TTWA:  Email to parents

TTWA Assignment:  Part 1) You are a coach who has just cut an 11-year-old girl from the team.  Write an email to her parents, explaining why.  Part )  Now you are the school principal.  Write an email to the coach who cut the girl from the team, explaining why he is being fired.

Emailing parents is a necessary but irksome job for teachers.  The risk to upsetting someone is rather high.  I once used the word ‘generosity’ to describe a bumping a deserving student from a C+ to a B-.  The parent then replied a day later that her child ‘worked hard’ and did not need any of my ‘generosity.’  Sometimes you learn the hard way.

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Off Duty

LoyolaAs a student, it always amused me to stumble upon my teachers outside the classroom: at the mall, in the movie theater, or even on the school parking lot.  Somehow it seemed strange to discover that our educators had lives and families outside the school property, as if they had apartments in the teacher lounge or — more abstractly — ceased to exist entirely without their class.  I would imagine Mrs. Willis and Mr. Phebus melting from the walls at the ringing of the bells, reforming flesh from discarded glitter glue and construction paper like a Terminator villain armed with copious lesson plans and graded algebra tests.

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Riddles and the Mark

RiddleOne of the most difficult thing about being a teacher is the fact that I cannot write much about my job.  That is to say, I can and — as this post will demonstrate — will, but the repercussions of lawsuits, job loss, and public humiliation always undermine my efforts to write about my life anymore.  Other topics such as my siblings, new houses, geek stuff, and adventurous excursions to far off realms may prove fodder for my ‘talents,’ I often fain from ranting of late.  It’s not the ‘been there, done that’ feeling per se, the ennui of a former life, but my writing has always centered around my feelings, ponderings, and frustrations about daily living.  What is the point of spreading my thoughts across this blank page if — much like a wayward girlfriend — my heart just does not want to commit.

So screw all that.  Time to start afresh (which I discovered the other day was one word, not two; the world indeed is awash with wonder, Charlie Brown).

For the sake of my financial independence both present and future, I’ve decided to disguise my students identity with an alias, or a faux nom if you’re feeling fancy or . . . perhaps French.  Thus, Students of the Murph, I dub thee . . . Robin.  Ta-da.  Now, those that know me may assume (which is always a mistake if you wish to avoid the title of ‘ass’ for both you and me) that I choose this appellation due to my obsession with Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, but you, Sir, could not be more wrong.  As a matter of fact, Robin serves as the perfect androgynous nom de plume for a school of either boys or girls.  Or both!  I could teach at either private or public.  You never know, because it’s a mystery.  I am totally relishing your confusion right now.

So this particular incident occurred the other day during an exam review session after school.  Many teachers volunteer their time to review the final test and acclimate their students to information long buried by snow days, proms and the promise of summer.
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Database Delirium

“Ok everyone,” my professor instructed us on the first day of class. “This course will not involve much lecture. My philosophy is that we’re a team here. I’m only going to give fifty-percent of the material. If we are going to master this material, I expect you to contribute the other half. You see, I might not know everything about databases and programming, but together, we will support and teach one another.”

As we looked over the syllabus, my classmates and I nodded our heads as our professor glided around the room with a smile and a friendly laugh. She seemed like a pleasant and amiable lady, approachable and ready to answer questions. Gazing over the projects, papers, and homework, nothing appeared unusual or odd. After all, this was a Masters level course, and we were accustomed to reading and studying outside the classroom, absorbing the necessary materials by ourselves. Therefore, her speech concerning “contributing fifty-percent” and “I don’t know everything about databases and programming” worried us not; that is, until the second week of class, when we began to suspect that she truly and honestly did not understand half of the material . . .

“Ok, does anyone know what an Object-Relational DBMS is? Or what it does? I’m not sure myself. It has something to do with virtual objects? Did anyone read their chapters yet? I can never understand the programming language . . .”

“Ma’am?” one of the students asks, raising his hand above a laptop. “According to Wikipedia, it has something to do with user interaction with databases. Like the emergence of GUI and early user-friendly interfaces.”

“Ah,” my professor ponders. “That sounds about right . . . I think. I don’t know, maybe we’ll come across it later . . .”

At first I interpreted his whimsical personality and ignorance to a teaching style, a method of feigned cluelessness in order to encourage participation. Yet such a performance – if in fact genuinely manufactured – only pushed us into greater confusion and heightened our irritation.

“Now,” she asks me. “Who interacts with the books in a library? What carbon-based life-forms use the books?”

I scratch my head at that, flummoxed by the simplicity of the question. Obviously the patrons and users would access the database to the books, but surely there must be some deeper meaning behind this question. A series of circles and squares connected like a toy railroad to thick lines served to illustrate her model. I sighed. Last year my previous professor had likewise relied heavily on shapes to relay relationships between information systems and society. One year later and the method still seemed rather silly and superficial. Thus, unlike most in the class, I felt ready to state the obvious – that is until her ‘carbon-based life-forms’ comment which left me a little bewildered.

“Um, I suppose, the uh . . . users?”

“Absolutely! Now I wonder what users do with books at a library? Now users perform some operation on the books in a library. We should consider what operation or action this is.”

These last few questions are more statements than questions; so obviously, most of the class is stymied. Our professor continues to dance around actually asking a question: “Hmm . . . I don’t know. What operation could this be? I wonder.”

Finally some brave soul raises her hand to spit out the answer to this riddle: borrow. Users borrow books. She of course is delighted, and scribes the three words in the circles on the board: users — borrow —- books. We should grow accustomed to this style of model mapping, she explains. Every object has an operation that affects another object. She then continues her lecture, delving into the history of the database and computer systems.

The lesson is a good one, but it takes us nearly thirty minutes to arrive at the punch-line, as she intermittently pauses to consider, wonder and ask questions in the form of statements.

“The database stores information. Information needs to interact. There is word that signifies this interaction. How data table can reference each other. One table can affect another table’s data. They interact in a specific way . . .”

“Uh . . . ma’am, do you mean they relate?”

“Excellent!” she shouts. “Tables relate to one another . . .”

Between consulting the clock and these frequent tests of our common sense give me cause to reconsider our professor’s knowledge. Her whimsy and confusions seems more authentic as the lesson draws to a close:

“Ok, so hierarchical models are built like upside-down trees. However, though organized well, they are much slower . . . no wait. This [her powerpoint slide] says it’s quite fast. Hmmm . . . I thought it was slow. Oh well . . . so you see hierarchical models are much faster than previous models . . . ”

Those cannot be her slides, I realized as we pack to leave. She borrowed or pilfered someone else’s presentation. Suddenly my regard for my professor deepens; she obviously must be quite skilled in improvisation and the ancient Irish art of malarkey. It seems I have much to learn from her after all.