Sunday, September 25, 2011

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from ... Food Network??

I admit it, I've been completely addicted to Food Network lately. (You'd think it'd do damage to my waistline, but I've found when you see all this extravagant, wonderful food that's far better than anything you can get your hands on in real life, you don't actually eat that much.)

In particular, I've watched a lot of the competition shows they have: Cupcake Wars, Iron Chef America, Chopped, Sweet Genius, etc. And I've learned a couple of keys about being classy while competing against your peers.

#1 Don't Compare Really, I already knew this, but I've seen just how ugly it is when it doesn't happen on these shows.

The classiest competitors talk about what they were going for, how they went about it, what inspired them, and so on. They don't even mention what their fellow contestants did. The focus is on what they did, and is it good enough?

Inevitably, someone comes along who makes some remark (either blatant or backhanded) about another chef's dish or execution or style, or how their own is better. Every time, I want to mute the TV. It makes me cringe and grit my teeth.

This applies easily to the writing world. It's harder when I'm in the fight, rather than watching from the other side of the television, but it's still important. The important thing is my writing. How I pull it off, whether it's good enough ... not whether it's better than Writers X, Y, and Z. And if I must have such thoughts, I should keep them to myself. Or at least vent them in absolute privacy.

#2 Don't Talk Back to the Pros Oh, when contestants (on ANY reality show) talk back to the judges, I want to scream at them and run away, all at the same time. You don't have to agree with them. You don't even have to take their advice if you don't want to. But you should respect that there's a reason they're sitting in judgment and you're not. They have expertise, and have earned the right to be publicly opinionated.

Again, obviously applicable to writing. How often have we seen people bashing agents, editors, and publishers? Posting comments to their blogs about how they're outdated dinosaurs and no one needs them anymore? Or those horror stories about writers who send scathing replies to form rejections of their queries?

Yeah, publishing's changing, but really? That's no excuse for dissing people who DO know a thing or two about the industry. Have some respect, and behave professionally. It'll make YOU look better, and who doesn't want that?

So, thank you, Food Network, for reminding me not to be a full-of-myself jerk as I attempt to navigate the world of getting published. I'm sure everyone who has to interact with me thanks you, too.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Math Rant: College Professors

The subject of this particular rant is a few years behind me, but the effects linger. And now, the horrors are being inflicted on my former students, and it's enough to make me want to inflict something of my own—a forceful *headdesk* on the perpetrators.

Through my undergrad and graduate schooling, I encountered a number of college mathematics professors. Here are two facts:

#1 Many of them are absolutely brilliant mathematicians.

#2 Hardly any of them can teach to save their lives.

I even had a few classmates who were likely to join their ranks in the future. Kids who could do multi-variable calculus without breaking a sweat and thought abstract algebra was a great weekend activity. Kids who could not teach it.

Make no mistake. Doing math and teaching math are two entirely different skill sets. Thing is, the teaching skill requires the doing skill, and then some. (Do I get tetchy with the old "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach" line? Don't get me started.)

A former student came by to visit the school the other day and we chatted about how her first semester at a new college is going. Because she has issues with test-taking, she didn't do so hot on her placement exam, which landed her in a math class that's dirt-simple for her. She understands the material, but then the teacher goes and confuses her by insisting she use his methods, which she didn't understand. She tried to ask a question to clarify, and he cut her off.

Okay, this particular girl is very assertive and kind of blunt, so maybe she could have handled the exchange better. I don't know—I wasn't there. Then there's the fact that he tried to hold her interpreter back after class to talk to the interpreter about the student needing an attitude adjustment. (Grr... don't get me started on that, either. That's a rant for another time.)

Bottom line, this student didn't expect the same kind of bend-over-backwards-to-help teaching she got in high school. She just wanted to understand.

If there's one thing I remember about several of my college math classes, it was the clear undercurrent: If you don't understand the magic I'm performing on this blackboard, it's your own fault, because you must be too stupid to grasp it. No one ever said it in words, but you felt it.

Thankfully, they're not all like that. I found a handful who didn't just want to get their teaching hours out of the way so they could get back to their "real" work. The kind you could ask a question, and they didn't just repeat their last two statements. They elaborated on the in-between step, or what justified some conclusion.

If you find college math professors like that, add them to your Christmas card list for life. They're rare, but they're also golden.