oh no, no indeed. It meant “teach them this chapter in the math book, grade and file these, here’s the tests, and Mr. K has the passwords so you can put the grades in the computer.” And so Miss H disappeared, leaving me with an enormous math text-book and a growing sense of doom.

I’m a liberal arts major. I do history. I see dead people (OK, I read dead people’s books. Close enough). Math has . . . numbers. Worse, although I know how to do the problems (basic algebra and geometry), I’ve never heard of some of the terms or approaches. So I’m cramming stuff I should have learned [redacted] years ago, and trying to master it enough that I don’t lead the students down the wrong road. I gave up trying to pretend that I knew what I was doing after, oh, 15 minutes the first day. You can try to bluff 40 12-14 year-olds. I know better. Oh, yeah, and I’m having to do long division and multiplication on the board in my head, with the mocking sound of fingers on TI scientific calculators comes from the student desks. You want to know what the sound of G-d laughing at you is? The rapid, soft clicking of 7th and 8th graders tapping away on giant calculators as you struggle to keep track of dividing four numbers by two numbers in your head. (I never learned basic mathematics, and it shows.)

Yes, I kinda volunteered for this. Yes, I’m getting a little bonus. Yes, the challenge is probably good for me, just like eating super high-bran cereal is good for me, or increasing the incline on the treadmill at the gym is good for me.

You see, I’d gotten lazy. I’d forgotten that substituting comes in three flavors: 1) simple class-sitting where you watch the students do papers or play a video, 2) talking about stuff you already know, and 3) being trusted to teach, really teach, even though it is outside of “your” field. I appreciate the compliment of Miss H’s trust, but I kinda wish she didn’t trust me this much. My brain feels full.

And I am SOOOOOO glad Miss H doesn’t teach calculus or advanced geometry. And that they have not yet gotten to quadratic equations. Because equations sense fear. I can hear them rustling during the grading period, lurking there in the textbook cabinet, watching me. All those parabolas, whispering when they think I’m not paying attention . . .

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One thought on “My Brain Hurts!

  1. Equations can be awkward things, i will grant. And I have.. survived..the calculus.. and probability can actually be interesting. But while I know that statistics is/are useful, the bore could make tunnels, I suspect. And differential equations are useful, too, but the common spoken abbreviation “diff-E-Q” is close enough to ‘difficult” that it simply cannot be mere coincidence.

    One class, way back when – when “solar” powered calculators were the neat new (and fairly inexpensive) thing, I had one teacher who simply turned the lights off – to much consternation. At that time I had an even-then ancient TI-30. The battery-eating original, with the LED display. This same fellow once warned of an upcoming quiz being “No calculators” and some wiseguy (alright, it was me) asked, “What about slide rules?” And the reply was, “Slide rules are acceptable.” I think it came as a bit of shock that about 1/3 of the class showed up the next day with slide rules – and knew how to use them.

    My preferred calculator these days is actually an emulation on my phone. But the emulated thing is an HP-48, yes RPN. It still amuses me to see people look at what I do and boggle that the order can’t be right, but yet it works.

    As for geometry, the advanced stuff can get hairy. It’s the simple stuff that seems a bit odd as to how poorly some deal with it. The same folks who can delight in Tetris, claim they are “…not any good at geometry” if they have to stack stuff (admittedly not identical) on a pallet. My reply is, “It’s not advanced geometry. It’s playing with blocks!”

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