Following on a recent post about annoying ancillary things we wouldn't miss while on sabbatical, I propose that today we each think about the most trivial annoying thing that routinely afflicts our working lives. Something so small that we might not think it is worth trying to fix. We might even be embarrassed to mention it to anyone but a very close friend or the blogosphere. It might not even make our list of Small Things We Would Not Miss while on sabbatical. And yet, if this annoying small thing went away, life would be better.
Then it would be good to think of a way to eliminate this little annoyance. Maybe we can't solve the tera-problems, but maybe we can eliminate a nano-problem or two. This is what I recently tried to do with a nano-problem.
There was one small thing that was annoying me every single week before a certain class. Instead of dealing with the problem right away, I wrote the following letter in my head each week for many weeks, but never sent it. Eventually, when an opportunity finally arose, I talked to the intended recipient of the letter in person and temporarily fixed the problem that way. Life was definitely nano-better when the nano-problem was temporarily solved, but now I'm back to square one, so I was thinking about these types of little annoyances again today.
Here is the letter I wrote in my head:
Dear Math Guy,
We teach in the same classroom on the same days. There are no other classes in that room between your class and my class, and that is how I know that YOU are responsible for leaving the boards covered (covered!) from top to bottom, left to right, with Math Writing.
The problem (for me) is that you don't erase what you write. Ever. Who do you think erases the board of your equations and annotations? You may not know or care, but I will tell you anyway: I erase the board of your writing. I erase the board at the beginning of my class because I have no choice if I want to write on the board during my class as well.
Oh sure, the students would probably love it if I did not erase the board and instead just projected a series of text slides that they could copy into their notes -- who doesn't love a class consisting entirely of text slides? And if they were bored, they could look at your Math Writing. I could show text slides, but every once in a while, I like to mix it up a bit and write and sketch things out.
Clearly you like to do the same thing when you teach. Maybe we have a lot in common in our approach to teaching. Maybe we would even like each other if we met in person. But we have not met yet, and therefore, at the beginning of every class, I loathe you for a few minutes in absentia.
Perhaps you think I am unreasonable for being annoyed, and that instructors should just be prepared to erase the board at the beginning of class. What's the big deal anyway? Well, for one thing, we have the awesome luck to teach in one of the few classrooms that still has a chalkboard and chalk. Perhaps I wouldn't be so annoyed if it were just a matter of erasing dry-erase marker on a white board. Instead, I end up sneezing and covered in chalk dust at the beginning of my class rather than at the end, and I find that unpleasant.
You may be surprised to know how much you are annoying the person who teaches in that classroom after you. I am sure you don't even think about the effect your non-erasing habit has on the next instructor. You finish your class and you leave, exhilarated or depressed, and probably quite tired after all of that writing and talking.
Even so, I am writing to ask you to take a few minutes to erase the board of your own writing before you exit the classroom. And then I will no longer loathe you for those few minutes each week, and that will surely be a relief to us both.
Thanks in advance for erasing,
During the brief time when this nano-problem seemed to be solved, I was in a much better mood when I started my class. I could start the class with the key points I wanted to make at the beginning, rather than spending the first few minutes with my back to the class while I erased the board and got covered in chalk dust. Life was definitely better.
Now Math Guy has returned to his evil ways, and I am back to writing this letter in my head (and in this post) until I get a chance to talk to him again. Either that, or the academic year will just end, as it surely must eventually, I will quickly forget about being annoyed about such a small but pernicious thing.
6 months ago