Wednesday, September 30, 2009


So yesterday was a first in my career.

A student left my office crying, and continued to cry while sitting in the first row in class.

I felt bad when it happened.

And it is certainly my fault in part.

Mostly though, I felt bad, because my reaction to said student, which I will describe below, felt super familiar. Like, maybe I react like that to the kids. Often. A reaction the likes of "JESUS CHRIST HOW COULD YOU BE SO INANE?" OR "COULD YOU POSSIBLY WASTE ANY MORE OF MY TIME??"

THAT is why I felt bad.

Like SHIT. Do I make my kids want to cry when they act like, well, like children?

Not specifically because he (yes, I said "he") was crying... But that, and the fact that this had never happened to me, certainly contributed.

So here's what happened.

This class is our department's intermediate microeconomic theory class. It ends up filling up with mostly seniors who, until now, didn't know they wanted to be econ majors and only just now decided to go ahead with it because, well, frankly, they only need two or three more classes.

So, already, you can see, that the courses are not exactly populated with forward thinkers or planners of any kind.

And, for those of you, kind readers, who are NOT recovering econ majors or the like, this class is (or should be) notoriously difficult. It (should) require the student to take (and use) a very basic amount of calculus, extensive algebra, and their noggin. Meaning: there should be problems that require higher level thinking that maybe, just maybe, builds on stuff they have learned in previous classes (!).

I know, I know. I expect too much.

We don't do this very well in our department. And by "this" I mean build a major. We end up being mainly a service to the college of business, offering introductory macro and micro classes to those business students who need the classes to fill in their general education requirements on the way to their accounting or finance certifications.

This is all to say that the students here don't really see economics as a viable major until they are well on their way out. And that is to say that whereas in other universities and colleges, students take these intermediate classes in their sophomore years and then can actually USE the material in their applied courses (like labor or international, for example).

So, I'm in a pickle from the beginning as to what to do with the class and how to pitch it to students who haven't taken a derivative or solved for a variable in three years.

So here we are, fall 2009.

The students have a problem set that WAS due last week, but because I'm a softy, I gave them an extra week.

Said kid comes into my office several times for help on this. I'm usually rushed, and so I'm sure I have an air about me that says something to the effect of, this better be important, even though I don't mean to, and he comes in my office hours so I should be available to him blah blah blah.

Anyway. Yesterday it dawns on me that maybe I should have a little rudimentary calculus tutorial for him (and the rest of them in, literally, the hour following my office hours). So I get into it. Really basic stuff like -- if f(x) = a + bX, then the derivative f'(x) is b. That sort of stuff.

So get this, I finish that up and he says something to the effect of, why are you waisting our time???

So I literally pause, and start in on attempting to describe my day to him. Any of you out there with kids and a commute gets exactly what I'm getting at here. I'm all dude, I have two kids and X amount of free time, and can't you see me eating my lunch (which consists of literally a piece of chicken left over from last night's dinner. No bread or lettuce or condiments or anything of the like because I didn't have time to pack it this morning because I was herding cattle trying to get myself and my daughter out of the house before 7 a.m. and, by the way, I think I turned in this class' textbook into the book drop at the library because I was so out of my mind, and rather than being particularly concerned about that, I'm more concerned about the added task on my list because I'll have to go to the library later this week to retrieve said textbook) right here in front of you because I literally have three classes in a row after this god-awful session of office hours and five minutes between classes??????

Okay, we move on.

We move on to DIRECTLY applying a problem FROM THE HOMEWORK set that looks EXACTLY like the one described above that he DIDN'T know how to take the derivative of MOMENTS before.

So then, we get to what is legitimately the hardest problem on the problem set (#4) which basically asks them to recall knowledge from previous classes and do a lot of detailed algebra.

I get going and get to a logical point to pause and check to see if they are with me.

He gets a little, what we say in our house, tone with the following comment: When you were doing this problem for me last week you got a COMPLETELY different answer than the one you just did.

I about explode.

Nine may as well have dumped soggy garbage over my newly handwashed floor.


I pause, then, trying not to be defensive, I look at his notes and compare to the work I had just done. I mean, dude, I can make a mistake. But what I find is this, the two "radically different" answers:

P* = (a-c)/(d+b) versus P* = -(c-a)/(b+d)

It's like the flip side of a coin, or looking at a word in a mirror. They're just the negatives of each other.

I must have sounded enormously frustrated as I (probably not very gently) pointed this out to him, possibly as though it were the most obvious thing in the world and, again, with an undertone of who-is-wasting-whose-time now sort of thing.

I paused again. Quickly reversed the problem so that it matched his notes and sent him on his way, only to find tears coming down his cheeks in class.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Time Flies

It's the fourth week of the semester already.

That's what I love and hate about the fall. September is always the month to love and hate: back to school. Then you blink and it is Halloween. BioMom and I just ran down the October calendar and it is all bar crawls, high school reunions, football games, niece's plays, and Halloween parties.

And then POOF, it'll be Thanksgiving and then another POOF and I'll be knee-deep in finals.

Big is finally warming up to school, although he continues to protest each-and-every morning. We're just thankful to our neighbor's tom-boy whom he adores and is actually willing to get into the car with in the morning without holding hands and feet out so that one cannot even fold his body into his carseat.

Although today he asked in a panic "WHERE IS [Sidekick's Sister] going??? Where am I going with [Sidekick's Sister]????????!!!!???"

I went do a little new-parent Montessori overview last week and learned that they love him there.

Him? My [Big]?

Yes! He is WONDERFUL. He has a really warm and compassionate heart.

[Big]? You know my son is [Big], right?

Yes! He is so talkative! You must talk with him all the time!

This I knew. He talks non-stop.

But the hitting. . . Does he hit here? Is he, um, aggressive at all?

[Big]? No! Never. He is wonderful.

Meanwhile, I am experiencing my first semester in 3 and 1/2 years in which I have two entire days in which to actually work.

I'm teaching tomorrow and not only are the lectures prepped, but I've graded the problem set that was turned in on Thursday, entered the grades, AND started learning about TWO new potential research topics.

WTF? I have a professional self?

Okay off for now. I'm listening to Big and Sidekick's Sister playing in the living room. I think I'll always miss that one-year-old Big, but (whew) it is nice to be relieved of the serious life-or-death parenting.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

First Day Photos

These are a bit late as we are now in the third week of school, but Nine bounced into fourth grade while Big reluctantly, clingingly and sometimes even angrily went to preschool.


Apologies for the lack of posts. School started for 75 percent of us and that has really gotten the better of my creative energy.

The other night though, a late night conversation with Nine could not NOT be comment on in this forum.

She was talking with BioMom and said that kids at school were asking her what it was like to not have a dad, and if she missed it.

BioMom asked her how she responded and she said that she had (quote) never really considered it.


She explained that her life is just her life and that she doesn't know about having a dad so how could she miss or not miss it?

And then she went on to say that if she thinks about it at all, it is not like she thinks of having a different person in her life, more that she thinks about me being a man, or a dad.

That was the first time I really made the connection between being GLBT and being the spawn of a GLBT person.

Heretofore, I really thought that the two experiences were, strangely, quite different. I mean, chances are that kids of GLBT people are not (usually) GLBT themselves. There may be an analogous 'coming out' process as in "oh, by the way, my parents are gay" but even that is (I expect) a distinctly different experience than "oh, by the way, I am gay." Not harder or easier, just different.

So, this was a bit of a surprise to me. Maybe just a surprise because I hadn't expected it, I don't know. But it reminded me of those first feelings I had, possibly in the early teenage years, when I began to recognize a pattern in the sex of the people that were showing up in my nascent fantasy life.

One of my immediate reactions to this was that if I were a boy (at that time) life would be a whole lot easier.

We will see what all this brings but so far Nine seems incredibly put together about herself and her life. Her friends seem to trust her enough to ask questions and we're lucky that so far she feels trusting enough to ask us questions.