A Memory

At the start of my time working in higher education in the U.S., I taught managerial accounting to business majors, who mostly did not want to become accountants. It was required of them, so they could have an understanding of what “the numbers meant.” I am fairly certain, even after taking my class, they still didn’t understand what the numbers meant. I told them, my goal was to teach them when to nod their heads, or say things like, “Hmm, interesting,” at the appropriate time. Sometimes, after reading their essay answers to an exam question, I didn’t understand accounting any longer myself.

Still, I liked 99.99% of the students and I did my very best to get them through their exams. One time I gave them a “practice exam” where all I did was double the numbers in what would be their real exam. In doing so, and since that exam was mostly about financial ratios, the answers to the real exam were exactly what the answers were to their pracrtice exam, which I helped solve for them in their practice exam. They still struggled mightily.

Another time, I gave a multiple choice exam, and all the correct answers were the letter C option. That created some emotional turmoil for the ones that were competent. How could an exam have the same multiple choice answer, over and over again? It did and it took tremendous courage to keep selecting the C option.

One day I walked into class, tired of the students simply mindlessly writing everything down that came out of my mouth, so I began quoting the lyrics to Love Potion #9.

I took my troubles down to Madam Ruth, you know that gyspy with the gold cap tooth…. Write, write, write. It wasn’t until I got well past…
She hopped down and turned around and gave me a wink… That a few students began to look up from their notetaking. One of them asked, “Will this be on the exam?” Probably not.

I also really enjoyed the young man who told me his grandfather had passed away and he would miss the exam coming up. Naturally I was compassionate. Several weeks later, when another exam was coming up, he told me his grandfather had died. I said, “You’re kidding me, twice in one semester?” His face turned white as he had forgotten he had used that excuse already.

One of my all time favorites – a young woman who tried really hard to understand accounting but just didn’t get it even though she sat up front in the classroom and was fully engaged – came to class wearing new glasses.

I said, “Maybe the glasses will help you see the board better.” She replied, very earnestly, “These aren’t prescription glasses. I just got them so I might look smarter and then maybe I will get better grades.”

Amazingly, these students rated me as a perfect teacher on several of their teacher assessments and I got 99.99% of them through accounting. It did not make me very popular with some of the other accounting instructors though. They preferred failing students than trying like hell to find a way to teach that the students could relate to. It made the instructors feel better about themselves.

No, you’re right I didn’t last too long in that department. What is amazing, though, is how many of those students have gone on to be incredibly successful in their careers. The young woman who tried the fake eyeglasses is a very successful technology professional today.