Mixed Emotions

Well, I just finished grading my first quiz in calculus. It was a pretty basic algebra review covering the first half of chapter 1 in our textbook. (As an aside, I really don’t like the textbook.  It is what I inherited from the teacher before me. Our school’s budget is extremely tight, and I wasn’t able to get a book that I would have liked better. Maybe next year.) I’m not particularly proud of the level of rigor in this first quiz, but I figured I’d try to help ease the transition with a pretty basic softball-type quiz. I had a student before the quiz started come in and say, “Mrs. *** (the previous teacher, who is still the volleyball coach) said that she never gave a quiz in trig or calculus that wasn’t open book or open notes.” I just smiled and said, “That’s nice. I’m sure you’ll be fine without them for this quiz. Mrs. *** isn’t the teacher anymore.” This is the quiz that had everyone so worked up. Should be an absolute cakewalk for an honors calculus class, shouldn’t it?

Overall, the class didn’t due too poorly. But, there’s one student who has me absolutely worried. I try to be pretty generous with partial credit when grading quizzes and tests, but even still this student only managed a 4.25 out of 18. The only questions they got correct were #1, #2, and #12. The outgoing teacher told me this student shouldn’t be taking the course, but I have no say in the matter. If a student who meets the prerequisites signs up for the course, they get to take it. I had this student last year in my honors chemistry class, so I’m not surprised at their struggle here. The thing that absolutely blows my mind is when I modified CalcDave’s calculus questionnaire, the student answered the question “Why are you taking calculus?” with “I need another math credit to graduate”!! There are definitely much easier options for a fourth math credit, but their best friend is taking the course too, so I’m sure that’s the deciding factor for them. I’m really at a loss for how to handle this. I plan on having a talk with the student on Monday to encourage them to think about other options, but I’m not sure exactly how to approach it. Have any of you experienced something like this before? How have you handled it? I’m willing to work with any student and do whatever I can to help them achieve, but this student won’t even ask any questions. They have as much said that they’re too intimidated by me and afraid to ask anything. I found out last year after they transferred to my school that I was the first male teacher they’ve ever had, so I guess that has something to do with it.

So, in reference to this post’s title, why the mixed emotions? As disappointing as the situation with that student is, I’m so extremely proud of one of the others. The second student grew up in our school, but was home-schooled at the beginning of the 8th grade year, which is when kids in our school have the option of skipping pre-algebra and taking Algebra 1 instead (assuming they meet the criteria for skipping). This student should have been in Algebra 1, but when they came back second semester they were placed in pre-algebra instead. Because of that, the math class this senior took last year was Algebra 2. The previous teacher had a habit of pushing students like this to take both Trig and Calculus as seniors. (I personally would rather see a kid get a good solid Trig foundation and focus, but that’s a discussion for another time.) This student asked me what I thought they should do, and I told them I thought they were capable of taking both, but it would definitely be a lot of hard work. This kid has definitely been working hard, and after the first 2 weeks and first quiz, they have the highest grade in my calculus class, besting a couple of others that are probably considered smarter. I am so proud of the work they have put in. They are involved in extra-curricular activities and work a job as well, so I know they have very little time for a personal life in addition to their studies. I wish all my students had the same work ethic and attitude as this one. Great things are in store for them in life.

Until next time . . .

Brent

(Sorry about the clunky they/their in the post. I tried to avoid the use of he/she in reference to students. I’m not really sure what the protocol is there. If anyone wants to clue me in I’d appreciate it.)

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2 thoughts on “Mixed Emotions

  1. I try for s/he where possible.
    Also, let the student know that Calculus is easy but only if you have the algebra down pat. I try to encourage stats or trig instead, because students who want to can still take an AP test, and even if you take AP calc and pass it, you still have to retake calculus at almost all the colleges and universities sot hat you learn the math program ( Maple, Mathematica, etc.) If you take and pass AP stats, you can take psychology and other social sciences ans a freshman, because you have met the statistics pre-req. Students who do trig can usually complete the CLEP test for college algebra credit if their college accepts clep test.

    • Good thinking on the s/he. I’ll start to use that.

      My mantra in class from the beginning has been “Calculus is easy. It’s the algebra that is hard.” That’s why we’ve been spending so much time in review. We’ll see how it goes in class tomorrow. Unfortunately as a small school we don’t offer AP courses or stats yet. I’m hoping to be the impetus to get both of those things going over the next few years

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