Rant No. 1: How do you grade an assignment based on student honesty?

Dear Ms. Redd,*

Sometimes I hate school. And more than anything, I hate English class. I try not to rant online in blog posts, but sometimes somebody oversteps a line and I just have to speak.

Today I got home and found an unpleasant email sullying my inbox: an email from you (to all of your students). It amounted to “send me an email before our next class meeting about how our class has been going so far this year and what has or has not been working. I will be grading you based on your honesty.” I would post the whole thing here, but… I’m not sure whether or not that’s legal.

Now, I will clarify a few points. You plan to grade us on honesty? Yeah. Right. So if I criticize you and say that you were wrong in using the word “picaresque” in responding to the story my friend wrote about her parents’ divorce or that you were wrong in even assigning this letter at all, you won’t take it badly? When students hand in assignments that weren’t exactly what you were expecting, you blame the students. When students are upset by the way you treated them and their work (you absolutely do not tell somebody that they might as well have written about how Holden wants to be a ballerina just because you disagree with their interpretation), you blame the students. If students hand in letters saying they are dissatisfied by their experiences in your class, you will blame them. You told us on the first day of school that you teach because your parents were teachers. You’ve made it clear time and time again that you prioritize your Celtic rock band above your students. And the last time I went to ask you about how I could improve my English grade, you said “I don’t care.” (The first time I went to ask, you said “use better handwriting; yours gives me headaches, so I can’t be bothered to read it.”)

Just this afternoon I heard that you had been spending quality time discussing with some of your students the merits of Sparknotes over Cliffnotes. Of course, I refuse to forget about that day you recommended that we all go use No Fear Shakespeare. I find it disgusting that you even have the nerve to call yourself an English teacher. You indulge in blatant favoritism and are constantly fifteen minutes late to class. You create a hostile class dynamic in which you ridicule and criticize students for not understanding the text. You claim you want absolutely no grade comparison, and yet it is obvious that you yourself have a list of students in your class from FAVORITE to WORST. Not only that, but we all know how that list goes. You never clarify expectations, and yet expect very different essays from last year’s English teachers. Not only that, but your expectations are constantly changing.

You refuse to admit that as a teacher, you have a responsibility to your students; you are absolutely the worst teacher I have had the misfortune of meeting.

If you had really wanted our opinions on your class, this assignment would be anonymously handed in and ungraded. I’m thankful to the school administration for trying to act upon the students’ distress–after all, I have no doubt that it was either the English department head, principal, counselor (or perhaps all three) that asked you to request direct student feedback. However, if you actually want to seem as if you’re making an effort to be a better teacher, you’re going to have to try harder. After all, now all of your students (me included) are going to have to go write a page praising you and your subpar teaching. Congratulations on further frustrating each and every one of your students.

Best,

Al.

*Ms. Redd is a pun on my English teacher’s real name.

Categories: Dear Now, Rant | 3 Comments

Truth No. 3: New Year’s resolutions are still a THING.

Dear Myself,

Apparently New Year’s Resolutions haven’t gone out of fashion, and people still sit down at the beginning of the year to make lists of things they wish they would do. I suppose this is a bit late, but oh well. Better late than never!

This year my main goal is to stop failing at life. This is a very general statement, but I think it’s a valid one. I myself have never submitted writing to any competitions, managed to drop a textbook on my global teacher’s foot on the first day of school, lost (and found) my phone at least sixteen times, and read hardly anything at all with the exception of that one week during camp of last year. As a result, I would like to stop failing life.

In order to aid me in this endeavor, I will attempt to do the following:

  1. Write every day, revise extensively, and submit at least one piece of writing to at least one legitimate competition.
  2. Be a more responsible student and suck up to all my teachers, even if that means acting as if Sparknotes is the best thing since Celtic Rock.
  3. Stop losing things, and continue finding things. Keep my life more organized.
  4. Read more.
  5. Find some form of exercise, and stay healthy.
  6. Study for tests.
  7. Sleep more than five hours a night.
  8. Stop hoping that people will change for the better, because that kind of thing only happens in books.
  9. Be smart.
  10. Stay safe.

The resolutions that as of right now I actually think I might be able to keep are 1, 4, and 10.

Some things that I would love to happen in the coming year but are almost certainly not happening are:

  1. Getting better grades (as of now it appears that my grades are dropping).
  2. Winning at science bowl regionals (it’s open field, so I’ll be competing against seniors…).
  3. Making a good impression on of all my teachers.
  4. Revising a piece of writing until I am proud of it.
  5. Getting to FRC (First Robotics Competition) internationals.
  6. Scoring perfectly on the National Latin Exam (because there’s always that one geography question I don’t know).
  7. Scoring respectably on the AMC (American Mathematics Competition) 10.
  8. Finding a lab to work in over the summer.
  9. Blogging every day.
  10. Scoring perfectly on the PSAT.

Five things I am not loking forward to in 2013:

  1. Pulling all-nighters for school.
  2. Six more months with my English teacher.
  3. Homework, tests, term papers, and other school-related work.
  4. Failing at life in general.
  5. Losing more things and being disorganized.

Five things I am looking forward to in 2013:

  1. Robotics
  2. Reading and Writing
  3. Science bowl
  4. Meeting more published authors.
  5. Summer vacation!

So there it is! Lists and lists of things I ought to do, want to do, can’t do, might do, and must do.

Alouette Kim

Categories: Dear Future, Truth | Leave a comment

Memory No. 2: Nobuaki was a friend of mine.

Dear Nobuaki,

I haven’t seen you since fifth grade. Or was it fourth grade? Wait, maybe it was third grade. Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with you online, and sometimes I wonder what happened to you in the past several years. Because life has gone by, and I’ve changed. But I still have the image of a nine-year-old Nobuaki in my mind.

Firstly, you asked me about the SAT. The SAT is one of the stupidest tests you will take in your life. It’s also one of the most important ones you will take in your high school career, if you intend to study in the US. It has a writing, reading, and math section. In my own opinion, the reading is the easiest, the writing the second easiest, and the math the hardest. However, because you are getting a famed Japanese education, you may very well disagree. Either way, it is an astoundingly easy test for which the best way to prepare right now is to read everything you can and pay attention in math class. In eleventh grade you might want to look through the official SAT test book, and if you can you should take the PSAT in eleventh grade (do they offer it in Japan?). But otherwise, don’t fret. It’s only one of many things you need to do well on to get into college.

And that’s where grades come in. You realize this, and I realize this, and grades are important. I honestly don’t think you should worry too much about the precise numbers you need to get into Yale, which is one awesome school (my dad got his PhD there). But at the same time, you need good grades. They don’t need to be stellar now; you have three more years to show what you can do as a student, and junior year is what matters most. And also, because you spent a lot of time abroad, it’s understandable that you wouldn’t have an A+ in Japanese. Play your strengths to your advantage, and you’ll be fine.

Secondly, you introduced me to the awesomeness that is Piers Morgan. Thank you.

Thirdly, you mentioned that you lived in Scotland for awhile, and that Scots call erasers “rubbers.” I want to live in Scotland; it sounds like so much fun! And so does table tennis–I think you’re the only person I know who plays it.

Fourthly, you asked me about good books to read. As I said, you should read Ender’s Game. I first read it when I was nine, and since then I have reread it each year. Maybe, since you think Aristotle is so cool (he is, I agree), you could read Nicomachean Ethics? Or maybe you should read his Metaphysics. An ethics professor recommended it to me a few years ago. He was teaching a class over the summer, right before he went to teach a course in Dublin, and he recommended a lot of interesting books to me. Crime and Punishment was absolutely amazing. Dostoyevsky always seems to get overshadowed by Tolstoy, but really, Dostoyevsky is brilliant.

Lastly, on the evolution of mathematics and how it was revolutionized by the Cartesian plane: I will speak about it in another post later this week, if only because I think it’s a wonderful topic that requires its own response.

Hoping all is well,

Alouette

P.S. You choosing Bill Gates over the Bible because Bill Gates is more accepting of laziness made me laugh.

“How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” -Proverbs 6:9–11

vs.

“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” -Bill Gates

Categories: Dear Past, Memory | Leave a comment

Truth No. 2: Truth is infinite, and the infinite is Truth.

Dear Joseph Quinn,

I apologize for my failed attempt at chiasmus. I fear it was about as unShakespearean in its command of language as writing ever gets. However, I do hope it got my point across–Truth is infinite, and the infinite is Truth. It’s based off of something you said during one of your mathematics lectures, when you were explaining how infinity can only ever be defined in a higher dimension. In other words, infinity on a number line (one dimension) can only be defined using a plane (two dimensions), and infinity on a plane can only be defined in three dimensions. The actual explanation behind that was a bit longer, and certainly you remember why. So let’s not get into that.

What I do want to focus on is the part where you said that infinity is like Truth. You drew an analogy there–Truth is like infinity because Truth in one language can only defined using another language, another dimension. I looked up this claim, and it turns out that the guy who said this was Tarski. It also turns out that that claim only applies to formal (not natural) languages.

Regardless, I think it was a brilliant analogy.

The Truth of our world is impossible to define within the confines of our world. After all, Truth encompasses everything; it is infinite. Physicists have already realized that the four dimensions (three spacial and one temporal) that we perceive cannot be explained in only four dimensions. It’s like how in the story of the blind men and the elephant, the Truth would be that they were all feeling an elephant–not a snake, pipe, tree branch, or anything else. In that way, I disagree with anekāntavāda, the Jainist concept of multiple truths. Just because you have a piece of the Truth does not mean that it is Truth. Truth is all-encompassing; it is infinite. But infinity is itself not just a number. It can be treated as one (I got lost partway through your explanation of transfinite numbers), but it is really just an incredibly complicated concept.

So what is Truth? Could I redefine Truth as a single answer? A single value, like 42? Perhaps it would require the defining of transfalsehood (get it? transfinite -> transfalsehood?). Or maybe it’s that Truth is infinitely more complicated than the concept of infinity, because the infinity which exists within our universe would have to be defined by Truth. Perhaps there must be another universe in order for our universe to be defined. Is Truth truly infinite?

Maybe I’ll be able to attend another one of your lectures, and maybe then I’ll be able to ask you these questions. Good luck on getting your PhD!

Alouette Kim

Categories: Dear Now, Truth | Leave a comment

Memory No. 1: Ten memorable things.

Dear 2012,

You were a monster of a year. Being thirteen was a strange but unremarkable experience, and it has left me on the verge of new beginnings. Here are some of the ten most memorable things about you.

10. Discovering the wonder that is German opera.

9. Doing over 160 hours of community service.

8. Scoring in the 99th percentile for college-bound seniors on a practice SAT. I swear it was a fluke. Now I just need to do as well on the real thing in junior year….

7. Discovering the beauty of ancient mathematics from the days before the Cartesian plane.

6. Performing a Korean masked dance.

5. Taking a class on dystopian literature.

4. Learning Chinese and Slovak for the first time and discovering Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis.

3.  Taking my first college composition class ever! I learned an incredible amount about creative writing from this course.

2. Building a model car.

1. Interrogating Holly Black on how plot works in a fantasy novel, eating vegan brownies with Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, asking Rose Fox about the process of editing fiction, and getting lots of free books.

Yes, I cheated a bit there at the end with the four-in-one thing. Oh well! xD

Best (and Goodbye),

Al

Categories: Dear Past, Memory | 6 Comments

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