Wednesday, June 08, 2011

From the time vault

As it was in the beginning

There may very well be a hoarding gene in my family tree. I seem to have inherited it from my parents. Dad exhibits this behavior in his workshop, which is cluttered with the detritus of decades, including a large collection of old-fashioned vacuum tubes—perfect for fixing up that old Curtis-Mathes television of yours. Mom keeps boxes of stuff in the basement, including virtually every scrap of school work ever brought home by one of the children. In my case, this includes bundles of material from my initial foray into grad school back in the seventies.

Last week I made a quick trip to the old homestead to participate in a nephew's birthday. At one point I took a break down in the basement and ended up riffling through the family archives. I hit a rich vein from my early teaching days, including bundles of punch cards from student surveys. In addition to filling in bubbles on the front of the card, many students wrote comments on the back. One of the first to catch my eye made me sad:
Z very rarely came prepared for class. His lectures were all straight out of the book, word for word. He also wasn't able to answer various homework problems in class.
Damn. That didn't square with my recollection of my first teaching assignments. Did I really get stuck that much? Did I parrot the book? That's hardly my style today. How things have changed! Or have they? The next card said:
Z is usually a well organized lecturer who presents the subject in a clear and illuminating manner. He also takes time in class to discuss difficult problems, as well as to answer questions on the reading.
Ah! That's more like it! Here's another:
Z will sometimes introduce a proof of his own to supplement the book's proofs. Usually, his make more sense.
Ha! So much for “word for word”! Of course, it's not all 100% positive:
Works very hard to prepare for the lectures & exams. Z tends to joke around too much sometimes.
Well, that sounds accurate. What was that first kid thinking, anyway? It happens every school year, of course. You have students sitting side by side in the same class and their reports of their experience sound as if they were on different planets. (Helpful hint, kids: Try really hard to find an instructor on your wavelength!)

For sheer perversity, the following comment is one of my favorites. Could it be a joke?
Your timing on exams needs some help. I forget the material by the time the exam comes around, therefore, I actually need to study the material.
It might very well be serious. I have had students in the intervening thirty-five years who say very similar things. (Poor babies! Having to study!)

Then there's this:
Z is dressing very well this quarter.
That's what a TA gets for occasionally wearing a tie in the seventies. (It didn't take much to impress them.)

Fortunately, since I couldn't get anything from the multiple-choice side of the punch cards by inspection, I found a folded-up copy of the student questionnaire stuck between two of the card stacks. Most of the questions were perfectly straightforward, dealing with such matters as clarity of presentation, fairness of grading, punctuality, and so on. I racked up good scores on all of these until question #16, when my numbers took a steep nose-dive. Here's what it said:
Whoa! For one thing, lecture is cited twice (and we didn't have a lab discussion session either), but the real point is whether this is even a reasonable standard. Homework as important as exams? You're kidding! I didn't do it then and I still don't do it now. I guess I'm just a rebel.

Still crazy after all these years.


Karen said...

What's the difference between "readings" and "text"? Are they thinking of some overarching textbook supplemented with other material? Isn't it all just "text" of one kind or another?

Karen said...

Zee, so if you were getting good student reviews in the '70s, you must be getting fantastic student reviews now, right? :-)

Disturbingly Openminded said...

Very funny, Zeno. Thanks for sharing.

You noted a few months ago that you and I may be unknowingly related or separated at birth or some such; I'm beginning to agree with you.

My parent's basement (the family archives) was almost impenetrable by the time my mom died. My father's grad school papers, 40 year old Organic Gardening magazines composting away in a corner, and who knows what else.

We are nothing more than temporary custodians of stuff on its way to the landfill.

Sili said...

" He also wasn't able to answer various homework problems in class."

Is see the problem here.

You've gotten one of my cards mixed in among yours.

Kathie said...

"40 year old Organic Gardening magazines composting away in a corner"

Hey, D.O., I take that quite personally!

"[Zeno] noted a few months ago that [he] and [D.O.] may be unknowingly related or separated at birth or some such..."

Hey, are you Azorean-American too? Pack-ratting certainly ran on my paternal side, save (as it were) for one uncle who I figure must've been adopted (LOL!).

Anonymous said...

Kathie ~

Oh, hey, I do the organic gardening thing too. But I also clean out my basement from time to time.

I've instituted a new rule of thumb about my yard: It it takes up more than 4 square feet and doesn't produce food or useful shade, then I don't plant it. A few years ago I planted a blueberry bush hedge on a property line. We get some, the neighbor gets some, the birds get some.

My ancestors are German. I wish we had come from some cool place like the Azores.

Kathie said...

D.O., if it makes you feel any better I'm only ½ Azorean -- but also ¼ German! We too have blueberry bushes (one of the most cost-effective plantings there is, for those living in a climate amenable to them), and share our bounty with one neighbor in particular: he and my husband pick every Sat. AM during the season, which also gives them time to solve the world's problems!

Do you net your bushes? We do, once the berries form, in order to thwart the birds as best we can. However, the occasional baby robin manages to breach the net in order to pig out on berries, then is too stupid to figure out how to exit, despite a frantically cheeping parent on the other side. So we need to check every day to see if any birds are imprisoned inside the netting.

Improbable Joe said...

Ancient tubes? If he's got any working EL34s or 12AX7s or anything else that will fit in a guitar amplifier, your dad might be sitting on a miniature gold mine.

Zeno said...

Karen: Today's reviews are much like the old reviews. Started strong! Stayed strong!

Joe: 12AX7? I think so. The dust and spiderwebs make it difficult to take inventory. It's quite a mess.

Disturbingly Openminded said...

Kathie ~

I tried to net the bushes one year but it seemed like more troublet than it was worth. Yes, dead robins.

Now I just hope the crop is big enough to satify all comers, including the birds.

Kathie said...

No dead robins, D.O., just really cranky ones (and their fussing parents, outside the netting). Putting netting on the bushes is more easily accomplished by 2 people working as a team.

Disturbingly Openminded said...

"...more easily accomplished by 2 people working as a team."

I see you haven't met my family.