Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Delicious Errors In First Impressions

We all have expectations of students based on our first impressions and the thing that I love about the first exam of a semester is that you get a real chance to see how those impressions and expectations match up to reality. Usually we're right. There's the guy who sits in the third row and is always raising his hand for clarification or to offer an example, or the kid who sits in the back row and usually take a mid-morning nap. There's the girl who flubbed everything up last semester, yet decided to take another course from me, who thought that going out of state to watch the Superbowl would be a good idea - the night before the exam, in the middle of a blizzard. Not surprisingly, she got a zero.

But then there are the ones that don't live up to expectations. They're the ones that make this game so much fun. Like the guy, whose appearance and demeanor give every indication that he's a "dumb jock," yet he earned the highest score on the exam. Or the kid, whose name is actually a synonym for "brilliant," who somehow, as a living contradiction, managed to earn the lowest grade on the exam. Or the girl who likes to be one of the guys, sitting spread eagle in the back of the class with her ball cap on, surrounded by the riff-raff, who blew her compadres out of the water. The surprises are an important reason I teach and they make it more fun.

They should also be a reminder that no matter how long you've been doing this, first impressions are never a perfect science.