Problem? What problem?
The average score on the business calculus exam was 83%. Since I thought that the exam was reasonably challenging, I was pleased with my students. Of course, that didn't extend to everyone. I was quite worried about a select few. Especially the student who earned 7%.
I wrote a note on her exam paper: “Come see me. We need to talk.” She had probably earned most of her points by accident. I mean, when you scatter dots all over a Cartesian grid, some of them have to lie on the graph of the given quadratic function.
A week went by with no response. It wasn't easy to catch her before or after class. She had a tendency to come to class a couple of minutes late and vanish with most of her classmates within a nanosecond of dismissal. But finally I caught her, calling her by name as the class broke up and before she could quite escape.
My student came up to me with her lips pressed together, as if viewing something distasteful. Her face was otherwise blank.
“I'm afraid you're not doing at all well in the class. What are you doing to improve the situation? What are your plans?” I asked.
For some reason, my words seemed to surprise her. She said, “I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing.”
My turn to be surprised. I became uncharacteristically blunt.
“Then you're going to flunk the class. If you expect to transfer to the university as a business major with credit for this class, you won't have it. You'll have to start all over again. Right now you can't plot points and you can't graph lines, which you should have learned in algebra. What you need is lots of study time and a tutor to get you back on track.”
I suggested she go to the campus learning center to request a tutor. I told her if she brought me the tutor request form, I would sign it to indicate she needed math help. Since I appeared to be done, she turned and left, saying nothing. I don't expect to see that tutoring form.
The world is full of stories of clueless students. We teachers swap them back and forth like folk tales. But this is the first time I have had a student return to class after wiping out so abysmally on the first exam. In addition to the 7% on the exam, my student has racked up no better than 12% on the homework and quizzes. My grading scale is traditional, with 60% being the break between D’s and F’ and 70% the break between C’s and D’s. If we continued that pattern downward, I guess my student's grade is around a J or a K right now. She'd have to soar to reach an F.
And yet she's content to do nothing.
I wonder if the business calculus class is just a placeholder for her—units that she needs to maintain full-time or half-time student status for some reason. Perhaps financial aid. Some of my students are allowed to live at home with their parents so long as they maintain a certain number of units in school, although I doubt that's my student's situation; she's not a teenager. I just don't know.
One of my younger colleagues has a keen sense for student attitudes. When I told him about my stubborn student, he nodded his head and said, “You've made yourself a nuisance to her. Some students can maintain the illusion that they're doing fine in the face of all kinds of contrary evidence, but when you specifically tell her that she's failing, it becomes your fault. Everything was fine until you said that. She's probably upset with you now.”
I suspect my colleague is right. It's not nice to let the air out of a student's fantasies. A student once asked me how much longer it would take until his unbroken string of D’s added up to a C. Questions like that demonstrate unequivocally that math has not been learned.