Gladiators: Another Funny Teaching Story

The good news is that as long as I keep teaching, there will always be funny stories to share with my blog’s readers.

I was talking about the rise of the Inquisition in Medieval Spain. (The Spanish Inquisition was established by the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella in 1478). A student raises her hand.

Me: Yes?

Student: When are you going to talk about the gladiators?

Me: You want me to talk about the gladiators?

Student (enthusiastically): Yes, I’d love to hear about them.

Me: Does anybody else want me to talk about the gladiators?

Students (all speaking excitedly at the same time): Yes! The gladiators! They are so cool!

Of course, the gladiators were around about a millenium and a half before the rise of the Inquisition. But hey, why should I dampen this kind of enthusiasm for history?

So I talked about the gladiators and managed to connect this discussion to the topic of our course on Hispanic civilization (the Roman Empire, Spanish as a Romance language, the consolidation of Spanish as a language in its own right and not just a degraded version of Latin, etc.)

I can’t tell you, people, how much I love teaching. When I stand there, in front of a classroom, talking about this stuff that interests me so much and see the rapt, curious, young faces of my students (and, of course, anybody is young while they are receptive to new knowledge), there is nothing that can compare to this feeling. It feels a little bit like flying. They’ll have to cart me off to the funeral home straight from a classroom because I’m never giving this up.

Jews: A Funny Teaching Story

I’ve been taught by experience that I can’t expect my students from rural areas to know who the Jews are. So before I proceed to tell them about the three cultures of Medieval Spain, I now ask, “Do you guys know who the Jews are?”

Today, there was a longish pause as the students wrinkled their brows in deep thought.

Finally, a student exclaimed, “Oh! Are these by any chance those folks who are always like doctors and lawyers?”

Well, it isn’t the worst stereotype to have of the Jewish people, I guess. 🙂

Fat Hatred and Eliminationism

OK, I get that the following comment by Michele Bachmann is beyond silly:

I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.

But how is it about “fat hatred and eliminationism“? What is eliminationism, anyways?

And why is the person in the comments (comments 1 and 2) apologizing for the expression “fatten the family wallet”?

P.S. In case anybody is wondering, nobody would refer to me as a thin person under any circumstances.

Comfort Reading

I think time has come for us to discuss what we read for comfort. What is the trashiest kind of reading you enjoy when you are exhausted, sick, or simply need some really mindless entertainment?

For me – and I’m kind of ashamed to confess this secret that nobody knows about me – the trashiest author of choice is Jodi Picoult. If there is one author who knows nothing about psychology and always presents the most incongruous (from the psychological point of view) plots, it’s her.

She keeps creating characters who embody the most monstrous type of motherhood you can imagine. From a mother who gives birth to a child to harvest organs from her and who doesn’t relent even after the kid goes to court to stop the barbarity, to a mother who responds to a daughter’s incarceration by having another baby to substitute for the child who came out wrong – Picoult loves celebrating this type of outrageous mothers. She never condemns them, mind you. They are all heroes in her novels. The fathers are usually simply absent, clueless and useless.

All of Picoult’s novels are badly written and quite ridiculous. One that is the least so is Nineteen Minutes. It narrates a story of a school shooting and its aftermath.

Whenever I’m sick or very tired, I read or re-read a novel by Picoult. No matter what’s going on in your life, you will never fail to feel very normal and adequate in comparison to her characters.

And now that I’ve shared my deep, shameful reading-related secret, feel free to share yours.

On the Poll About the Reasons Why People Read This Blog

More people (14 votes) come to the blog because they are self-confessed suckers for punishment than because I’m pretty (12 votes). This should either mean that I’m not very pretty or that masochism is more important as a motivating factor in blog-reading than aesthetic enjoyment.

P. S. This is meant to be a humorous post, folks. I’m finally feeling quite healthy and am experiencing a renewed joy in existence. I’m going to make herb-roasted chicken today to celebrate the fact that I finally feel like eating. I’m going to read good books instead of going over mysteries I’d read many times before. I will take walks and blog a lot. Yay for health!

Why Taking Teaching Methodology Courses Is Crucial to Being a Good Colleague

I won’t repeat what I said before about the importance of having some training in pedagogy before you teach if you want to become a good educator. I now want to address the issue of how not knowing anything about the methodology of teaching makes one a bad colleague to one’s fellow educators.

What you always hear during methodology of teaching courses is that you have to make sure you don’t invade the students’ time. You have to arrive for your class when it’s scheduled (and not 15 minutes before) and finish the class when it should end (and not 5 minutes later.) If there is a break in a longer session you are giving, you need to leave the classroom. Students need that time to themselves without you hovering in the background.

Of course, teachers want to have 5-10 minutes before the beginning of class to connect the equipment, open the notes, arrange the materials on the desk, etc. However, you can’t do that at the expense of students and colleagues.

To give you an example, the moment I finish my lecture on Hispanic Civilization, I have the prof who teaches right after me enter the classroom, plant herself next to me and start placing her cell phone, notes and textbooks on the table. The same table where I still have all my stuff spread out.

I never detain students a minute longer than the scheduled class time. To the contrary, I always finish 1-2 minutes earlier to be able to gather my stuff, pack up, and leave in peace. If I have to break my lecture mid-sentence to stick to the schedule, that’s what I do. This means that there are still 10 minutes between my class and the next scheduled class after I go away. I need to be able to take a couple of minutes to get my things, log off the computer, talk to students who come up to me, etc. It’s important that I do it without an inconsiderate colleague breathing down my neck.

Dear colleagues: you only need to be in the classroom during scheduled class time. This is what you are paid for. Coming to the classroom  early and staying there late doesn’t make you a better teacher. It makes you an inconsiderate professor and colleague.

Webster U Throws Out a Student for “Lacking Empathy”

Am I doomed to encountering weird education-related news today?

Webster University (which is located in my area and is quite respected by my colleagues who are from around here) has terminated an MA student for lacking empathy:

A former Webster University student who was studying to be a family counselor says in a lawsuit that he was dismissed from a master’s degree program after it was determined that he lacked empathy. . .
The student, David Schwartz, 44, of University City, had received all A’s and only one C in his course work, according to a school transcript. But he was dismissed from the program on March 14 after he received a “no credit” for failing to successfully complete the practicum, in which he was to apply his class work to a real-world counseling setting. Schwartz alleges in his lawsuit that he was deemed a poor performer after he wrote an anonymous letter to the dean criticizing a professor’s teaching methods and noting the romantic relationship between that professor and an administrator.

Of course, if you object to a professor sleeping with an administrator you must definitely lack empathy. Criticizing somebody’s teaching is also very cruel. Aren’t you supposed to be understanding and tolerant of everybody, no matter how bad they are at what they do?

Jokes aside, it would be great to know how WebsterU measures a student’s empathy level. It is also of interest to me why empathy is so crucial to a family counselor. If I were to visit one, the last thing I’d be looking for would be pity and impotent sighing over my problems. I always thought that a counselor should at least strive to remain emotionally uninvolved in order to avoid any kind of bias. In my view, a valuable counselor isn’t the one who’s sitting there shedding tears over a client’s problems. Just the opposite, a good counselor is somebody who can assess a situation with some degree of objectivity and offer useful mechanisms of dealing with a problem.

For empathy, I go to my friends. It’s their job to be always on my side and tell me how I’m right about everything. A counselor, however, should be able to offer objective insights irrespective of how much the client moans, weeps, and blames everybody else for everything.

Online PhDs

If there is a concept that always makes me laugh very hard it’s that of an online PhD. However, there are quite a few people who don’t see the idea as deeply humorous. Boise State is one of them. The university has now introduced an online-only PhD. The school’s official discuss the program in very pompous terms in a futile attempt to prevent people from laughing out loud at the idea:

Dr. Ross Perkins, associate professor in Educational Technology, warns that although people may be critical of online education, it has every bit the quality of traditional education. “People shouldn’t be discriminated for where they chose to live,” said Perkins.  Online programs offer people in rural areas the opportunity to study programs that may not be available to them.

The program will also boost the university’s research profile.  Having more students graduate from doctorate programs could allow for an increase in grants funding.

What’s truly funny here is that Dr. Perkins is trying to shut down any criticism of the program by presenting it as some kind of a heroic attempt to combat discrimination. The original definition of the word “to discriminate” is the following:

1. Recognize a distinction; differentiate.
2. Perceive or constitute the difference in or between
As much as Boise State administrators would like for people to fail to recognize a distinction between a real doctoral program where students have a chance to get educated through discussions with their peers and mentors and a sad parody of a PhD where you are stuck home alone staring at some PowerPoints, this isn’t likely to happen. Far from raising the university’s research profile, this online program will make it a joke among educators everywhere.
Thank you, Margaret Soltan, for posting a link to this story.