Tag Archives: students

An Unexpected Surprise

Today I got an e-mail informing me a student nominated me as an Honored Instructor! I guess University Housing sends out a survey mid-semester asking who the best instructors are and students get to submit their votes. 

And I got nominated for Integrated Liberal Studies! https://www.housing.wisc.edu/residence-halls/academics/honored-instructors/

The letter notifying me included the student’s basis for the nomination: 

“Amy rocks! She is an admirable instructor. Thank you, Amy !”


Feeling super touched and motivated to end this semester well for my students. But don’t worry, it won’t go to my head. I told my sister Bethany about the nomination and she replied, 

“But I feel like you don’t actually have a good relationship with your students.” 

So, you know. Nothing like family to keep you humble. 

Group Projects (and the slacker in the mirror)

Like most students, I consider group projects one of the cruelest things a professor can do to a student. When do you ever hear positive stories about group projects? They’re basically synonymous with slackers. 

I had two group projects today and I was definitely the weak link in the chain. With the funeral this weekend and travel to and from Iowa, I did not give homework my best attention. Or any attention. 

And I’m really grateful for how kind everyone was about it. My group-mates were wonderfully understanding. They managed basically everything and all but handed me the script to read once we got up to present. And they didn’t make me feel like a bum for it. I survived today because of them. 

But we shall see if I survive the week! We’ve reached the part of the semester where I cannot think farther ahead than an hour at a time. So much to do! Isn’t it spring break yet? 

Family Grading

I don’t know who decided that college students should hand-write their exams, but I’m not a fan of that person. As the TA for an undergrad class, I spent 90% of my grading time trying to read illegible handwriting. 

Thankfully, my Mom and siblings are better at deciphering messy handwriting than I am. And also thankfully, I’m home this weekend, so I get the benefit of their hand-writing interpretations. And opinions. They are very opinionated about which students deserve what grade. 

It brings lots of welcome laughter. 

“I think he means ‘talk’ but that word looks like ‘fulk’ which is uncomfortably close to another four letter f word.” 

“Is there any reason this essay should be about…spiders? Am I reading that right?” 

“That is not the definition of a republic. Geesh, I’m not even in this class and I know that.”

“Give that kid a B+.” “No, dock points for how illegible that handwriting was! B-!” “It was FINE. We were able to piece it together. But actually, this other essay is way better so give him a B- anyway.”

“She was doing SO WELL and then she just abruptly ended. What happened?!” 

If only these students knew. 

Snitches Get Stitches

On the half a block walk to class this morning, the professor I TA for asked how discussion groups went on Monday. I answered him honestly: I had the hardest time keeping the students focused. At least one told me that as an atheist, he didn’t believe in what Luther wrote, so why bother reading it? Others tried to distract me by sparking debates about the authenticity of Scripture or the meaning of separation of church and state. I hoped he would say something about the relevance of Luther in class.

And oh, did he ever. 

Professor: “My TA* informs me that some of you godless atheists think you don’t need to read Luther and can get away with ignoring what he has to say. Well, you can’t. Get out of your bubble and read something you disagree with. It will do you good.”

And at that moment the student who made the atheist comment turned and locked eyes with me. The message was clear. 

Image result for snitches get stitches


*Actually, he didn’t just call me his TA. He referred to me by my last name–which I don’t share on this blog. But basically, “Miss Amy says…” Which sounds even more like I went and tattled on them. 

Another Broken Streak

134 days in a row. And then my blogging streak was no more. Arg.

Last semester, the class I TAed for covered “the Bible in a day.” Yesterday we simply had “Reformation in a day.” But many of my students didn’t take Part I last semester, so few actually knew what was going on. 

Thus it became: the Bible plus the Reformation in a day. (Or more precisely, 50 minutes.) It did not go super well. I was exhausted by the time I left, exhausted going to Bible study afterwards, exhausted because I forgot to do homework due Sunday so I rushed to do that before going to bed, and simply exhausted from how thrown off my schedule was  driving back to Madison in the morning. 

And so I forgot to blog. Arg. 

Successful Teacher of Evil

We’re still on Machiavelli for the class I TA in and I think it is finally starting to sink in for my students. I had the most triumphant moment today. I broke them out in small groups and said, “You now know Machiavelli’s methods. Pick a Democratic candidate and only using Machiavelli, plot his or her way to the nominee.” 

One group in particular struggled with the challenge since their chosen candidate did not appeal to a particular voting demographic. 

“What if we just killed everyone in that demographic?” suggested one. “Violence could work.” 

Another student looked thoughtful. “No, we just need to disenfranchise them. Then they will no longer pose a problem.” 

And in that moment I swear I could see the light bulbs turning on.  It was utterly beautiful. 

And kind of diabolical. I am officially a successful teacher of evil. 

Discussion Groups, Take 2

Me: “So we just established Machiavelli is about looking good while doing evil. But what about this passage I just read? How does picking allies and enemies and publicly sticking to them fit in with his philosophy?” 

* crickets *

Me: “…do any of you know what I’m talking about?”

* crickets *

Me: “Did any of you get this far in the readings?”

* all 15 students shake their heads no *

Day 1 of discussion group, y’all. This is going to be a very, very long semester. 

Grading Papers

I dislike grading papers because most aren’t very good but I feel bad every time I give someone less than an A. Mostly because I cannot imagine anyone would be satisfied with less than an A. It is like I am dealing the ultimate humiliation….a B. Or, gasp, a C

But some of the papers need serious work. Like, the-5-page-paper-consists-of-4-paragraphs kind of work.

And some of these sentences…just…well…see for yourself. 

  • “Being true to his evasive nature, Socrates’ loose construction of metaphors lays the groundwork for this definition of justice without any hard evidence.”
  • “The squirrel eats when it’s hungry, drinks when it’s thirsty, and procreates, well, whenever. It very much does not write essays or study geometry, as far as we know at least.”
  • “As the group became dissatisfied with these definitions, Socrates conjured his own. He meandered around the question, elaborately constructing the ideal City.”
  • “Say a man was preparing to steal a pig from his neighbor. A rational man will see that this will take a food source away from his pig, as well as make him a criminal.”
  • “To conclude: the term “soul’s eye” has two parts, the soul and the eye.” 
  • [And my personal favorite] “Despite what it might seem like, Plato’s Republic is not an early version of The Hunger Games.”

Forget Plato, though. The next discussion group we’re going to have a long talk about the proper use of semi colons. (Hint: when in doubt, don’t.) 

The Harder Prompt

“WHY do my students all choose the harder prompt?!” I wail to my old college friend. “They’ve got two options. One is easy. The other is difficult and they’re doing much worse than if they just chose the easy one!”

Friend: “It’s a competitive school. They all think they’re the only one choosing the hard one.

Me: “Yes, but they don’t need to! They could pick the easy one, do well, and ace the paper!” 

Friend: “What would college Amy do?”

Me: “…pick the harder prompt…”

If TAing has taught me anything it is that I was the more annoying type of student in college. That time my professor wanted a 4 page paper and I turned in a 12 page one because he didn’t put a word limit on the assignment? Yeah, sorry about that, Mr. Palmer. 

Stealing Knowledge

What a day.

It started with a student coming to my office hours.

Well, technically it started the moment I woke up. For a few, sleepy seconds I felt hot and scratchy and thought maybe I had a fever. I actually got really excited at the thought. Yes, I thought, a day off.  Which probably should have warned me that I was ready for a breakdown. 

But, as I was forced to acknowledge a few seconds later, I did not have a fever. So I went to office hours. And a student showed up! He wanted to talk about law school. He had already taken the LSAT and just wanted to know if I had any recommendations about applying to law schools. I told him a bit about my own experience. 

Then he asked how law school was going. And I kid you not, I started crying.

Thankfully, not sobbing or anything. But no matter what I tried, I could not stem the large, wet tears trickling down my face. So I played it off. I rolled my eyes and made a comment about fall allergies. 

And still the tears kept coming. 

I talked about typical first year classes, tricks for finding jobs, things to look for in a law school. I talked about the importance of finding something outside the law school, a preemptive strike against alcoholism and depression. I told him law school was a rough place and that he would think about quitting at least once a day. 

And gosh darn it, I cried. Poor kid thanked me for being honest and then practically fled. 

But my day was not done. Somehow I survived my Evidence class and thought longingly of my hour break till my next class. I would curl up somewhere, I decided. Maybe have a cup of tea. 

Then I got a message from another student. He wanted to talk about his exam results. He knew I did not have office hours at the moment but, if I was free, he was already at the law school.

I went in search of him. The problem is, I already gave him all the feedback I could about his exam. He didn’t flunk or anything. But he didn’t do great and I think he could do better. I already told him this and gave specific pointers about his essay. I had no idea what else to say. 

So, I offered to give him a tour of the law school. It distracted him and meant I didn’t have to think very hard. I showed off the picture of my balding, great-great grandfather in the library basement and dutifully pointed out the beautiful view from the study room.

As we talked I learned he was a freshman in college, the same age as my youngest brother, and originally from China. My older sister instincts kicked in. When the student expressed interest in the law, I tracked down the only other Chinese law student I know and made the introduction. Then I said I had to go to class but he was welcome to come if he wanted. 

He did want. In fact, he was delighted. He listened to the professor wide-eyed, occasionally turning to me to enthuse about something being discussed. When another Asian student walked into class late, he gaped for a moment and then said in a stage-whisper to me, 


I nodded, a little embarrassed. But also a little surprised by how excited he was to be there. I thought our two hour class might scare him off. He dutifully took notes even though I’m sure half of it was over his head. (Or maybe it was just over mine.)

And then when class ended, he walked up to the professor and said, “Thanks for letting me steal your knowledge! It was so interesting!” 

The professor looked bemused and said casually, “Sure, come back next week.”

“CAN I?” asked the student. 

The professor laughed and said sure. 

I don’t think the law school has seen anyone that happy in a long time. 

It was one of those moments that makes you stop and think. His pure joy at listening to the professor lecture on the complications of the immigration system really contrasted with my own frustrations. 

Do I still really want a day off to catch up on life? Ahem, yes. But it is nice to be reminded that I have a great opportunity to “steal knowledge” every day.