Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sit and Deliver

As I sit typing this blog, my AP Calculus students are taking their AP exam. Their completion of this important test signals the end of the mad bull rush in my and their efforts in preparing for the comprehensive, three-hour event. After today, we will all breath a little easier, at least in math class. The only thing left to endure is the torturous wait until July when the results finally arrive. It is a restless time for me, filled with high hopes and impatient anxiety, and anxiety that is only accentuated by the fact that I’ll be helping grade these exams again this year. My students’ success is not only a reflection of how well I was able to teach them and prepare them, but more importantly, I know that passing the test can be a great impetus for academic success for them at the next level and a real confidence booster.

As usual, I invited all test takers to my room this morning for a complementary breakfast taco, last-minute advice, and a pep talk for dessert. My classroom was standing-room only, as the excitement and anxiousness of everyone gradually subsided into relaxed confidence. My blood is still pumping hard. I’m still shaking in nervous anxiety of my desire for each of them to do their very best. “What if their batteries go out in their calculator? What if they take the test in ‘degree’ mode? What if they mistake it for a history exam?” These are just some of the things that go through my mind.

Although this is my eighth year to go through this AP dance, I still get the nerves as the test date approaches. Why do I do this? Is it because I am a deeply conscientious and caring individual who genuinely wants the students to do well? Yes! I think it has got to be one of the biggest boosts to their confidence to get their AP Calculus results in the summer and see that passing score, not just because they received college credit, but because the worked hard and passed a very difficult, comprehensive test, while having fun (hopefully), enjoying themselves, and learning in the process.

Am I hoping that their success will equate with success and recognition for me and our school? Absolutely, for it provides quantifiable data that can be used to support the continuation of the program. But, although recognition is nice, it is not the primary source of my motivation (although recognition IS nice . . . it really is), in the end, I do it because I want to make every student much better when they leave me than before they came to me. ‘Tis the selfish curse of teacher.

The time, money, and energy I have expended in helping these 42 calculus scholars in preparing them for this exam has taken a lot out of me by the time the day of the exam actually comes. The final frenzy and charge of reviews (morning, class, lunch, after school, and Saturdays) comes to a head today. I have left nothing “on the court.” At this point, I have done all I can for them. They are celebrating our hard work right now, and I will continue to be nervous and excited until I get the results in mid-July, at which point I can exuberantly celebrate their successes and begin my focus on doing it all again next year.

As I begin each year, I try to think about all the willing, capable students who only earned a 2 on the exam (or perhaps even a 1.) The list of names is always disappointing to me, because I’m so hard on myself. It breaks my heart (and makes me a little angry—at them and mainly at myself.) Many of these students I had pegged for a 3, 4, or even a 5! Why did they “bonk?” Was it the little things? A decimal point here, a negative sign there? Were they trying to make me look bad? Were they nervous? Exhausted? Did they have a mental flatulation? Did their calculator batteries die? Were they in radian mode? Did they forget the Battle of Hastings was in 1066? What was it? I stress these things with increasing frequency from year to year, and even more so down the final stretch. These borderline students were soooooo close to getting the credit. I hope it made a difference this year.

Calculus is the mathematical study of change. I hope that by investing everything I have into my students, I have changed them for the better.

July can’t get here soon enough.


Anonymous said...

i hate myself. i took the WHOLE calculator portion of the mult. choice in degree mode. yeah, i know, i'm an idiot, which is why i'm not telling you who i am. question tho... when you're evaluating an integral with a calculator, does it HAVE to be in radian mode?!!?? does it really screw things up that bad to be in degree mode. did i mention i hate me??

other than my small... uh, large.. slip up, i felt like i was prepared for the exam. the only thing that was iffy were Taylor polynomials.. of course there were 37 questions over that. just my luck. so, if i fail, just know it wasn't your fault. thanks for everything this year korpi. :]

Anonymous said...

p.s. i SO nailed the by parts questions. i "sat and delivered" on that part (no pun intended) for sure.

kwkorpi said...

The only time being in degree mode versus radian mode even matters if you're doing a calculation involving a trig or an inverse trig function. Don't be so hard on yourself. On FR portion of the exam, the answer itself, remember is only worth one point our of 9. The mathematical set-ups are what's important. The AP readers are more interested in whether you know how to do math, not whether you remember to switch to degree mode, or turn the iron off at home.

Please don't hate yourself; hate hatred instead.

Anonymous said...

Calm your nerves, I am sure you will have another large group of certificates to tape to your wall again this year. Great kids can not help but do well, especially when they have a great teacher.