I had a senior in high school with weak math skills. On a no-calculators quiz one problem had something like 100 x (5.4 x 108).
This student decided that his was impossible to do without a calculator. So far, pretty normal.
I attempted to point her in the right direction with a quick series of questions to get her to pick up on decimal point movement.
We got stuck on "What's 7000 x 1?" takes out calculator
"No, no calculator."
"How am I supposed to do that without a calculator?"
I'm just glad that she was friendly and likeable. She's probably doing fine...probably.
I teach at a community college that doesn't actually require a high school diploma to attend, so I've seen a lot. Mostly it's native English speakers who are virtually illiterate. No abstract or critical thinking skills at all.
One wrote a paper about the causes of the Salem Witch Trials. She sided with the accusers because she'd "seen some stuff," clearly not understanding the assignment.
Another insisted I approve every word he wrote to "make sure he was doing it right," when in reality he was wanting me to feed him answers since he didn't do the reading.
Yet another wrote in a discussion board about Lord of the Flies, "I like how they saved all the flies. That was my favorite part." If you've read the book, you can guess the look on my face.
My first year teaching I had a student who had failed the previous year due to missing too many cooking labs to pass and not handing in half the assignments.
I had rewritten the curriculum and assignments.
I noticed that this student hadn't been handing certain things in and had been skipping my lectures, so I decided to have a chat with them.
They thought their marks for that semester were cumulative with their previous year's mark (with a different curriculum, different assignments, and a different professor) so they just had to make up enough marks to get a passing grade.
This is a post-grad program. They had a BSc in dietetics.
Not a college professor, but I worked in my university's writing center for a while.
I had a girl come in with a research paper bibliography that listed "my mom" as a source several times.
When I pressed, she told me her mom looked up everything and sent it to her and she just...put it in the paper. She told me she had always done it that way.
Not me, but a friend who taught in the politics department received a paper about ‘gorilla’ warfare in South America. It was so poorly written she couldn’t tell if it was a typo, or if they genuinely thought Colombia had been overrun by a Planet of the Apes style revolution.
ETA: this was in the UK and English was the student’s first language.
Professor at a middle of nowhere medium sized state school with a 80-ish% acceptance rate. Had a graduate student who couldn't code for the life of him but was a software engineer at an undisclosed incredibly large aviation company. He couldn't accept that other students who didn't have jobs were better than him and that the people grading him "didn't have jobs". Sent death threats because we failed him on an assignment where his code didn't run.
He complained to the higher ups and got a C.
My wife has had multiple students who are fundamentally technologically illiterate. Numerous students have had no idea how to use Word or Excel--including one who used their email as a word processor (the University provides students with Office). There have also been students who struggle with installing programs on computers. What's disconcerting is it's becoming an increasingly common issue--as an older millennial, the idea that kids are becoming less technologically proficient is so bizarre.
I worked at my university writing center and saw a lot of really terrible writing. SO MANY poorly written essays. I really don’t know how you can graduate from high school without at least being able to perform simple tasks like “Point to your thesis statement.”
The whole point of a writing center was to teach students to correct their own work, but there was a direct correlation between how awful a paper was and how likely the student was to throw it at you and say “I’m going to go have lunch. Will you have it fixed in an hour?” then try to leave.
The tutors all got really good at an authoritative, “Stop right there! Sit down. Now let’s talk about how YOU are going to improve YOUR paper.”
The most frustrating papers were the science majors. I could never tell if the paper was terrible or I just wasn’t following the details of their experiment on chlorinated aliphatic hydrocarbons or whatever.
The absolute worst was the ENGLISH MASTERS DEGREE STUDENT who came in several times with absolute gibberish. To be fair, English was his second language but... are you absolutely sure you do not want to consider a career change, my good sir?
I taught English as a Second Language at a community college for a decade. My colleagues and I were pretty tough on the academics, but it paid off when our students started regular classes. Often I ran into my former students around campus & asked them how things were going. I lost count of the number of times they expressed disbelief at how badly their native-speaking American classmates were at writing sentences, doing math, and giving presentations in front of a group.
Was teaching a first year religion class and we were talking about the two creation stories in Genesis but this happened specifically when we were reading the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden. I told my class that a colleague of mine joked Adam had a c-section because he wasn’t conscious when God took his rib and made Eve. The class had a giggle but one student raised their hand and seriously asked why everyone was laughing because men have the ability to regrow their ribs once in their life thanks to this original moment.
I. Felt. Horrible.
The entire class started laughing and I immediately shut that shit down because this student was wanting to melt away into nothingness. Was a great teaching moment because you never, ever laugh if someone has a question and is serious about it. Turns out, their Nana was a JW and while my student generally took everything that came out of Nanas mouth with a grain of salt, somehow this fact never got examined.
Edit: I didn’t expect this to get so much attention but just to be clear, this was in a first year university course and the student would have been 17/18.
I have taught numerous students who are unable to read for meaning. They can read the words on a page out loud to you, but ask them to explain what they just read, they will repeat the words on the page. Our country's education system is very broken.
Even worse than that is a group of students who had already graduated from university, doing their teaching requirements to become school teachers. Had more than one ask me what a variable in an experiment is (how have you got a science degree and you have never performed an experiment in your life??). My lowest point definitely was the day when a class discussion on the difference between science and superstition dissolved into chaos. The majority of the class of science graduates agreed that science is rubbish and superstition makes more sense. When asked how they would teach science when they don't believe in it, one student said she is just there to tell the class facts to memorize. I was a student in that course and I honestly felt sick during that class. I want to teach, I'm a fantastic teacher, but knowing that people like this are my peers makes me really sad and angry.
I had a student who told me, being 100% serious, that he wouldn’t be presenting on his assigned day because he “didn’t do the assignment and he’d go the next day.” The presentation had been given with due dates over two weeks earlier. When I told him that wasn’t how college worked he claimed discrimination and told me he had accommodations for his disability that allowed him more time. Once he pulled that card I got the department head involved and she laughed.
The guy failed.
To clarify, he got double time on exams to allow for a learning disability. It doesn’t excuse him for deciding not to do the work necessary for the class.
One time we had an indigenous guest speaker give a lecture about misrepresentation of First Nations culture in media at my art university. During the Q&A a student MEANT to ask the question “how do you feel about cultural appropriation of imagery from your culture by corporations?” Instead she asked “how do you feel when like H&M sells like... underwear and stuff that has like feathers on it” I have never cringed so hard in my life. The guest speaker had no idea what she was even asking him.
Not a professor, but I used to TA for undergrad organic chem lab courses. Had a... challenging student once who was not great at reading directions or thinking critically. We were setting up an experiment that required GENTLE heating of a volatile solvent. I explicitly told the class, multiple times, “only turn your hot plates up to 2 when heating, these things get very hot.” Maybe 30 minutes later I’m making my rounds through the lab and I pass said guy’s fume hood and notice his reaction is smoking. I look closer and see that all of the liquid in his flask is gone and its just a charred, black smoking mess (which is still heating). I ask, “Student! What’s going on with your reaction??? What’s the temperature set at?!” The guy goes, “oh, I wasn’t sure how hot to heat it, so I just turned the plate all the way up to 10. Is my reaction going to be ok?” No, no man, it’s not going to be ok... he literally boiled the thing dry 🙄
I was a teaching assistant for a biology course.
We were learning about this species of animal (lake mollusk, I think?) that could kind of "choose" how and when it wanted to lay eggs so that its young had the best chance of survival.
Anyways, overheard this girl talking to her lab mate in lab about how her boyfriend may have gotten someone pregnant. She and this boy had been together, according to her, for a little over a year, and (hopefully) we all know that it takes about 8-9 months to make a baby from the time of conception. So, the girl's lab mate asked if she was going to break up with him since he cheated on her.
This girl looks her straight in the face, no joke, and said "he didn't cheat on me." Her lab mate was taken aback, but asked if maybe she had misheard. Nope. Long story short, this girl thought that humans could "choose" when to begin the moment of conception, and her boyfriend had told her that the baby hadn't been "processed" until after they'd gotten together and that he'd slept with this other girl over a year and a half ago. She genuinely believed this story, using what we had learned in class about the mollusks as proof.
I knew her as an acquaintance outside of this class, too, and last I heard, she was still with this guy, and YES, the baby is his.
I used to work at an English help lab at my university. I had no problem helping the English as a Second Language students because they had a tough challenge working outside their primary language.
What killed me is how some of these native English-speaking kids got out of high school still writing incomplete sentences, run-ons, tense disagreements, and having basic vocabulary and grammar errors. I went to an engineering school, so yes...some of these guys probably were good at math and bad at English, but you still need to be able to communicate.
I don't have any one good story, but I will say that there was no pattern - inner city kids, suburban kids, country kids, east coast, west coast, south, north, midwest, whatever...all have the capability to graduate high school and still write incoherently.
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