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.