What’s In A Name?

Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson

You might want to grab a tissue before reading this, because what I’m about to write is sure to bring tears to your eyes.  Or maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, last Wednesday marked the official end to one of the courses I was teaching this semester.  Specifically, it was the end of Calculus for the Biological Sciences II.  *Sniff*.  I’ll give you a moment to compose yourself.

Anyway, the exam went off without any major hitch, except for the roof construction that was occurring directly overhead.  Seriously, who books an exam in a room where construction is occurring overhead?  Regardless, after running around the building to find someone who might know anything about the construction, the Physical Resources department was called and the construction was halted for the duration of the exam.

For the most part, the students rocked the exam.  I was very happy with the results, and I’m sure they will be too.  There were a few not-so-stellar results as well, but that is to be expected.

Now, during the course of the exam I was required as Invigilator to have my students fill out a form to indicate they were present.  At that point, I was also to check their identity against their student cards, so as to prevent someone sitting in on the exam for someone else.  Given that my class had about 80 students, I recognized most of all of my students which significantly sped up the process.  Of course, there were a few randoms in attendance; that is, students that I did not recognize – most likely because they never came to class.  These were the students that I paid the closest attention to.  The good news is that they all checked out.

But I have to wonder, why would someone pay for, but not attend a single lecture?  I understand missing a lecture from time to time, but an entire semester of lectures?  That’s just ridiculous.  Especially  since I told the students at the beginning of the semester that some of the material we were going to cover was not in the text.  I mean, I’m a bit confused as to how they expected to understand the material without ever showing up1.  Ultimately, however, that is really not my concern.  If the randoms want to risk a course because they can’t, for whatever reason, make it to class, so be it.  I have to assume they are adults, capable of making sound decisions.

You see, my job is to teach the material, not to take attendance.  I am tasked with presenting the material in a manner that brings about understanding, presenting ideas that stimulate thought and question, develop problem solving skills, and ultimately allow the students to speak the language of mathematics.  The students are responsible for taking part, studying, learning, absorbing and integrating the material.  So when I am asked to ‘not fail’ a student (which happens almost every semester by someone who hasn’t put in the work), I am left wondering why they think that I’m responsible for them failing.  And I will and do fail students almost every semester, but that is a reflection of their work, not representative of some personal vendetta that I have against them.  Failing students is a part of my job, and one that I take seriously.  I will not let the gravity of the situation or puppy dog eyes prevent me from failing a student that deserves to fail.  It is in their best interest to repeat the course if it is necessary.

Anyway, back to the identification forms that the students were required to fill out.  I had to chuckle as I was reviewing them.  The students not only have to identify themselves, they need to identify the course number, and the name of the instructor.  Anyway, I provide to you now a list of all of my names as indicated by my students:

  • Dr. Daniel Gillis (Formal name, proper title, and correct spelling.  A+)
  • Dr. Dan Gillis (Less formal name, proper title, and correct spelling.  A)
  • Dr. Gillis (Proper title and correct spelling.  A)
  • Dan Gillis (Less formal, but I’m not one to stick to formalities.  A)
  • D. Gillis (Perfectly acceptable.  A)
  • Gillis (A few buddies refer to me in this manner.  A)
  • D. Gilis (um, what?  At least Gilis would sound correct.  D+)
  • Daniel Gills (started off strong but lost me at the Gills.  Gills does not sound like Gilis or Gillis.  D-)
  • [empty] (Not knowing your instructors name = super fail in my books.  F–)

Additionally, one of the students wrote that their seat was located in row goats.  I’m really not sure what that means, but I found it funny.  After the exam, when the students were handing in their papers, I had one student bow to me.  I really didn’t know how to handle that.  Another student was wearing an Apple \pi t-shirt.  AWESOME!

Finally – and this was by far the best part of marking – after I had finished grading the exams, I was counting up the scores when I came across 2 notes on the backs of 2 separate exams.  They both made me smile:

  1. Dr. Gillis, Thanks for all the calc fun! (Esp Pi Day!) =)  I heartily enjoyed the class as my elective this semester and am contemplating taking the Advanced Calculus I for the furthering of my calc knowledge =)
  2. “Dear Prof. Dan, thank you for being the coolest teacher I’ve ever known.  I’m sorry I messed up the exam.  Please, at least let me pass :)”  Sincerely Cheers, Your awesome student.
I love, love, love that one of the Bio students wants to take a more advanced Calculus class.  AWESOME.  Also, I love, love, love that one of my students signed their note with ‘Your awesome student’.
Anyway, I’m a little sad that the class is finished.  The students were amazing and we had a lot of fun in class.  I just hope that they got as much out of it as I did.

1 In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I have done this. That is, in second year I took a particular math course. The instructor was not healthy, and basically placed overhead photocopies of the text onto the projector. The instructor did not explain the material (at least, not in the first week of class), instead we were to copy the information in silence. After reviewing the course outline and the material provided in the text, I opted to not go to lecture and instead teach myself the course2 . Which I did, because I’m a huge math nerd. And in my case, it worked out. I ended up with a 95 in the course 😀 So what I’m saying is that it is possible to get away with this, but it’s probably not the standard.

2 This almost bit me in the ass during the midterm.  I knew when the midterm was to be written, but the instructor had changed rooms about 3 weeks into the course.  This I didn’t know.  When I arrived at the original classroom to write, no one was there.  It was then that I discovered the Math & Stats main office, and thankfully they were able to direct me to the new classroom.  I arrived to my 50 minute midterm 20 minutes late.  I think the instructor was surprised when I arrived (because I would have been if I were the instructor), but I have to believe they were even more surprised when I was one of the first to leave, 10 minutes before the end of the exam.  w00t!


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Rick says:

    My cold-hearted heart felt nothing from this post. Secondly, I once took Elementary Symbolic Logic through the philosophy department. After realizing that the philosophy students in the class were debating why certain symbols were used over others as opposed to focusing on the logic, I was done with it and didn’t go to the class for most of the semester. I still pulled off an A for Awesome, woot! Thirdly, I hope you gave that ‘awesome student’ an A+, since you are directly responsible for passing and failing students based on your personal vendettas with them. And lastly, you will now be known and Gills.

    1. dangillis says:

      A is for Awesome. That’s why I have an A in my name. True story.

      I’ve never taken Symbolic Logic but it sounds like it could be interesting, save for the debate over the use of particular symbols. That doesn’t really hold much interest to me.

      I shall accept your moniker of Gills. In fact, I shall wear it proudly. I’m also thinking that Gills & Chin sound like some sort of crime-fighting detective duo. Perhaps we should reconsider our current careers and pursue this avenue.

    2. And who was your SLG leader for Elementary Symbolic Logic??!?

  2. I sometimes call you Dgills…does that mean I get a D-????

    Oh but I guess in a more formal setting I would call you Dr. Awkward Cousin. Which can’t be graded because it belongs outside the range of [A+++++++,F].

  3. Beth says:

    I would like to point out that *you* are not failing the students. They are failing all on their own. You are just reporting their failing grade, which *they* earned all by themselves, to the university. Many times I have helped assuage the guilt of grad students who say “I feel bad failing students!” by pointing out this important distinction. (Not that I think you feel guilty, because clearly you don’t). Also, I would feel guilty allowing people to pass who did not meet the standards for the course because (a) it’s unfair to students who did the work and understood the material and (b) it’s a disservice to the student to allow them to move on when they didn’t actually master the content.

    Also, can I hire the duo of Gills & Chin to solve a crime for me? I don’t actually know of any particularly crimes that need solving at the moment, but I’m sure some will come up. Also, the next time you two are together, you should take a Charlie’s Angels pose photo, to use in the advertising of your new crime fighting business.

    1. dangillis says:

      Oh trust me, I don’t feel guilty. I agree – I don’t fail the students, they fail themselves. I’m just, as my friend Almost Dr. Sean correctly pointed out, the middle man. In fact, I feel like I’ve done my job when I report the failing grade.

      A Charlie’s Angels pose – that actually sounds insanely hilarious. You know we’re going to do it. Although, technically we’d need another angel.

      1. Beth says:

        Gills, Chin & Snow?

        1. dangillis says:

          That sounds about right. w00t!

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