This was originally meant to be published in the student paper. Unfortunately the head editor was never in his office, and I haven’t the nerve to email this to the man himself. Oh well.
Thank You, Dr. X
Joanna D. 4/12/11
I used to think my calculus professor was diabolical. He gave us problems that kept me up late at night trying to find my own math errors and trying to figure out what he was doing. It was like he was so smart that he did not understand what was so hard about all the problems! Then I began to notice strange phenomena.
Firstly, the more problems I did, the faster I got. I rocketed from a D on the first test to a B on the second. Some may attribute this to more studying (which is true to some degree). I attribute it to figuring out that as long as I tried to work the problem all the way through in the proper collegiate manner, I was getting nowhere. By experimenting with several methods before I committed to one, I was more likely to find the proper answer. Working the problem is not nearly as hard as starting it.
Secondly, one’s mood is not a proper indicator of what one should be studying. The legendary “calculus nirvana,” or the desire to do calculus, can only be reached by (gasp) doing calculus. Actually, calculus nirvana is a disturbing state to all but the calculator. I found myself humming crazy tunes, giggling for no discernible reason, and talking to my equations at one in the morning. My roommate—a pre-med chemistry major with her eye on becoming a psychiatrist—observed me suspiciously.
Thirdly, my calculus professor began to share his personal life with us—and he laughed! Somewhere along the line, I had come to the conclusion that he lived by himself in the noisy, cramped dorms, his ears grating to the shrieks, squeals, and fire alarms. That he drank the blood of others before us through a straw from his thermos as he squinted malignantly at our poor efforts to replicate his results. But vampires do not have trouble assembling trampolines for their little girls.
Fourthly, my calculus professor gave us problems that were not always meant to be easy to figure out. It took man more than sixteen hundred years and a guy by the name of Newton to invent calculus—so why should it be especially intuitive? Besides, we have the Internet, a fact of which my teacher is by now, no doubt, aware—to the degree that he now gives us problems which depend on our either being brilliant or doing research.
Fifthly, he invited us to talks which reveal that there are more branches of math than I ever realized. I knew that math had real-life applications, but I did not realize that real-life had its own applications of math, or that specific problems had their own branches of math. That lists mattered because they defined the reproduction of shapes on the blackboard resembling bunnies. That it might not be possible for me to master all the math that man has been creating since the dawn of time; I had only to pursue what interested me.
So, Dr. X, and you know who you are: thank you for not watering down calculus II too much, thank you for forcing us to learn essential study skills, and thank you for dropping question 8 from the last exam.