calculus rocks my world — sometimes

Earlier this week, I spent a few hours helping proctor the math and chemistry placement exams that incoming freshman have to take in order to prove their eligibility for the introductory calc and general chem series. As a proctor, one basically checks ID, signs in these kids, passes out scantrons and pencils, gets them seated in an orderly fashion and in alternating rows in the huge lecture hall, and then sternly wanders around for ninety minutes while they tackle their exams.

Problem #1: I couldn’t act stern in such a situation even if my life depended on it, and the kids could totally tell I was finding the whole thing amusing. Problem #2: Once the amusement wore off (give me about ten minutes), the whole thing added up to two hours of sheer boredom.

I’ll probably be tutoring some of them in calculus this fall. I don’t know how it happens, but I usually end up with either the really quiet or the really hyperactive students. In the case of the really quiet ones, my goal in life is to get them to talk more, not only because I like talking and I think everyone else should too, but also because I refuse to stand up there and work out the answers for them while they scribble ‘em down. We need some interaction, yo. The hyperactive ones, on the other hand, just need to be toned down a bit. I remember my first group of hyper freshmen were hooked on finding the “perfect guy” for me. They spent about two weeks trying to convince me to hit on the MSA president. He’s a very, very nice guy, masha’Allah, but hitting on guys is just not my thing at all, much to their exasperation. So when that failed, they bombarded me with questions about arranged marriages in Islam, and decided they were going to be on the lookout for perfect man for me and personally arrange my marriage. Needless to say, it was always a challenge to steer them towards calculus and away from my…uhh…lack of relationships.

The incoming freshmen always stand out like eyesores. Their mere physical presence would scream “Summer Advising!” if their nametags weren’t already printed with the same. They wear lanyards containing their dorm keys and brand-new ID cards, and stand slack-jawed inside the library foyer, staring round-eyed up at the soaring ceilings. They look both ways before crossing the street, and sincerely believe that the more bags you carry with the university bookstore logo, the cooler you are. They’re in love with campus food. Even more, they’re in love with the general idea of being a college student. They wear nothing but flip-flops, shorts, visors, and t-shirts imprinted with their own university logo, and glare at those sporting Sac State, UCLA, Cal, or St. Mary’s gear as if they’re engaging in blasphemy. They feel it’s their inherent obligation to be walking ads for their college. Gosh. And to top it off, they show up a whole half-hour early for placement exams, too. My goodness, talk about enthusiasm.

Can you tell I enjoy poking fun at freshman? S’all good. I haven’t forgotten I used to be one too, although I honestly, positively am not guilty of any of the above. Seriously. Especially not the looking-both-ways-before-crossing-the-street part, that’s for sure.

Most of the freshmen just looked plain dazed and confused. And were obviously in awe of us upperclassmen proctors. Dude, why is it that all these fresh-faced, eighteen-years-old, I-just-graduated-from-high-school-two-months-ago kids look so young? I didn’t feel that young when I graduated. But I guess I must have looked that young and round-eyed, too, when I started college, whether I knew it or not. Hmm. One year left to my undergrad career, and my perspective’s all wack. Great.

To get back to the proctoring deal… The fun part was signing them in, because I enjoyed glancing at their nametags and seeing if I recognized their hometowns. Many were from the Bay Area and Southern California. Many more were from places I’ve never heard of. One guy’s nametag proclaimed he was from “Frisko!”, rebellious k, hyper exclamation point, and all. That caught my attention, because as a Bay Area resident, he broke one of our unspoken yet cardinal rules: no one from the Bay would be caught dead calling San Francisco, “Frisco.” We call it “the City,” with the same mixture of affectionate possessiveness and cliquish awareness that we use in referring to UC Berkeley as “Cal.” In both cases, without fail, those from outside the Bay have to ask for clarification.

And back to the boy: Besides breaking one of the main Bay insider rules, he also swiped four pencils from the box containing extras for those who didn’t have any. I was sent to get at least three back from him, since we were short on pencils and some kids didn’t have any. “Nice collection you’ve got there,” I observed dryly, as he unrepentantly held them out to me. “I know, isn’t it?” he said, and grinned impudently. Smart-aleck.

Kids these days. *tsk*

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