I finally snapped yesterday, and laid the smack down on a professor. In front of the entire class. Here’s the story, with too much background.
Over the last several classes, the professor has been getting increasingly cranky over the lack of classroom participation. Usually he’ll leave a question hanging in the air, and either I’ll answer it or there will be an awkward silence for several seconds before someone kinda sorta mumbles something from the back of the room. Increasingly, I’ve been trying to shut up in the hopes that it will prompt more people to speak up. Mostly, that hasn’t helped. And so, the prof is getting worked up about that.
Add to that, the guy just isn’t a very good teacher. He knows the material backwards and forwards, but he doesn’t have a grasp of how to present the material to someone who might be seeing it for the very first time. If I hadn’t seen this all in high school, I can only imagine how lost and confused I would be. For instance, the prof seems to think it’s useful to back up a new rule or concept by actually performing the proof for it in front of the entire class. Despite the fact that the proofs can be pretty gnarly, well above the head of 2/3rds of the class, and it’s not the sort of things he would hold us responsible for in homework or on a test. It’s kind of like trying to teach someone how to drive by showing them how the carburetor is assembled.
So Friday, he’s at the whiteboard in the middle of one of these proofs. It’s filled the entire whiteboard, half the class is glazed over, and he’s still going at it, working on this series of one limit plus another limit plus a third limit. On one of the limits he factors something out of it and asks over his shoulder, “And when we pull that out of the limit, what are we left with?” From across the room, a tentative voice says, “Umm, it’s undefined?”
He spins on his heel and with a raised voice says, “What?! No! What’s left is the definition of a derivative! C’mon!”
And I snapped.
Right there, in front of the class, I cut him off with a sharp tone.
“Look. Just stop it. That’s unnecessary. Take a deep breath.”
“Yes, I understand the thing you’re pointing at is the definition of a derivative. But her answer wasn’t crazy. Yeah, if you just looked at that limit, it looks like it would be undefined. That’s a reasonable guess at the answer.
If you want people to participate in this classroom, shouting at them for a wrong answer is a really bad strategy.”
“So back off, calm down, and try again.”
For a couple of tense seconds, the only sound was the muted traffic outside.
He stammered out an awkward apology, and repeated it at the end of class. I think he knew he had been busted big time. I only hope he thinks about how he got in that state, and how to avoid it in the future.