Ten Great Unanswerable Questions in College Teaching

Ten Great Unanswerable Questions in College Teaching

  1. Why has fate arranged it so that the least prepared students who need the most time on task have the least free time to commit to filling in the potholes in their knowledge? How many times have I felt like an academic DPW crew, shoveling in the hot conceptual asphalt and rolling it flat with supplemental sessions? The brains steam, but we know the frost will heave it all out of shape soon.
  2. No matter what subject we teach, why is that most failures will come from broken skills that have little or nothing to do with that subject (think spotty attendance, life trauma distractions, putting all of one’s efforts in the wrong place, forgetting the course essentials and misremembering trivia, becoming convinced one is knowledgeable about things that are in truth a complete mystery yet lacking all confidence in what one actually does understand, abandoning all efforts only when one is on the verge of success, anger, self-hate, I-deserve-it-I-earned-it drunken binges)?
  3. How can striving to build a class lesson on what interests students result in so boring & empty an exercise?
  4. Why does a class, when given the option to choose between two activities or topics, first split evenly in half when expressing their wishes, and later all remember they had preferred the topic which we did not do?
  5. Why do people who most plead for entry into a closed or already started class, and have the best reasons of anyone in class for taking the course, inevitably drop the class when the first paper comes due?
  6. Why is it that the student who will take a complaint about you to the dean is the person who ought to have failed the course except that you saw some glimmer of last-second ability which sparked some misdirected mercy in you, resulting in a D?
  7. What is it that makes students prefer the parking lot, lavatory, and first ten seconds of any class they are not in over my ten hours of office hours as the ideal time to ask in full panic whether or not they got a passing grade on the paper I returned ten days ago?
  8. What kind of self-flagellate behavior drives students, when asked to offer possible test questions on assigned reading, to think up complex queries that they themselves can’t begin to answer properly?
  9. Why do students who have received a third-rate high school education, where they did not read or write and where rampant cheating was unrecognized and a third of every day was spent in busywork, believe the vague and empty phrases of those high school teachers over the detailed and reasoned evaluations of professors with advanced degrees? (“Sentence fragments like these destroy your credibility. You have to work on eliminating them from your writing.” “Really, are you sure that’s a sentence fragment? Check again. Mrs. Wormgarten never mentioned fragments. She never wrote on my papers at all and said I was a great writer.”)
  10. What leads every student who has a parent to lie to them about the monster teaching her writing class? I wonder how many times conversations with parents have begun with something like “Mr. ____, I don’t see how you can call yourself a teacher of writing if you don’t….” followed by something I routinely do in class or on every paper.  I do understand that a parent wants to believe his child, though. What I don’t understand is when other faculty believe these whoppers. (“My advisee told me that you never take late papers no matter what the reason and I want you to think about how unfair that is to students who have busy and complicated lives.”) I’m sometimes tempted to tell them about Mr. Nerunda who is trying to get his fortune out of Nigeria and would gladly offer thousands of dollars for a little assistance and an account number… But I don’t’.

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