On Finally Teaching Calc II At Long Last

For seven years in grad school, more or less of course, all the classes I taught—two per semester, as regular as Homecoming—were of the “not for math or science majors” variety. The rest—Calc I and up—were almost entirely taught by the faculty (to be precise: the lectures were; grad students would very often run “recitation sections” and mark papers). Then after I graduated, I was in the show for four years. It was a small college, so the math-major stuff ran pretty seldom, but I did have a chance to teach nearly every course in the catalogue at least once. Real & Complex Analysis, ODE, Linear & Abstract Algebra, all once each; Calc I and Calc III, ditto. But as luck would have it, I was never assigned a section of Calc II: the course in integration.

Since getting sent down to the minor leagues, I’ve adjuncted at two universities and a community college. I’ve again mostly been relegated to the non-major courses, again more or less of course. It spoils the story slightly, but I’ll go ahead and admit that I’ve taught the corresponding material in the calc-for-business-majors version. But it’s just not the same. Because we don’t ask those students to do any of the stuff I considered hard as an undergraduate. And a lot of the point here is that, since I was a pretty lousy student in those days, “hard” for me meant “skip it”, and I never learned how to do the trickier problems. Until now.

Pretty much any other math-head that ever stuck with teaching for anything like this long will have done a lot of this stuff much earlier on. And, who knew. There’s a lot of wildly cool math going on here. All this time I thought I didn’t like analysis. For a long time after turning pro I felt like nobody but a blockhead would work textbook exercises, except for money (or at least some pretense of getting paid; one is allowed on this ethic to tackle problems that are obviously beyond the scope of the given class—but there must be a class). In recent years I’ve sometimes found myself doing math problems as a means of relaxation. Somewhat to my surprise.

But the real joy of this whole deal is getting to work with such talented, hardworking students. There’s a bit of a learning curve on this for me for sure. And it’s pretty clear, here at midterm, that I could have gotten quite a bit more out of this group if I hadn’t learned from a career in remediation to keep my expectations pretty low. Don’t get me wrong here: one encounters some astonishing gaps in the algebra. But it’s cluelessness at a much higher level than one is used to and I’m having a really good time. Thank god I’m a gangsta.

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