Autoblography Part 17: The Tallest Blade of Grass

By Shamus Posted Thursday Sep 22, 2011

Filed under: Personal 165 comments

Yes, for you long-time readers, this is a re-run. But it’s an important moment and I wanted to include it here in the chronology.

All through the school, the math teachers vanish suddenly and without explanation. Suddenly, everyone has substitutes for math class. This is obviously unexpected, since the subs have not been given clear instructions of how to fill that two-week space of time. When the teachers come back, we discover that they have all been given some sort of crash course in computers, and we are now going to have computer lab on day X, where X is the day of the week when nobody else was using the computer lab.

My math teacher is an immense woman named Mrs. Grossman. Yes, I’m serious, and yes, she really is gigantic. I’m not trying to liven up the story by going all Wonder Years on you. She is spherical, with thick glasses, a short butch perm, and a mean streak wider than her own shadow. It’s clear she does not care for this new turn in her mandated curriculum, and she teaches us to use computers the same way you might teach someone to slap-fight a cobra. Apparently the computer is a dangerous creature to be approached with the utmost caution, and only by doing (sigh) exactly as we were told can we hope to learn anything about these capricious magic boxes.

The computer room is nothing more than a regular classroom with tables lining the outer walls, which are stacked with Apple computers facing inward so that everyone is elbow-to-elbow. We have a computer for every two students, although a few lucky and / or unpopular kids (like me) get a computer all to themselves.

She speaks at length to us about computers before we are allowed to turn them on. Sitting in front of a computer that is switched off is never very exciting, and to do so while the instructor drones on about pushing a button is enough to bore the dead. Once we get around to powering the things on, she instructs us to not touch anything. Because, you know, those early Apple II’s were notorious for deploying whirling discs of razor-sharp metal on users who pressed the errant button at the wrong moment.

Nevertheless, I press a button out of habit. The machine is starting up, and one of the other machines I use has the user press the spacebar during the startup sequence. That’s not really applicable here, but it’s also not dangerous. At least, it’s not dangerous to the computer. It turns out to be dangerous to me, since the instant I touch the button Mrs. Grossman smacks me in the back of the head. This is not a polite tap to get my attention and bring me into line. This is a full-on open-handed blow to the back of my skull, which nearly bounces my face off the monitor. Once I had returned to my senses, Mrs. Grossman asks coldly, “Didn’t I tell you not to touch anything?”

A dumb nod is the only response I can muster. Sure, I broke a (pointless) ad-hoc rule borne of fear and ignorance, but I’m pretty sure there are other rules out there, more substantial in nature and most likely written down, about not striking students in the head. But I give no argument. My main concern at this point is not crying in front of the other students.

She then laboriously feeds us a program in BASIC, one line at a time. She is not teaching us anything, since there is little in the way of explanation about what all of this is for. For people like me, this is so simple that the lesson is insulting. For people who are new to it, we’re just typing in random symbols. After a good fifteen minutes (there are very long pauses while she waits for everyone to finish typing, and some of these kids have never touched a keyboard before) we manage to get a six-line program into the thing.

This is maddening. It’s like being made to recite my ABCs, only at the rate of a letter every ten seconds. Most kids are bored because the task is meaningless to them. I’m bored because I have my hands on a whole new computer and I can’t experiment with the thing. More to the point, nobody is learning anything.

She goes on some tangent about how important it is to type things exactly as she had written them, and the importance of not confusing the letter “O” and zero when I finally diverge from the lesson and add a rogue FOR loop to my program. She spots my mischief.

“Shamus, did I say to type that?”

“No,” I say flatly.

“Go sit over there,” she says, pointing to the side of the room with no computers.

I’m actually relieved. The lesson was frustrating to the point of madness. I’m sure she is relieved as well: She has managed to get rid of the only person in the room keen on learning to use the computer, and now she can go back to wasting everyone’s time without interruption.

This has a large impact on how I perceive my education. The illusion that teachers are vessels of knowledge is shattered, and I can suddenly see teachers for what they were: People who have a job, who sometimes hate that job, and who are sometimes manifestly unqualified for that job. Mrs. Grossman has no idea what she’s doing and doesn’t even understand the subject matter in her hand. She doesn’t understand how people learn or even what learning looks like. She knows how to hand out worksheets, and that’s the extent of her capabilities. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t even like kids.

Up until now I’ve always assumed I just didn’t fit into this system. Now I realize that the system is sometimes stupid and broken to the point of sabotaging the learning process. This has always been true, but I couldn’t see it until I had more knowledge than the teacher. The other kids in this room are probably all saying to themselves, “Man, I don’t understand any of this. I guess I’m just no good at computers.” Some of them will probably carry this misconception around for years. They will consider computers to be indecipherable and scary, because that’s how Mrs. Grossman presented them.


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165 thoughts on “Autoblography Part 17: The Tallest Blade of Grass

  1. TheAngryMongoose says:

    I had a Mr Grossman (well, everyone called him Tarquin (or dragon) ‘coz this was a sixth form college, but…) as a maths teacher but he was the smallest person in the class.

  2. Durandal says:

    You know in German, gross/groàŸ means “big”?
    So her name actually means Mrs. Bigman.
    A fitting title, no?

    1. Methermeneus says:

      I think that may have been why Shamus specified that he wasn’t joking right after mentioning both her name and her largeness… Maybe…

    2. Skyy_High says:

      I’m fairly certain that was the joke. “Gross” has pretty much the same meaning in English. Germanic roots and all that….actually I think it works better in English, since “gross” doesn’t just mean “large”, it means “unattractively or repulsively large”.

      1. Dys says:

        Also a dozen dozens, in old measures.
        144, one gross.

        1. lazlo says:

          There would be a certain beauty in it if she, at some point in her life, decided to do something and started on a diet, got some more exercise, generally decided to get in better shape, ended up losing a lot of weight and finally finished out the transformation by changing her name to Mrs. Netman.

  3. guy says:

    It’s kind of sad that modern computer courses are actually still like this. At least, the ones intended for people who will not major in computer science. Admittedly nowadays they actually explain what the things being typed in mean. Of course, most of the students proceed not to listen and then complain they have not been taught. I take everything students say about teachers with a very large grain of salt as a result.

    The main problem with education is those jerks sitting in the back and yammering. You know who you are.

    1. psivamp says:

      In high school, I was the jerk in the back. Although, I was only doing it because I could crack wise and still pick up everything the teacher said. It never occurred to me that I was sabotaging the other students learning experience at no cost to myself. I suppose, had they cared, they would have told me to shut up.

      In college, I sit in the front row and talk almost exclusively to other people who care about learning.

      1. General Ghoul says:

        I was the guy who told you to shut up, scaring the teacher into thinking a fight may start. She would chastise me, but not the loudmouth. Loudmouth tried to start something in the parking lot with me one day, but several football team members who I had helped in class through the years stepped in and let it be known that they had my back. After that I was untouchable, and challenged these bullies and loudmouth. Now I know how to handle myself and still challenge these fools in the workplace.

    2. Oh, to live in a world where other people are responsible for the inefficacy of a teacher.

      1. Sumanai says:

        Some people really are attempting to not learn anything in schools. They’re also the first to claim after a test that “this wasn’t covered” even though it was covered several times and sometimes by different people.

        Yes, there are bad teachers abound, but there are genuinely bad students as well.

    3. Will says:

      Modern computer courses for people not majoring in compsci would probably be better spent teaching people how to do efficient google searches, recognise dangerous sitesemails, maintain a system with defrags and soforth and how to recognise and look for the solutions to common problems.

    4. If those jerks are yammering, it’s because the material is being presented in a way that they don’t care about.

      1. Davie says:

        Right, but frequently they also don’t want to care and would rather be doing anything else but sit in a room listening to someone talk seven hours a day. The rest of the class, meanwhile, is actually trying to learn something from the material, and just finds them to be obnoxious bastards.

    5. B_C says:

      Myself and a couple of my friends were just like Shamus, here…we were far advanced of the crap that they were trying to teach us (this was freshman year of high school, San Antonio, 1983-84 school year). We knew a lot of the BASIC tricks backwards and forwards and could type decently thanks to our dedication (which I still consider the reason why I can type so fast and accurately today). They had JUST networked all the computers in the lab, and of course we were the jerks that figured out the back doors and how to crash things with mere keystrokes, then look innocent while the teacher became enraged at their own incompetence for not knowing why the hell the thing wasn’t working, suddenly. Or why random messages would pop up on other terminals. Muah-ha-hah. Thank you, TRS-80 Model III, for making my formative computer years turn me into a budding sociopath.

  4. Methermeneus says:

    Ah, this makes me think of my first computer class after I moved to a new district in fourth grade. An entire year of typing tutors on Apple computers, after I’d literally grown up on DOS, writing stories in Word Perfect, or sometimes directly in the file editor. I did it right the first day, got something like 90wpm with perfect accuracy, and spent the rest of the year amusing myself by writing poetry and seeing how rarely I got 0% accuracy anyway. The next year, we moved up to (gasp) Kid Pix! Even a couple of BASIC programs!

    If I recall correctly, that was about when, at home, I started writing in HTML (because my father got Windows 3.1 with MS Word, and even back then I thought it was clunky, if cool to use on occasion, and I heard about this cool way to format stuff in a text editor; my father, gadget-lover that he was, got a hold of Mosaic, in which I viewed my documents, even though we did not yet own a modem), on the computer I built myself.

    Oh, yes, and the teacher told us not to play with the wires because we might damage the data being stored in them. Not kidding, not even exaggerating.

    1. Aitch says:

      That reminds me of the elementary school computer class we only rarely ever had, and the teacher warning us not to put any magnets near a cd because then it would “be erased”.

      They never taught us any programming though, just used the computers to administer standardized testing. Finishing early and getting to play Oregon Trail for a half hour was pretty cool though.

      Still, the idiocy that’s charged with the education of our kids… mindblowing.

      1. Khizan says:

        CDs in elementary school? God, I feel old.

        1. Methermeneus says:

          I guess I can make you feel old, then: Those new Apples we did our typing on had those CD drives where you put the CD in a special case and then inserted the case into the computer. (It felt very sci-fi to me.) I recall using them for Oregon Trail when we had a substitute because apparently a general substitute teacher isn’t qualified to oversee a typing class. 9.9 First time I’d ever seen a CD, and I didn’t even realize at first that the thing inside this weird “disk” as wide as a 5.25 but as hard as a 3.5 could come out! (I’d already seen a laser disk in action once, however. I thought it was only logical that something not full of tape capable of playing a movie be the size of a record. Now I can fit a whole TV series on a micro-SD card!)

          1. ozmasis says:

            Those cd cases were so awesome, I still remember when my dad got a windows 95 computer and being completely dumb struck that you just put the cd into the computer not some fancy little case first

        2. Dovius says:

          Hell, in my High School’s introductory Computer Science classes (Everyone gets them for a year, then you can choose it later on once you make your final class choices) we still use floppy disks.

    2. Gravebound says:

      “An entire year of typing tutors on Apple computers”


      My typing classes were on typewriters; mechanical ones. :)
      The electronic ones were only in the advanced class. (I always thought it was creepy, pressing Enter and having it type everything in one second.)

      1. Methermeneus says:

        They switched the typing class from typewriters to computers at my previous school district the year before I moved to the one I described above, but they didn’t do typing in that district until fifth grade. According to my older brother, however, you could test out of that with 60wpm and accuracy better than 80% and fool around on the computers for the rest of the semester. (I have no idea what they did with the typewriter class if you tested out. Let you write whatever you wanted, I suppose?)

        I did have experience on both mechanical and electric typewriters, thanks to my grandfather. (If my father hadn’t been such a computer nut, we probably would have had one at home as well.) I thought having it type the line in a second was fun, but I really loved the tactile sensation of the mechanical typewriter. I’d be tempted to get one today if I didn’t feel bad about the waste of paper, since almost everything I type has to get on a computer at some point. (Well, that and they’re ungodly expensive nowadays.)

        1. psivamp says:

          I learned to type on the Apple IIe in elementary school. We also did some rudimentary programming in some pseudo-language whose name I can no longer recall.

          Later, I took typing in high school where we used electric typewriters — it may be worth mentioning that I went to a public elementary school in a wealthy area and then to high school in a horribly underfunded private school. But, in the latter, we knew our teachers cared because they voluntarily took pay cuts to keep the school running when it fell on worse times.

          1. Methermeneus says:

            May I just say that I’d rather have gone to a school where the teachers so manifestly cared than the one with a computer lab full of new Apple computers, a computer teacher who thought copper wires store information, a history teacher who gave me detention for correcting him and deliberately “lost” my homework while grading, and a science teacher who spent an entire period ranting about how she invented spray glue as a child, but missed out on the patent because her parents thought it was a silly idea?

            Also, I desperately hope that school got more funding at some point. Any teacher willing to take a pay cut for their student’s welfare deserves to get paid.

        2. Freykin says:

          If you want a somewhat similar experience, try getting a mechanical keyboard. I picked one up about a year ago, and it’s a joy to type on, going all clickity clack :)

      2. Methermeneus says:

        Oh, and luxury!

    3. Mephane says:

      Oh, yes, and the teacher told us not to play with the wires because we might damage the data being stored in them. Not kidding, not even exaggerating.

      *Mandatory Dilbert Comic*

    4. theLameBrain says:

      I did TERRIBLE in my typing class. Frustrated my teacher to no end.

      The teacher passed around these little books that stand up and give pages to transcribe from, then tells us “Go!” and everybody starts typing for a set period of time. After that time we would all report back our stats. I had abysmal WPS and accuracy, like 2%.

      This kept happening, over and over, the teacher knew I was good with computers, so he couldn’t figure out why I was doing so bad until one day he watched me specifically and discovered that I was opening my book like everyone else, waiting for “Go” like everyone else, but then I was quickly pulling up a document I was building from a floppy disk I carried with me and started working on that instead.

      Long story short while everyone else was typing these pre-rendered passages; I was writing my own little story about an Ant-Knight who fought Dragon Flies and Fire Beetles. He busted me, but he couldn't ever get me to engage in the lesson because I thought it was pointless. He must have agreed because despite my abysmal scores he passed me with a decent grade.

      Actually, now that I think about it, maybe he just wanted to get rid of me….

  5. The Infamous Catbag says:

    You know, the last three sentences make me realize why I dislike maths.

    When I was taught maths in school, it was a very basic procedure. Everyone was taught that there is a mathematical problem that should be solved. Then, everyone is taught that when this mathematical problem appears, then all the mathematicians use a special magical formula that tells them the answer. I always likened these formulas to machines, where you first build the machine, then put the question in one end and see what the answer is on the other end. You were tested and graded based on how well you built these ‘machines’, and if you did something wrong in the construction of this machine, then you were No Good At Maths.

    Maybe if I learnt more about what these formulas do, I would have seen maths as a world of building blocks to deciphering the world’s mysteries, and not a branch of science where you slap these weird symbols together and get an answer out the other end. Maybe the teacher actually did teach it and I never chased it up. Either way, that’s something I need to work on. :)

    1. Dwip says:

      So very, very much this. It wasn’t until after I got out of college that I realized that hey, maybe there’s a point to all this drudgery.

      Probably why I liked geometry so much – I’d sit in class, then I’d go home and help my dad construct things, so I could pretty directly see how “work out these angles and diameters and things” translated into “and then stuff happens.”

  6. Fr33Lanc3r.007 says:

    I don’t really remember any teachers that completely failed to teach – I had one in year 10 that I couldn’t understand and ended up using the textbook, but that’s different.

    And as for computer classes…..maybe because I’ve only recently finished school (final year was 2008, started in 95), and am from Australia, but the only problem I had was that they didn’t particularly teach much about computers until I took Software Design in Year 11 and 12. There was originally an elective IT class for year 9 and 10, but that was ‘integrated’ into the main courses as part of the curriculum – apparently the only important thing about computers in the mid 2000’s was the knowledge of how to use office, and the internet……

    Thankfully I’ve always been a tech-minded person…..

  7. DanMan says:

    Yes, this is a repeat for us longtime readers, but it is still interesting to see how it fits in the rest of the story.

    “Up until now I've always assumed I just didn't fit into this system. Now I realize that the system is sometimes stupid and broken to the point of sabotaging the learning process”

    This made sense because we knew you didn’t go to college. It makes sense what we know of you from that point going forward. However, reading your discussion of worksheets and meaningless lessons before this point makes things so much more clear.

    I felt much the same way you did in school, but I never really reached the breaking point where I left. I knew that if I just sat through the meaningless classes, I’d get that mostly meaningless piece of paper that would make my life easier down the line. I just knew that in order to learn anything, I’d have to do it myself.

    1. theLameBrain says:

      Coming to the realization that doing this, finishing school despite all the temptation to quit would better your life, strikes me as very noble.

      I was just bloody stubborn. Every time an obstacle popped up and said: “Quit now! ha hA hAAA!” I just respond with “Nope” and plow through it. Too stubborn to stop, too stupid to know when to stop being stubborn… that’s me!

      I had a lot of problems in my school days that Shamus’ stories resonate with. A lot of those problems were caused by my stubbornness. I just decided that I was tired of being hurt, peer pressure was stupid, and everybody else could fig off. Looking back on it, I think I caused a lot of the troubles I had by being stubborn about “not caring what other people thought” and then I caused myself more trouble by not recognizing my own bitterness when it caused me to spurn the few overtures of friendship I got.

      Can’t say I regret it though, that stubbornness got me through pretty well. The town I was raised in was very small, but had a huge KKK population. Most of the kids I went to school with have spiraled out into drugs and hate… I was able to avoid that fate.

  8. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I’m going to summarise my feeling for people like Mrs. Grossman with a very simple sentence:



    1. noahpocalypse says:

      Shamus has startled the Witch.

      1. Mephane says:

        Well according to Shamus’ description of her, I would rather yell “TANK!”

        1. Destrustor says:

          A tank witch. worst of both worlds.

        2. Dovius says:

          Or perhaps a boomer.

  9. lurkey says:

    The illusion that teachers are vessels of knowledge is shattered, and I can suddenly see teachers for what they were: People who have a job, who sometimes hate that job, and who are sometimes manifestly unqualified for that job.

    Awww, wee lil’ Shamus is all grown up. :-)

  10. Kevin says:

    I remember having a similar experience with my school’s computer lab in middle school (ie Junior High). We rarely got to go there and were never really taught anything when we did.

    We got to use this program a couple times called “Logo” or something. It was a black screen with a little white triangle on it, and you would type in commands to make the triangle move forward and draw a line or turn x degrees. I thought this was the coolest thing but when we used it the teacher would just dole out the commands one at a time of what they wanted us to type.

    Only once we given a problem consisting of four shapes and told to draw them all on the screen. I think it was done to keep us busy and kill time to the end of class, but it was the most exciting thing I had ever done with a computer. I was finally left alone to write the code to solve this problem.

    I remembering being moments away from completing it when class ended and stalling for as long as possible to keep working with it. Unfortunately, I think it was the last time I got to work with Logo.

    1. Methermeneus says:

      The worst part about people teaching Logo like that is that it should be an introduction to awesome programming. It’s based on (and in some ways an introduction to) Lisp, and the version used for giving directions to the cursor, called Turtle, was created to move a robot.

      1. psivamp says:

        This is the pseudo-language I “learned” in elementary. I had zero interest at the time. Probably because my father was a programmer and I was already messing around at home. In a few more years, I would learn to use Borland Delphi and program in Visual Pascal.
        Then I would graduate to writing Java programs in Notepad in high school — none of this in any curricula. College expected me to learn C++, but instead I tinkered with C because I liked it better and my programs would still compile through gcc.

      2. burningdragoon says:

        I remember Logo/Turtle/whatever it was called. Ok so I don’t remember that much, but I remember doing stuff with it. I don’t remember exactly what grade I was in either. It’s a shame, but I think that was the only time the ‘computer’ classes in my elementary/high school actually did programming stuff. Which is an even bigger shame for me because I was pretty much instantly turned on to computer science in college.

        1. theLameBrain says:

          We actually started with Turtle Trax in fourth grade.
          The teacher gave us the concepts and then when we most of us grasped it, we would get transparencies with little water traps and sand traps drawn on. This was Turtle Trax Golf! You tried to get your cursor from the start to the hole while avoiding obstacles in the least amount of commands.

          We didn’t have the turtle though… did other schools actually get the turtle?

      3. Alexander The 1st says:

        Funny – I did a summer camp on Logo, and got to a similar point to Kevin, but this was where I was bored.

        I saw them as essentially busywork (Oh, you want me to create an “H” using two chairs? HOW EXCITING! [/sarcasm]), and wanted to get to the kinds of things with dealing with input, doing some crazy output stuff like adding sounds, and…TWO Turtles! Multiplayer Turtle BattleCity!

        And of course, they just told me to do these excercises.

        It wasn’t until I took Infotech 11 as an elective in grade 12 that programming kicked up with me, where I could make 1-player Chicken (Try to drive the car with enough momentum to get as close to the previously off-screen cliff, without falling off it, and slippery brakes. Never got to creating multiple levels or ramps, which were my main goals after that.).

      4. I did classes after school to finally do Turtle. So awesome.

    2. Robyrt says:

      That’s too bad. I was essentially let loose with Logo for 30 minutes and told to do the most interesting thing I could – it ended up being one of those flower-like shapes that you get when you graph sine waves on polar coordinates, only laboriously implemented with a FOR loop and “TURN -2” commands. It made me feel like computers were the fun part of math, not the other way round.

    3. Meredith says:

      OMG, that brings back so many memories. I think it was on a field trip to some kind of science centre when we first go to use Lego Logo to program a little Lego vehicle/robot to move. That was the coolest thing ever. I seem to remember getting to play with it a couple more times, but then I sort of forgot about programming till high school.

    4. Dwip says:

      People’s tragic experiences with Logo make me sad, and make me glad that I never learned programming in school, as opposed to my dad, who actually did it for a living.

      At my school, Logo was actually something you could play around with at recess, which took all the teacher-enforced drudgery out of it because we could do whatever we wanted. I used to have all these notebooks full of Logo programs I’d figured out, and I used to get really mad when lunch would end right as I was on the cusp of making some great breakthrough or other.

  11. Ruthie says:

    I’m lucky I only had her for study hall. I remember a kid coming in to turn in his homework. He was exceptionally good at math, and she liked him very much. He went to the trouble to retype his hw in “wingdings”… a goofy font that was just symbols.
    She was impressed and amused by his clever effort, and he was thrilled that he had pleased her.

  12. MadTinkerer says:

    Our elementary school computer lab was a lot more exciting because we weren’t allowed to program the computers, but we were allowed to run any program the school had, which included a lot of fun and/or educational software.

    I only vaguely remember most of it, but Oregon Trail was one of them.

    1. Methermeneus says:

      Everyone remembers “Oregon Trail!” But… Who remembers “The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary,” “Dino-Park Tycoon,” and “Museum Madness?” (And other MECC games.)

      1. ozmasis says:

        DR QUANDARY! HELL YES!! I always liked that better than Oregon trail. And the first tycoon games were pretty awesome too. but man so much time spent on Dr. Quandary

      2. Lord Nyax says:

        Dino-Park Tycoon was my favorite! I still miss that game. I wonder if I could find it somewhere….

      3. TSED says:

        Dinopark Tycoon for life, yo.

        Also, my schools all got SimCity2000 right when it came out. That was, what’s the word? AWESOME.

  13. Aitch says:

    Shamus, how old were you when you had this revelation about teachers? And how many years had you been teaching yourself to program?

    From what I’ve seen it usually takes until about half way through high school for most kids to have similar thoughts, and by then it’s late enough that they just want to finish and get to college – though there are a lucky few like yourself who end up saving years and years of their young lives from being wasted by those “teachers”.

    The ability to break or sidestep the sort of mind control that goes on in schools fascinates me to no end after choosing to homeschool myself from 6th grade on. I went back for 8th, part of 9th, and part of 11th grade to learn some things I had a difficult time trying to teach myself. When I got there, the head trip they had been layering on year after year on all the other students was so thick and oppressive, so obvious to it’s purpose of keeping the kids scared and complacent…

    It really is a hell of a trauma to have to realize you’re the only one in the class that knows what’s going on, but having absolutely no power to help anything about it.

    And honestly, I can see now why you didn’t want to put your kids into public school after what you went through. Really I think it takes a lot of courage to realize that the things public school provides really aren’t that important in the scheme of a life if you aren’t out to be a cheerleader or a football player or an accountant.

    And thank you for deciding to write about your childhood in the way that you do, it’s a relief to see there’s at least someone who ended up feeling and acting a similar way in a similar situation. Can’t wait to see how things went once you found no good reason to doubt yourself in the face of the adult’s control structure.

    1. SolkaTruesilver says:

      I think I was lucky to have that moment in 6th grade. The teacher was explaining how the native americans came to America when the ice covered the way from Greenland to America.

      I very politely rose my hand and told her that it was the Bering Strait, and I was punished for challenging the teacher’s teaching. From then on, she was taking me for a troublemaker.

      I guess I always suspected that teachers knew less than they tried to make it appear, I was happy to finally have the proof that they would be sometimes bullshiting us.

      1. Chris says:

        Pff, I had that moment in year 4 (no idea what that converts to with your fancy American system of grades, though it’s going to be somewhere around grades 3 to 5)

        Anyway, our teacher told us that the “universe was 9 planets”. I raised my hand (I like space) and said “Don’t you mean the solar system is 9 planets”.

        I remember the shattering sound of “teachers know best” when she replied with (burning these words into my childlike brain) “Stop confusing the rest of the class!”

        I tried to argue the point that maybe she was the confusing one (being wrong and all), and was made to sit in the corridor for my efforts.

        There was also an incident to do with chairs with the same teacher – someone stole my “place” one week, I complained and I was told to find another seat and stop whining, since all the chairs are the same and no one owns a place. I took someone else’s chair the following week, the other student complained and the teacher made me move and apologise to them, saying that it’s not right to take someone else’s seat.

        This was the point that I learnt that life is generally neither fair nor consistent.

        (and I’m not outright blaming the teacher. Minor incidents to an adult can be massive issues to a child. She’d probably forgot all about the chairs thing the following week)

        1. madflavius says:

          For me, sixth grade. The science teacher gave us an exam, which included what she intended to be a simple question: “what are the three states of matter?” I was befuddled, because clearly, there are four (at minimum; in sixth grade I had not yet read about Bose-Einstein Condensates, superfluids, etc). So I dutifully added a fourth line, wrote “solids, liquids, gas, plasma,” and happily handed in my exam.

          Imagine my shock when I received my exam back and, not only was this question marked wrong, but written next to it in red ink was the dreaded note, “See me after class.” As I waited for the class to empty, I noticed my two closest friends in the class also stood near the front, evidently having received the same summons. The teacher informed us that there are only three states of matter, we were clearly wrong, and that we should stop trying to confuse the class with our falsehoods.

          All three of us began our home education within the year.

          1. Chris says:

            In fairness to educators of young children: they are required to teach all the subjects, regardless of specialisation. One of my later teachers had a degree in Mathematics, but she still had to teach us literacy, science, history and the rest.

            I imagine that outside a teacher’s subject of choice, they know little more than what the textbook tells them – and the textbook is written against the exam (no excuse for getting the stuff from the book wrong though :P). Students providing an answer outside of the textbook are wrong (because the exam mark scheme will say so). Assuming they know as much as the book in that subject, they’ve no idea if your “wrong” answer is because you’re further ahead, or else confused.

            This in itself is fine (some of my highschool teachers would say “That’s right, but if it comes to an exam don’t say that”), but if you’re chastising the student for ultimately trying to put what you’ve told them in the context of what they already know (i.e. “learning”), then you’re probably in the wrong job. Or teach P.E. :)

          2. Dwip says:

            My 6th grade science experience was almost exactly the same. The teacher (in one of his rare instances of actually trying to teach us stuff instead of sitting at his desk doing nothing, but that’s another story) decided to talk about kinetic vs. potential energy. When it became obvious he had no idea what he was talking about, I, having read the book, raised my hand and corrected him and got told to sit down and shut up.

            Whole rest of the class listened to him. Later, we had a test. Because I ignored him and read the book, I got a B. Because everyone else listened to him, I think the highest grade in the class was a D-something. There was a very public ceremony involving everyone’s test but mine getting shredded and retaken. I got to keep my B.

            That was my second greatest victory in grade school, and handily shattered any remaining issues I may have had about thinking I was smarter than the teachers.

            1. Steve says:

              I had a terrible chemistry teacher once – I’m not even sure if he was bad at chemistry or not, because he was so bad at *teaching* I couldn’t tell. Luckily I had read a couple of chapters ahead in the book as I did in all science classes, so when my friend sitting next to me told me he had no clue what was going on I could explain it to him.

              He then raised his hand to get the teacher’s attention, and delivered the most ego-shattering verbal attack I’ve ever witnessed:

              Friend: “Can’t you let Steve teach this? He explains it so much better than you.”

              Teacher: “No, shut up.”

              We ended up petitioning the principal (he’s your pal!) for a new teacher, and while he was eventually replaced, the class had already fallen behind to the point were we were given a special, less-advanced test (I requested the original test, and aced it).

    2. Spammy says:

      Huh-bwuh? I feel like I have to make some kind of counter-argument. No personal offense, but that’s just so… dripping with agenda I recoil automatically.

      I had fantastic teachers in high school. My English teacher was willing to put up with my own take on the typical student’s reaction of, “I don’t wanna read this!” Anyone can whine about reading a book. Go the extra mile, read it, and discuss what exactly about the plot and characters are bad.

      If I was in the class of any other math teacher, I would not have learned Calculus. Period. After going through math teachers in college until I found one I can learn with, I’ve realized that without him, I would have failed that Caculus class.

      My economics teacher was essentially another one of us kids, and was fun to be around. He did the basics for the majority of the class, sure, but then for those who wanted to take the AP test he brought us over to explain how these charts interacted with each other. And my government teacher was always speaking with experience as a former lobbyist.

      Hell… I can think of no teacher I had in high school who was really bad. Some weren’t as good as others, but none were just abominable.

      And as for the other things I learned? If I hadn’t gone to the public schools I did, I would be miserable today. I never fit in while growing up. I was always the loner with my nose in a book. Had no friends, didn’t want to be friends with anybody. It wasn’t until I moved and switched schools that the seeds got planted that developed into the interests I have today. And then those seeds got crushed under two years of private schooling. But then I switched to a public high school and for the first time in my life I found people I fit in with. And I wouldn’t have met the closest friend I have.

      So I’m not a football player, cheerleader, or accountant, but I’ve found the social experience of high school incredibly important to my life, and had fantastic teachers besides. So it’s not all thick and oppressive head trip laid on by “teachers.”

  14. Aelyn says:

    I had a pretty good computer teacher in high school. Well… when I say good, I mean that she recognized I knew more than she did and she just let me do what I wanted.

    I’ll never forget the 100-level computer course I had in college though. That teacher had no clue. One of the first days she pointed out a picture in the text book. She said, “That little black square is a CHIP! And those things holding it… (dramatic pause) … those are FINGERS!”

    I was suitably awed. No, really. I was.


    1. Jarenth says:

      I’m imagining a dramatic lightning flash to go with that statement.

    2. theLameBrain says:

      This is funny!

      However, I have to nit-pick and point out that she was trying to demonstrate how small a chip is…

      1. Chuck says:

        It’s more then I knew, at least. I didn’t know the things were called fingers until I read that.

  15. Jarenth says:

    You know, reading back through the archives following the various links you set, it’s really interesting to see how much you’ve already told. This is hardly the first thing your true long-time readers already knew would happen, is it?

    Right now I’m trying not to keep reading and find out more of your life story. I’m essentially resisting the urge to skip ahead in your life.

    I’m failing at it.

  16. noahpocalypse says:

    You got to program in middle school? Lucky. Sure, it wasn’t really programming, but still. All that I got was the teachers trying to teaching us to touch type, which I never did, because when we started it, I could already type 40-60 wpm using all my fingers but screwing the home line.

    I’ve had a computer for three years, why don’t you show me how to use it!!!

  17. MichaelG says:

    My seventh grade math teacher wrote out a few lines of APL on the blackboard. It was of course gibberish to everyone. Then he announced “This is a computer program. Who wants to learn how to write this?” Half a dozen of us volunteered and went off to the high school, to watch a typewriter that typed BY ITSELF!

    Like I commented last part, computers were pure science fiction at that point. Used by giant banks or NASA to put people on the Moon. Of course I wanted to learn that!

  18. Chuck Henebry says:

    Bad teaching like this makes the argument against the public schools all too easy. A real shame.

    Your core insight is right, of course. Teachers are people with jobs. I personally wish we paid them more so that we could fairly demand more of them. As matters stand, we demand that they live up to an impossible ideal of service and pay them very little””especially if you consider what we pay them in social status. I get the impression that teachers are comparatively higher paid (not just in money but in social status) in Japan and Europe, and that makes it easier to attract and retain talented teachers.

    Nevertheless, the system seems better now, as I watch my kids go through public school here in the Northeast. Come to think of it, back in the seventies I think my own education in Denver featured better teachers than yours. We did our share of worksheets and we watched our share of filmstrips, but I don’t remember anyone on par with your Mrs. Grossman.

    1. Shamus says:

      The other argument is one of tenure.

      Mrs. Grossman was obviously a horrible teacher, and in any other field she’d suffer for being so manifestly bad at her job. Maybe she’d self-correct. Maybe she’d get fired and try another career. But in the school system she GAINS power and is given RAISES, thus encouraging her to stick around even if she hates the work.

      Of course, you can’t bring this up without two groups of people showing up:

      A) Yes! This is due to the Teacher’s Union and proves that unions are bad! Destroy it!

      B) You said something bad about unions, therefore you can’t be right!

      And then those two idiots fight about unions and Mrs. Grossman retires at the end of a long career of vandalizing children.

      It is sad.

      1. Methermeneus says:

        I keep thinking of things I want to say here, but I’m afraid of starting a flame war. I guess the most neutral thing I can say is that, regardless of whether or not you agree that the tenure system should exist, it definitely needs reform.

        1. Shamus says:

          It’s a bit like having a meeting where you want to solve some programming problem:

          A: We wouldn’t have this problem is we used language X!

          B: You only say that because you’ve been using language Y so poorly!

          And then the two people argue over languages instead of solving the problem. One of them might be right, but it doesn’t matter. People with agendas are bad at solving problems.

          Yes. The tenure system as it exists now is abominable. It’s basically impossible to fire people that show up sober and wearing pants.

          1. Terran says:

            “…basically impossible to fire people that show up sober and wearing pants.”

            I’m reminded of our Drivers Ed. teacher. Every day, he shambled in with the same battered soda can, muttered some instructions, then dozed at his desk. Naturally, being highschoolers, rather than report his behavior, we thought we were the luckiest classroom on campus.

          2. Steve C says:

            I’m not sure my computer teacher showed up sober. Either way she didn’t remain sober. She’d “sneak” out to her car (parked in front of the classroom window) to drink then come back before the end of class.

            She wasn’t evil, just useless. My other computer teachers were useless for other reasons. Sad really. I had a lot of interest in learning how to program but I was never able to find any way to learn it.

          3. Atarlost says:

            But the union issue is directly related to the tenure problem.

            The union first and foremost serves the union. Compare to the Iron Law of Bureaucracy. A very new union may exist to serve the workers, but this isn’t going to remain the case after the initial goals are met. This is why many anti-union people consider early unionization to be forgivable. Unions are just another bureaucracy and subject to the same iron law.

            The union second serves the members, but only as doing so serves the union in turn. Scabs need not apply. The union never serves the customers. The customers, after all, don’t pay union dues. Students are even farther from union interest than customers. Customers support the union at two removes. Public schools customers are governments. Voters are three removes away and parents are a subset of voters whose votes are diluted by non-parents. Students are at yet another remove from being able to effect the dues paid into the union treasury. Why should they matter in the slightest?

            There are people who go into teaching with grand dreams. Nobody goes into long haul trucking with grand dreams. Teamsters are all pretty much on the same page and the union is at least good for the teamsters who are members of the union (unless it overreaches and kills the industry but let’s not get into that). Teachers aren’t, and the better the teacher the less likely they are to be on the same page as the union.

            I think Shamus said recently that most people don’t like their jobs and want to get paid for as little work as possible while programmers want to get paid for programming so they can afford to program more. Good teachers fall in the latter category and are as ill served by unionization as programmers would be. Bad teachers fall in the former category.

            1. krellen says:

              That’s a pretty gross exaggeration of unions, just as a similar caricature would be a gross exaggeration of corporations, bureaucracies, or any other organisation.

      2. swenson says:

        The tenure thing is why Michigan recently passed a law that limits the power of tenure. I’m not up-to-date with all of the details, but essentially the point of it is to allow school districts to get rid of teachers, even if they’ve been around a long time.

        There’s good points and bad points to it, of course, just like anything. My sister’s a (relatively new; this is only her second year teaching) teacher so she’s directly affected by it, but while she thinks it will help the problem of teachers simply sitting in the same position forever because no one can get rid of them, there’s other concerns, because now it means less job security, something that’s already pretty tenuous for teachers (at least in Michigan).

        But still, I think it’s a good step to take. I can think of a couple of teachers from my grade school experience that should’ve been gone long ago, but couldn’t be fired due to tenure. Thankfully, both of them were just lazy and didn’t teach at all, not actually cruel or malicious.

      3. Knight of Fools says:

        Those who can’t do, teach instead.

        (With many very awesome and glittering exceptions. I’ve had some wonderful teachers in my time.)

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          There’s some truth to this.. I think it would sound better if the passage went something like

          “Those who can’t do, teach instead. They are the bad ones.”

          Y’know – imply that there are good teachers out there too, for whom teaching is the doing… But ofc that there are horrible cases as well.

        2. guy says:

          I’m pretty sure it’s not a coincidence that most of the best teachers are on their second career.

        3. Alexander The 1st says:

          “And those who can’t teach, teach P.E.”

          Sorry – had to fit the finishing line.

      4. Alan De Smet says:

        “…in any other field she'd suffer for being so manifestly bad at her job.”

        If only that were true. If you work an environment where everyone is at least reasonably competent, treasure it, it’s an anomaly.

        Unfortunately in the US we don’t really respect teachers. Sure, we pay lip service to respecting them, because that’s free. On the whole, we aren’t willing to pay teachers enough to attract really good teachers. (Sure, many come anyway, because it’s in their blood. But others would love to, but it represents a massive salary drop they can’t afford.) So we get unions to help compensate, but the very nature of the union requires it to protect everyone short of crimes. So we end up with bad teachers receiving a lot of protection. In well off districts, entry level teachers still don’t make very much, while teachers with years of experience make very healthy salaries where a flatter system would be healthier. In poorer districts, well, the teachers just get screwed.

        1. somebodys_kid says:

          “On the whole, we aren't willing to pay teachers enough to attract really good teachers.”
          My personal experience contradicts this statement. I realize my own anecdotal evidence does not prove or disprove anything, but for what it’s worth:
          I attended private, catholic schools from K-9 grades and the amount of motivated, caring, involved teachers I had was about 80% of the total. My last three years were spent in a “good” public school, and the proportion of teachers that were motivated, caring, and involved was about 20%.
          Private school teachers are payed quite a bit less than public school teachers, so I’m not sure your statement is correct.

          1. Tzar says:

            Citation please? I’ve always been under the impression that, all other things being equal, private schools would pay their teachers more.

            1. Jonathan says:

              I was planning to go into teaching 7-8 years ago. Public school pay $35-$40k depending on school district. Private school pay $28k-$32k if I remember correctly.

              1. Falling says:

                Really depends where and which private schools. I’m teaching now at a private school, but if I walked across the street, I could make 25% more (I’m in Canada).

                But in regards to those that can’t teach… I like this counter:
                (What teacher’s make)

                However, I definitely agree that there is no good way to get rid of the old battle-axes and incompetent, uninspiring teachers.

                1. Rick C says:

                  Last year, the governor of New Jersey got into a spat with the teachers and one of them complained about how little she got paid. Then it turned out that there was a publicly available PDF of the salary of all the teachers in her district and she was making something like $80,000.

                  So yeah, there’s teachers that get paid crap, but in the northeast, for example, lots of teachers get paid really well.

                2. gottasing says:

                  This is not true. It is entirely possible to get rid of a bad teacher regardless of their tenure status, however it requires an administrator who will actually do his job and go through all the paperwork. Most administrators I’ve worked with can’t be bothered to do more than give everyone a positive evaluation so they don’t have to deal with the followup.

          2. Kacky Snorgle says:


            Perhaps my (community’s) politics are showing, but…I’ve often heard it said that teachers’ low pay is one of the reasons we’ve got as many good teachers as we do. Things would be much worse if the teaching profession were populated by folks who were in it for the money. We don’t have a shortage of teachers; we have a surplus of bad teachers, which problem won’t be solved by paying teachers more.

            1. krellen says:

              Empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Singapore and Finland both pay their teachers extremely well, and have the best public school systems in the world.

              1. Moridin says:

                A finn here. I wouldn’t say say we pay our teachers very well and our education system isn’t quite as good as it would appear to be according to PISA and other similar metrics.

                Apparently the pay ranges from about 30 to 42 thousands euros a year. Considering that the job requires a master’s degree, that’s really not very well at all. I seem to recall that for someone with a master’s equivalent in engineering the starting pay is something like 40k.

                As for the education system, it really is quite good at making sure below average students keep up. But above average students don’t do as well as they should. I was an above average student and most of the time I was simply bored and getting average grades except in classes I was interested in.

      5. Erik says:

        Like many things, tenure solves one problem… and by its solution, it creates another.

        Tenure is most important at the University level, where it protects professors doing research from being fired for coming up with results that annoy powerful donors. And at lower levels, it protects teachers from parental pressure groups that want them to, for example, teach non-science in their science classes.

        But the solution of preventing teachers from being fired for speaking unpopular truths also makes it too hard to fire them for being incompetent, or even just poor performers. In large part, that’s because it’s hard to prove the difference.

        If someone really can come up with a solution to being fired for speaking truth that doesn’t involve protection from being fired for incompetence, there may be a Nobel-level prize involved in it. :)

    2. Meredith says:

      I think you’ve hit on a large part of the problem. Teachers are blamed for everything and really not well respected or well paid. There’s a lot of burn out, but if you’ve got a degree in early childhood education what else are you supposed to do?

      1. Rosseloh says:

        Do what my mom did and have a kid, then 2 more, then homeschool them all. :P

        Now she teaches music lessons for supplemental income.

    3. Patrick the Conflicting voice of Cathartic Algebra says:

      I will say that I had Ms. Grossman the next year. She probably taught me more about Math and what I was capable of than any other teacher I had up to that point.
      *sidenote. Not to hijack a thread BUT… I was a terrible student too, but for very different reasons than Shamus. I am competitive to the point of annoyance, I’m that guy who turns family fun night into the worlds most passive aggressive game of Scrabble you will ever bear witness too. My wife refuses to play me in Scrabble because I trash talk to much. Yea..i’m that guy. In school I never did homework because there was no reward for doing better. If you turn it in, you get X amount of points. By doing the homework better than everyone else got you the same X points as the clown who simpled scribbled crap down. EFF that. But I always did better on tests. Tests were a challenge. Tests were a way of demonstrating to everyone that I am, in fact, better than them(Did I mention I was also THAT guy). I don’t need your stupid homework, just give me the test and piss off. I also always did really well on standardized testing, and this is due to me simply being better at that type of test than most. Some people, very intelligent people, do not do well on state and federal standardized testing. I’m one of the ones that do.

      As this relates to our story, I did very well on some stupid test, so well in fact that Ms Grossman found my steady “C” in her class to be offenisve. She nagged me. She pushed me. She called my parents. Usually because my last name began with a “Y” I had the good fortune of sitting waaaay back in the corner as we were usually assigned seats alphabetically. No more. She moved my seat to the very front, dead center. She would leave her own class when they were working on something mid-class, walk a few rooms down and poke her head into my study hall to make sure I was doing the homework. No other teacher I had in my entire time in high school took an that much of an interest in me, and certainly none of them were as dedicated to MAKING ME LEARN. Algebra was the only “A” I recieved in Junior High, (well….except for Gym. Because, like I said, I’m better than you.)

      But there in lies the conflict. Shamus and I graduated in classes of over 700 students. Its not practical to expect that type of personal attention to every student. Its not possible for a teacher to adjust her teaching style to meet the needs of 30 different kids, 5 times a day. While smacking them around is never a good idea, her style of teaching met with my style of learning, so it worked.

      But I could also tell you about the umpteen teachers that didn’t, and I got C’s and D’s in their classes.

      1. Shamus says:

        You were doing fine on the tests, so YOU DIDN’T NEED THE HOMEWORK. She wasn’t making you LEARN. You were doing that already. So was making you do paperwork. She was wasting your time.

        Please don’t give that woman credit for things YOU accomplished.

        1. Patrick the Conflicting voice of Cathartic Algebra says:

          I was learning, she fought to make me learn 5% more. She took a legitamate interest in a student and that is to be appreciated if nothing else. However, her failures and shortcommings with all the other students such as yourself cannot be forgiven because of one attempt at being an educator. Who knows, maybe taking interest in one kid is how she makes it through everyday.
          “If I can make a difference in JUST ONE kids life, it will be worth it…”

          Problem is, sometimes they only try to make a difference on ONE KID. Or maybe all of them are capricious sadists that hate kids. Who knows. I can’t blame them, I hate kids too. The other day after a bad day at the office I stooped by the mall before heading home. I walked into Hot Topic and Donkey punched the first Multi-colored hair Sphincter monkey in Hello Kitty backpack I saw. I immediately felt better.
          I couldn’t be a teacher, first kid that gave me lip would get more than a smack in the head. Hell, first time some punk ass rolled his eyes at me I would Layeth Down the Smacketh.

          And dont even ask what would happen to the first asshat wearing a ‘Coldplay’ T-shirt I saw.

          1. noahpocalypse says:

            I think she took it as a sign that you COULD be doing really well in her class. She probably noticed that her other kids weren’t doing so hot, and administrators might notice it too. If she had an A student in her class, then she couldn’t possibly be messing up THAT badly, right?


          2. Alex the Too Old says:



            I take it you don’t know what “donkey punch” means…

            1. TSED says:

              That was my reaction to his statement as well…

        2. Aelyn says:

          And so we see that although Patrick is THAT guy, Shamus is also THAT older brother. Always right and always ready to show younger brother how he’s misconstruing EVERYTHING.

          My younger brother has the same problembenefit.

          1. Terran says:

            Older/Oldest brothers *always* see things more clearly. I thought everyone knew that…

            Makes me wonder why anyone ever questions us.

            1. MichaelG says:

              Well, first children *are* more intelligent.

              1. Terran says:

                I know, right?!

                1. Mthecheddar knight says:

                  I would argue that except I have genius-level IQ and my brother is average.( I am the first-born.)

              2. Moridin says:

                My older brother spent years studying just to get in the university program he wanted. I didn’t even have to take a test to get in, simply because I got good enough grades.

              3. AyeGill says:

                And handsome

              4. froogger says:

                So they say. Meanwhile, younger siblings are generally more successfull (measured in income, social status yadayada). Doesn’t say anything about general happiness of life fullfillment, though. I guess this is because the smallest in the litter must strive so much more.

            2. Tuck says:

              Strange. I definitely see everything more clearly* than my three older brothers.

              * with my glasses on

        3. SolkaTruesilver says:

          On the other hand, Shamus, you have to admit that fitting in the system by getting good grades is what opens the door to college and university to a lot of kids.

          You have the luck of being very well self-taught in what you love, which happens to be a field where proof of skill might get your farther than whatever diploma you can cough out.

          Others don’t have that chance. Others want to work in fields they NEED these grades to get into College, which means learning how to do this bloody paperwork is bloody important, and teachers like Grossman happens to make the difference between acheving their dream or being crushed.

          Not saying it’s a universal story. Just saying that while the paperwork is stupid in application, you still gotta play their game if you want to win in their court.

          1. Alex the Too Old says:

            Liberal-arts colleges were never meant to serve as job training centers, and most are catastrophically bad at it no matter what their reputation in academics and research. Hence why the “value” (both in dollar cost and in benefit to the student) of a college education is such a hot topic of debate right now.

            1. ccesarano says:

              Liberal Arts degrees can get people jobs? I thought it just put them into debt.

              1. Chuck says:

                Well, if your going into a liberal arts career path, then you can get a job. Eventually.

                Remember the old joke about the liberal arts major getting a degree so he can say “would you like fries with that?”

                These are naturally an exception. Like myself, who plans to become a college professor in a liberal arts topic.

      2. Methermeneus says:

        I hate to nitpick (ah, who am I kidding, I love it!), but this sounds less like Grossman being a good teacher if only for you, and more like Grossman being one of those teachers who is the petty dictator of her classroom taking insult at the perceived slight against her of you not doing the homework she assigned. I’ve had a few teachers like that myself, and while it may have been beneficial to you personally, so, too, are many bad experiences for the recipient. “The war made me the man I am today,” is the most obvious example I can think of, although obviously this isn’t quite so severe as that.

        I’m not saying she didn’t help you; I’m just saying that she didn’t necessarily mean to help you so much as force you to obey her, come hell or high water.

        I’m also not attributing any particular motivations to Mrs. Grossman myself; I’ve never met the woman, and for all I know she really did just want you to learn and was so frustrated with the whole computer thing that she couldn’t deal with Shamus’s class. It’s just that even the bit of positive light you tried to shine leaves me with the impression that she was more like my tenth grade English teacher (a petty dictator) than my twelfth grade French teacher (a dedicated teacher truly distressed by my lack of effort).

        1. noahpocalypse says:

          You put that so much better than I could. This is what I meant to say above (minus the French part.)

        2. Patrick the Conflicting voice of Cathartic Algebra says:

          eh…none of this matters. I was too cool for school. I could climb the rope in gym class AND kick ass in football. I had a righteous jean jacket and a mullet that made Motley Crue sick with envy.

          *throws up the devil horns.

          Smell you nerds later…..

          1. Al says:

            Could it be that this is why Shamus felt the need to administer daily beatings?

            1. Patrick the ....... says:



            2. Steve C says:

              Shamus your autoblography posts are cool. You’ve managed to entrap your brother into justifing every beating you’ve ever given him. That’s rare and special. Revel in it.

      3. SolkaTruesilver says:

        Clearly, we need to see a Let’s Play of Pat playing Scrabble.

        1. nawyria says:

          Here’s my impression of it:

          ( ゜-゜)> ┬───┬ (゜-゜ )

          ( ゜-゜) ┬───┬ <(゜-゜ )

          ( ゜-゜)> ┬───┬ (゜-゜ )

          ( ゜-゜) ┬───┬ <(゜-゜ )

          ( ゜-゜)> ┬───┬ (゜-゜ )

          ( ã‚œ-゜) ┬───┬ (ã‚œ”¿ã‚œ )

          ( ã‚œ.゜) ┬───┬ <(^”¿^ )

          ( ಠ_ಠ) ┬───┬ (^”¿^ )

          ( ಠ_ಠ) ┬───┬ ¯_(ツ)_/¯

          (╯°益°)╯︵ ┻━┻ (°□°╬)

          1. SolkaTruesilver says:

            – Bookmarked for Posterity

          2. X2-Eliah says:




          3. Alex the Too Old says:

            My computer screwed up the spacing slightly, so at first I thought they were pushing the table back and forth, and THAT was the source of the conflict…

            1. nawyria says:

              I had them lined up in draft, but apparently the software took out my extra spaces.

              1. krellen says:

                HTML does that. You have to use the notation &nbsp; to get extra spaces.

  19. Timelady says:

    When I was in fourth grade, we actually had a computer in the classroom. This was a real novelty, considering that the highest technology I’d used in school to that point was pressing the button to switch slides on the projector. About once a week, the teacher would troop the class over to the other side of the room for computer time.

    We were not allowed to touch the computer.

    We all had to sit and watch while the teacher played little word and math games designed for elementary school kids. And possibly Oregon Trail. I think I spent most of the time chatting with my friend. I remember the class occasionally shouting suggestions on how to get it booted up properly or what to do when it crashed or froze.

    Keep in mind this was ’97 or ’98. (…and the computer in question had a 5 1/4″ floppy drive. :P)

  20. Potado says:

    I’m about the age that you are in the story at the moment, and I couldn’t agree with you more on this post. I had double the experience than my old media arts teacher, and he forced us to work with those horrible online applications like Xtranormal and Jaycut. Bleh.

    1. Methermeneus says:

      I’d never even heard of Xtranormal until I read your post, but now I’ve looked it up. You poor, poor child. I hope you have some decent software at home to properly execute any ideas you might get at school.

  21. Jethro says:

    AH the joys of school computer classes. I’m only a little bit older than Shamus (less than a year), but my school didn’t get computers until 1988. IBM clones, 4.77mhz. Or something. I do recall they had a ‘Turbo’ toggle switch at the back that would engage a faster processor. Crazy days.

    Our computer teacher was the Business Ed teacher- I guess the admins figured since he taught typing he ought to get along well with the computers (matching keyboards and all that…) Yeah, not so much. Fortunately, however, he was a genial man, and let me and my friend pretty much run the lab.

    The most amusing thing is that my buddy and I wrote a ‘virus’ to take over the computers the September after we graduated. Not being Real Programmers, we simply wrote a short BASIC program that checked the date for a preset match, and IF/THEN’d another program that displayed a serious-sounding warning and played a monotonous tone for four hours. Of course, this whole thing could be derailed by re-writing the autoexec.bat file, but there was nobody smart enough to figure that out, including the company that sold them the computers! It wound up costing them several hundred dollars to have the (10MB) hard drives wiped and get DOS reinstalled. To this day, I am not allowed back in the computer lab at that school!

    1. SteveDJ says:

      Similar running-the-lab story here, w/o the virus. In my Junior year in High School (1981), computers weren’t just a side lab, there was an actual class, with a real knowledable teacher! We had 3 Apple ][s that year (+ 3 dumb terminals hooked to the university). A great year.

      But then in my Senior year, they got a new teacher (who didn’t know computers that well), and a bigger lab with over a dozen Apples. Do you all remember the famous “PR#6” command to reboot your disk? Yes, good ol’ slot 6, which became the defacto standard so much so that some programs couldn’t even run if the drive was in a different slot — which is exactly what this new teacher did when he set up the new lab(putting everything in slot 7 — oh, and printers wrong, too!).

      So after a friend and I ‘rescued’ the teacher from near disaster on the first day of school, we became the unofficial lab assistants. There were only two levels of class offered, each for half the year (no Programming-3 class). Having taken level 1 the year before, I was only expecting a half-year of computers now. But we were such a help, that the teacher ‘manufactured’ a teacher’s aid “class” for my friend and I for the second half of the year (thank goodness I had an extra elective slot open).

      Fun times that year!

  22. CrushU says:

    I’ve managed to avoid all Grossman-esque teachers during my schooling. That is helped by being homeschooled from 4th-12th grade, and then college from then on.

    I only had one class where the teacher was in the business of keeping the faster students back, and it was an ‘Intro to Windows’ course that was a requirement for the degree program. When I’d turned on the computer and was already *taking notes* on what he was saying, and he told me to stop and turn it off, I knew I was done with that class. Exempted out of the class by taking the final the next day and passed with 90%. Thank god.

    Most of my college-level professors were good at what they did, and enjoyed it. An English instructor who had a laaaaaaarge collection of books, and read them often, and who understood the value of being able to write for yourself… A Math instructor who didn’t automatically assume that just because a student suggested a way to solve a problem, it was wrong… A History teacher that was concerned with the causes and effects of history, not the dates and names only…

    I much preferred college with its ability to choose what you wanted to learn about to school’s version of learning, lowest common denominator.

    There was, however, an exemplary 3rd grade teacher I had in public school. My parents had been experimenting with homeschooling, in California. They had acquired the 2nd and 3rd grade textbooks the public school system used, and taught me out of them. I went through the entire 2nd grade textbook in like a week, because no one told me to stop. They learned, and paced the 3rd grade textbook. And then I went to public school for 3rd grade. The teacher knew this, and made sure that I wasn’t bored by assigning special projects that were not in the textbook, usually having something to do with making something related to what was being worked on. (I remember some sort of popsicle stick project which was quite large, and a totem pole fascimile… ‘Twas interesting and fun.) She even let me help grade others’ tests, since I’d already worked through the material. Smart lady.

  23. Tizzy says:

    This is the eternal problem of reforming course contents in school: it’s not hard to come up with ideas of how to change things for the better, but reformers forget that there are actual people on the other end of things, who don’t have any idea of what you expect them to teach, and, often, will be expected to figure out on their own.

    And, as in any big administration, if you want to implement any change in “the way we do things” which is not endorsed by the base, good luck!

    Still, it’s endless frustration for me to teach those future teachers whose attitude is: I don’t need to learn how to learn, or to learn anything that I’m not going to teach later. Yes you do. How do you know what you’re going to teach in 20 years’ time anyway?

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      I think a good many teachers are so stuck in their routine it’s even painful to watch.
      But still, I can kind of understand it. You get a new bunch of kids every other year, the main set of problems you have is not knowing more than them but getting them to learn it. While sitting in a room with 2n (where n is the largest tolerable amount) children who start producing lots and lots of noise as soon as you let your guard down for a second, and maybe even if you don’t.
      I like the idea of allowing outsiders to teach in schools. People who have a career in science or whatever is useful for the topic at hand. They do this for three years or so, then go back to their job. Way to get people who aren’t completely dulled, and who have current practical (as opposed to theoretical) knowledge of the matter. Sweden does that. I’ll have to find out how it works out for them …

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      Another problem here (that is: in Germany) is that there are many for whom being a teacher isn’t a vocation but the easy way out.
      First: School is what you already know, so it attracts people who are timid of going elsewhere, careerwise.
      Second: At least here, one regular career choice is “I’m not good enough at theoretical physics, so I’m becoming a physics teacher”. I’m told that “back then” (which probably refers to the 60s or so?) becoming a teacher was a great thing to achieve, now it’s more the “if all else fails” option.

      That said, I do know some wonderfully motivated teachers, and I think they have a better life than their less-motivated peers.

  24. swenson says:

    I guess I’m lucky, then, being born a bit later than a lot of your readers!

    My family moved when I was entering first grade, which conveniently happened to be the very first year my new school district was introducing computer classes in the elementary school. I really liked that class even then. I particularly remember being fascinated when one day the computer teacher showed us the guts of a computer–pulled out the motherboard and showed us the CPU and told us what it did, things like that. My family did have a computer at that point (it was 1998, I believe), a Windows 95 (and we had an older computer of a model I’m unsure of), but being able to just pull them apart… that was cool to me, even though I was just in elementary school.

    Yet somehow I never realized computers were my thing until high school! Certainly took me long enough.

  25. Dev Null says:

    I had a computer teacher who had been given next-to-no training as well. When she asked us what we were doing on the Apple 2+s when we were supposed to be writing Hello World, we showed her the cool patterns you could make by drawing lines from the center of the screen to every third or fourth pixel around the edge. She said “Oh, cool!” and left us alone for the rest of the semester, except when she came round to ask us questions about how to do things.

    I’ve always appreciated that teacher’s attitude. She wasn’t doing a great job of teaching, but only because she hadn’t been given the tools to do the job properly. Once she worked out that we were learning _something_, she figured that was good enough.

  26. Eärlindor says:

    I’ve been lucky. So far all the teachers at my college have been fantastic. Well, except for two. They weren’t bad people, they just couldn’t teach.
    The first was my astronomy teacher. He taught directly from the textbook, his PowerPoints were directly from the textbook (sometimes he would take about 15 seconds to read the slide before continuing), and he had this quiet, dull, monotone voice. I actually got really excited when he’d tell geeky astronomy jokes or when he’d get sidetracked by a particular subject and go beyond the textbook; I was excited because that’s when his voice would change from one tone to the next. Before going back.
    The guy acted like he was talking to other physicists and not actual students looking for a “Science, No lab” requirement, which I think he had been doing for several years out in California.
    I have a theory about him though, don’t know if it’s true or not: he taught at the college before going at west for time and eventual coming back. He was rehired not even a week before the new semester started. He definitely knew the material (based on his tangents and additional info). I just think he didn’t have any time to prepare for the semester, he might be a much better teacher. Who knows.

    Teacher number two? First ran a little long so I’ll cut this short:
    Biology teacher, little experience, only a few years; part-time too.
    Nice lady, but couldn’t properly teach to save her life. Taught directly from the textbook, PowerPoints from the textbook, she even read off the dang slides. Couldn’t answer a question if it wasn’t from the textbook. Longest 1hr. 40min. of my life. It felt like slitting my wrists (no really) would’ve been better for me.

  27. PinkCoder says:

    I consider myself extremely lucky in the teacher I ended up with in my first computer class. He was a bit afraid of computers like your Mrs. Grossman, but he liked kids; at least kids with my temperment. I also didn’t get started off on the wrong foot by zooming ahead at the starting block. I didn’t have a computer at home, so even though I took to them like fish to water, I didn’t already know what to do. So I patiently listened to the first few long, boring explanations and then dove into the assignment and finished within minutes. My teacher, Mr. West, didn’t like to see me sitting around with nothing to do. He had a little bit of ‘extra credit’ material for me to play with, but for the most part, his lessons were these pre-printed packets for us to read through and work from. Since I worked quietly and by myself, he didn’t see the harm in letting me work ahead of the class on my own. It got to the point where I finished all the material available to him (much more than was planned for the class for the whole year), and then he let me tutor/assist the other students.

    This may make Mr. West look like a hero, but he wasn’t always nice. There was at least one other boy in my class who was almost as good at programming as I was, however this boy liked to ‘hack’. And we’re not talking of the early 80s good hacking either — he would sometimes crash the operating system or play practical jokes on the teacher or other student. So Mr. West often made this boy work at his desk without the computer and he had to stay on the current lesson with the rest of the class. I was the only exception.

    Again, I know how lucky I was.

    1. swenson says:

      Sounds a little like my 6th grade math teacher, still one of my favorite teachers of all time. Mr. LaChance was a little crazy, but he knew how to handle everyone in the class, from those who needed a little more help to those who grasped the new stuff quickly. He had these huge stacks of logic puzzles and mazes sitting on his side table, and if you finished your in-class work, you could go do some of those.

      Some kids never did any of the extra stuff, some kids only did a few of the easy ones for fun, but a couple of other advanced students and myself made a good effort at doing every sheet he had! Toward the end of the year, I do remember him specifically searching for harder ones so we’d have something to do. In particular, I remember him teaching me about those puzzles where you take a number, do various things to it, and the other person is able to predict the result. First time I ever realized that they weren’t magical or, in fact, relied on the numbers chosen at all, they were just math.

      Like you, I realized throughout the rest of my grade school career just how lucky I was to have this time with this fantastic teacher! Some people may have said that mazes or logic puzzles were useless, as they didn’t have anything to do with math. But he was trying to teach us something more than just math, I think, he was trying to teach us to think. And that every problem is solvable. No matter how impossible it looks, there’s an answer somewhere, and you’re only limited by yourself.

      At least, that’s what I got out of it. I don’t really remember too much from the actual math part of that class!

  28. ccesarano says:

    She sounds an awful lot like the Library “Teacher” at my elementary school. Which is weird to have a library “teacher” rather than a librarian, particularly one that seemed so annoyed to have to teach children…how to look for books? I don’t even remember learning about the Dewey Decimal System until middle school with a different teacher…

    Huh. I guess that was just an entire segment of the day dedicated to try and make kids interested in reading.

    As for computers, I don’t even remember learning anything in computer class. Every once in a while we messed with Microsoft Word or something, but most of the time was spent playing Sim City 2000, Oregon Trail or some cheap adventure game that was supposed to be school-friendly or even educational.

    It wasn’t until high school that we got “useful” classes available (man, now that I think about it, I should have known better when I got a C in C++ and A in HTML that programming wasn’t my bag). Even then, aside from learning some nifty CSS and Photoshop stuff in my HTML class, the only thing I got out of computer classes was how to type properly instead of my moderately advanced hunt-n-peck technique.

    My favorite was the classes on using the Internet. “How to do a Google search”. Then the teacher taught us about the URL bar. Then they accidentally typed in whitehouse dot COM instead of dot GOV, and when boobies flashed across the screen they tried to block their monitor…which was still broadcasting to the projector and displaying to the whole class.

    Man. Computer education has been pretty worthless for the most part. Maybe they should hire computer teachers like one would hire art teachers (at least, in my experience, art teachers have been actual teachers that enjoy art and sharing how to do art, and when they see someone go ahead of the class [i]they are actually excited to work with more advanced stuff with that student[/i]. In fact, it’s no wonder suddenly why I loved art so much. It’s the one class where I didn’t have to worry about going ahead of everyone else).

    1. Rodyle says:

      “(at least, in my experience, art teachers have been actual teachers that enjoy art and sharing how to do art, and when they see someone go ahead of the class [i]they are actually excited to work with more advanced stuff with that student[/i]. In fact, it's no wonder suddenly why I loved art so much. It's the one class where I didn't have to worry about going ahead of everyone else).”

      Totally different experience here. The two art teachers I’ve had did three things: yell at people for talking while drawing/painting/whatever, giving me a 5/10 or lower no matter what I did and giving the girls in the class at least a score at least 2 points higher for the same work.

  29. Zak McKracken says:

    Yeah bad teachers are a pain (who’d have thought?), and computer science (it’s not science, actually, but still) is one of the topics that are hit worst by this.
    In that regard, I got lucky.
    I had my C-64, I could code BASIC. Not very well, but still. And then we had this guy, the only teacher who had actually studied the subject, back in the era of punch cards. First thing we did was turn off the computer and stop playing and learn proper boolean algebra. Then (a quarter term later!) we turned the computers back on and used a small program to simulate simple logical circuits, including flip-flops and a clock signal. From that we made an adding machine, from that a programmable adding and subtracting machine and by extension a multiplication machine … whooaaa! Only after that did we start coding. A bit pascal, and also PROLOG.
    This was immensely useful. And it was, contrary to just coding, a lot closer to the actual topic of computer science. He thought you should always try to understand how the stuff works that you’re using, and that was a pretty cool idea. The problem was of course that he was heavily siding with the nerds, and if you didn’t already know a lot about computers, you had it reaaally hard, because he didn’t do much to help you catch up.
    The next guy we got was a re-purposed math teacher (and had never been very good at teaching in general, either). Having been through some demanding lessons, the flow of knowledge was reversed for much of the time. At least he knew that he didn’t know, and that made it easier. We were also welcome to work on whatever we liked if we finished his tasks early (which more than half of the class did), and it made for really good grades and extremely funny side projects :).
    The third teacher was actually much better, but still it was weird to know as much as he did, even if his was a different subset of computer knowledge.
    I think, though, that these things have improved over the last decades. I just visited my old school, and most computer science teachers are now the people who were so bored themselves back then. So they do know better.

    During the in-between years there was a tendency to turn “computer science” class into “learn to use Microsoft Office” class, but from all I gather, that trend has been stopped, and basic computer skills are now acquired as you go, with short extra courses for those who need to catch up.

    But yeah, the realization that you know more than your teacher is invaluable – if it doesn’t come too early. Some seem very quick to draw the conclusion that they know everything better, and that can be just as bad as a teacher who knows too little. A student with more self confidence than understanding becomes impossible to teach and may well grow up to be climate skeptics, creationists, conspiracy theorists and worse.

    Oh, and good teachers are precious. Be nice to them. Good teachers who still actually try to learn something new are even greater. Doing that in the face of a class determined to prove that you have no authority is heroic.

    1. Tizzy says:

      You say that things have improved, but I don’t know of any place where you can become a professional computer schoolteacher. (There must be such places, I just don’t know anyone who lives anywhere near any of them.)

  30. I remember going to Sixth Form to study Graphic Design. About halfway through the year the design teacher disappeared for 2 weeks on a course to learn how to use a program called Pro Desktop, which was a 3D CAD program. When he came back, he gave each of us a copy of the program to install at home, and the very next lesson we started learning from worksheets.

    This was my first exposure to a CAD program of any kind, so I spent a ridiculous amount of time learning how to use it at home, building houses, vehicles…all kinds of things. From the very first lesson we took, I could tell the work sheets were wrong. The other students were following the instructions and getting the wrong results. The people that taught our teacher were idiots apparently, because he didn’t have a clue why things weren’t going right.

    Because I had showed him a model I’d made of a car, he sent the other students to me for help. He would stand behind them taking notes on everything I was saying. It was a bizzare situation, but one I’ve always been proud of.

  31. Kdansky says:

    I considered myself pretty clever when I didn’t take the optional “Computer Course”. Because all they did learn was how to change a few things around in Excel, and how to touch-type. One of which I didn’t care about, as even at age 13 I realized that these programs were not staying with us, and both of which I could already do because I taught myself earlier. I feel very smug! :D

    Annoyingly, when we had real computer science at High School later on, we on only used Mathematica, and a slightly outdated on very outdated machines (Apple II possibly, and at home I had a Windows 95/98 on a Pentium already) at that. Nobody understood much, and Mathematica is way harder to grasp and much less fun than BASIC.

    1. Tizzy says:

      They gave you Mathematica in high school!??? Criminal, surely! It’s the kind of program that can be fun, but only if you have already a decent amount of background both in math and programming.

  32. Dave says:

    Mrs. Grossman reminds me of my junior high math teacher Ms. Moore. She was as wide as she was tall, and a smoker to boot. And by the time she reached our third floor room after having a smoke in the first floor teachers’ break room, she was panting and smelling of sour sweat and cigarette smoke.

    Despite all that, she was a pretty good teacher. I don’t recall her obviously hating her job, at least.

  33. Thanatos of Crows says:

    Ah, reminds me of how we were thought to act with a computer. And also of our teacher from fourth to sixth grade. On third grade we changed schools and I enrolled on an English Oriented special class (I’m Finnish) and for the first year we had a great time.
    At the start of the fourth year our teacher moved and we got a new one that had no qualities fit for teaching children, no knowledge of basic English, some times not even of the chapter of the book we were covering. Me and two of my friends constantly bested her at the language (I’d learnt from Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid).
    We had saved money for a trip to London scheduled for fifth grade since the third, but she had other plans: à…land. The place in Finland where there’s nothing for kids worth visiting and everyone speaks Swedish. Oh, and we went on the trip at the end of the sixth, and she also took the reminder of the savings to herself. And made us write in our notebooks a message to our parents asking for 20€ (about 27,5$, I think) for a wedding gift.
    She had other bad qualities beside these, but because of her I came to the same revalation as you on fourth grade (age 11) and I gave up the paper work for the rest of the school except for the occasional math “challenges” and such.
    We had optional computer classes on the eight and ninght grades. Normally you’d get to take a computer apart and learn code on those classes but for some reason we were stuck on Excel calendars and Microsoft Word writing. In the end we were made to memorize names of parts of a computer and tested if we could name them all and graded according to that. How about actually learning what the parts did and what they were for? Of course not.
    Reading your autoblography has been really interesting and I support the idea of turning into a book I can get on my shelf some day.
    Now back to playing DEHR. Hope the third boss fight won’t be as stupid as the second was or I’ll rename the game as Deus Ex: Reginald’s Philosophy.

  34. Tharwen says:

    My ICT Teacher made us type out documents and spreadsheets into Appleworks.

    More fun was to be had once we realised that a very early version of Prince of Persia and Lemmings were installed on the systems. God knows why.

    1. Mthecheddar knight says:

      Pinball is installed on every computer in my class. I think the computer admin downloaded those games and forgot they also got installed to every computer in the district.

      1. Atarlost says:

        Windows XP came with a pretty good pinball. (both home and professional versions) I think it debuted in the “plus” pack for 95 or something so it was probably in 98 and ME as well, but I never had much to do with those. I don’t think it was in 2000 because that was on the NT line, and I don’t think it survived the “upgrade” to Vista. I don’t think any of the Vista versions besides home and ultimate have games at all, but it took Microsoft that long to figure out that businesses and schools probably didn’t want games on their computers and didn’t always have managers who knew how to remove them.

        1. swenson says:

          No, it’s not on anything higher than XP, sadly. Luckily, I was able to find it online and reinstalled it on Windows 7. I was pretty awesome at it back in the day, although I’m terribly out of practice now…

  35. Sumanai says:

    Mrs. Grossman’s class sounds like my programming class when I was 13-14. It killed any intentions on continuing with it, since it didn’t occur to me to practice at home for some reason.

  36. Another_Scott says:

    You know, in an ironic way… She tought Shamus one of his biggest lessons up to that point.

  37. Jonn says:

    When I was in High School computers, everyone was amazed at how well I did on the homework and classwork. It consisted solely of simply reading the textbook and remembering what was in it. I had no particular interest in the mysterious workings of Microsoft Office, I just happened to be good at reading. Everyone else seemed surprised when I told them this.

    Incidentally, until the last few years of my primary school, our computer lab was running really old computers. I mean, I distinctly recall playing Lemmings and Granny’s Garden on a computer that had an external floppy drive. For perspective, I started secondary school in 1998. GG came out in 1983. I never got to finish the game, since they replaced them with relatively modern desktops running, I think, Windows 95, since they were NECs with Merlin.

    The password was “Apple”.

    1. Jonn says:

      Oho, another Jonn.

      Back on topic, that reminded me of the library computer – the one that you scanned books to check in and out, if you had the password, could also be used by students to search for books. Dewey decimal, there’s some memories.

      There were a half dozen teachers / library staff with their respective logins and passwords to the computer, and no one was supposed to allow students access. However, there was one particular teacher who I could always read, and kept guessing his password. Then he’d change it, and I’d guess again a week or so later.

      It was only for entertainment, I never actually used the password; just talked to him and tried to guess it. Funny to look back and wonder if I was always guessing right, or if he just pretended some of the time – but he DID go to the computer to change the password a few times, that I saw.

  38. Luke Maciak says:

    My computer classes in junior high looked like this. The teachers had no clue what the hell was going on so they were just giving us pointless exercises. I would knock them out in five minutes and then would play Wolfenstein and Alone in the Dark that someone brought from home and installed on these machines. Freshmen year in HS was the same way, only it was me and my buddy playing Doom over a COM cable. It was glorious. Sophomore year the lab got upgraded and we were able to play quake over the network. I learned nothing I didn’t already know.

    Junior year I moved. I took BASIC course in the new HS and it was amazing. He would explain concepts, then give us a task which always had three parts and was graded using a point system

    1. The basic assignment was required.
    2. The optional advanced task that asked you to add a more difficult feature to your problem.
    3. Extra credit task that would require you to hit the book, and experiment with something that he did not explain in class.

    He made it competitive by handing out bonuses for best-of programs like:

    – best in show (for best looking output)
    – best performance (if your program got results faster than everyone else)
    – best code (for the cleanest, most readable and well indented and thought out code)
    – best comments (for nice comment blocks)

    So naturally I slaved away trying to “win” all of these (though usually there was 3-4 winners in each category).

    I took him again next semester for C++ and it was equally awesome. It was much harder, but I loved it.

    When I went to college I decided to try computer science. The first two semesters I got a streak of terrible, terrible teachers who were much like Mrs Grossman – they did not know the subject well, and they did not know how to teach it. But I loved the subject so I would just teach myself using the books, and sort of adding challenges for myself to the simplistic assignments they gave us.

    When I took assembly language course, the professor was sort of an epitome of scatter-brained genius. He was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, and he had an incredible passion for the field and the subject. He would get so excited about this stiff he would literally jump up and down sometimes. He he always carried a reverse polish notation calculator in his bag, and would love to lend it to students during tests just to watch them get confused. His tests were incredibly hard, but it was a rewarding experience.

    When I took databases course, I met the person who later became my mentor. Great teacher with great jokes, incredible amount of knowledge and a lot of passion. He would actually get very excited about relational algebra. He also had a lot of strong opinions he infected me with – for example he wouldn’t use Microsoft Office or any WYSIWYG editor. I was intrigued by this so I approached him after class and asked him what he used. He told me about LaTex, and lent me few of his books about it. Next thing I knew and I was using it for all my homeworks, and knocking myself for not discovering it sooner.

    He later became my thesis supervisor.

    So good teachers exists. There are plenty of lousy ones out there, but every once in a while you stumble upon really awesome ones. People who don’t teach, but infect you with knowledge. People who leave long lasting impressions upon you and change the way you think about the given subject. There are rather rare in high schools, bu not uncommon in academia. From my experience, most departments tend to have at least one or two of these.

  39. Neil Roy says:

    I am actually against the whole public school system. It’s not an institution of learning, but a place to brainwash your children.

    The only thing I ever learned from school that was useful was reading/writing and basic math, and any parent can teach you that, you don’t need expensive schools filled with bullies to make your once innocent children miserable to learn that. Everything else I learned beyond the basics I learned on my own, even most of my spelling and grammar is self taught, I focused on getting that right on my own, years and years of experimenting on computers taught me programming and of course, that lead to an interest in math once I seen a use for it.

    I am mostly in favour of homeschooling for as long as a parent can manage it, for their own child’s future. I have met home schooled children and they are well mannered, respectful and intelligent.

  40. Leah says:

    I think you should probably not yell at the teachers. They might put you in time-out until lunch and recess is over! You might have to stay in the classroom and eat!

  41. Charlette says:

    I touched a computer. It’s kind of fun to play games on it, and it’s not scary. I’m kind of wondering why she said it is scary.

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You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

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