3 Unexpected Lessons I Learned From My Statistics Class
Are educators aware of the underlying lessons they teach their students?
Each day we are charged with doing our best. At school. At work. At home.
We grow up with the notion that our best will get the job done. Sometimes our best effort becomes equated with perfection.
This notion often comes from our school experience. It’s no longer okay to be average, making Cs. We need to be above average and make As.
As a student, I was lucky. My parents never pressured me to be a straight A student. My siblings and I were expected to do our best. We were good students. We worked harder in some subjects compared to others, but we generally made As and Bs.
College was a challenge.
I went to college having no illusions about being perfect. I thought my best would get me through.
Guess what? Our best is often not enough. Not even close.
In college, I studied hard for passing grades. English composition papers were returned with pages covered in red. Art history had me reading and rereading to match works of art with their creators.
In the midst of studying for these subjects, it never occurred to me I was practicing for the hardest subject to come.
I sucked at math.
Math was never my best subject. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division? No problem. You can even throw in some fractions, and I’m good. But my mind did not think in algebraic terms. I just did OK.
Luckily, in college, I only needed two math credits.
Foundations of Math was a course required for teacher certification. The class was populated primarily by athletes who figured out quickly that the professor would go off on a tangent if asked a question like, “Why do they call it a triangle?”
There went an hour of instruction. Understanding the root and affix of the word was important to the concept of a triangle and your ability as a teacher to help young minds grasp said concept.
The football players acted dumb. They knew exactly what they were doing.
The second math course was required for my major. Statistics was on the other end of the spectrum from Foundations of Math. It had a reputation among those of us more inclined to liberal arts. I knew I would have to work hard for whatever grade I got.
I couldn’t take notes fast enough in class. I usually left class confused. What I understood last from the last class seemed to dissipate with the introduction of new material. The only concept I understood was the Bell Curve. I obviously needed to return to my dorm room and study harder.
I pulled my one and only all-nighter to study for the Statistics mid-term test.
I was devastated when I failed.
I had done my best. What went wrong?
Ultimately, it was more than my lack of understanding of Statistics.
Looking back, I identified several mistakes, including staying up most of the night and a generally poor understanding of math. In fact, I should have seen the failure coming.
If I had learned anything in class, it was the concept of the Bell Curve, which was how the class was graded. Knowing we would be graded on the Bell Curve put fear in our overworked brains.
I learned three lessons besides the Bell Curve from my Statistics class.
1. Know your strengths and weaknesses with the intent of taking action for success.
I could have taken action prior to the exam. I could have asked for help from the professor, TA, or a peer. I could have joined a study group or hired a tutor. I didn’t do any of those.
2. Judge your effort based on your definition of success, not the bar of perfection.
Of course, I never expected an A. I knew I was struggling. As students in the class, there weren’t many graded assignments. If I had had a few other markers besides the midterm, I would have found it easier to gauge success for myself. I was relieved to get a C.
3. Do the work.
I was so relieved to make a C. I entertained visions of retaking Statistics the following semester. But I passed! Do you know why I got a C? I did all the work, every class, every lab. I was there.
The professor was in his office when I stopped by to check my grade early (instead of waiting until they were sent to me). I know I gave an audible sigh of relief. I may have cried tears of joy. I was definitely shocked. The professor smiled at me, “It pays off to do the work, doesn’t it?”
Do you think the professor knew he was teaching more than statistics?
As the educator I am today, I would like to think so. After 41 years in the classroom, I now fully understand an educator where’s many hats. We are not just there to deliver the curriculum.
I use the three lessons from my statistics class more in life than the Bell Curve.
Your best will not always be enough. Showing up with some advanced preparation will make it more likely.
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