Sunday, July 7, 2024

How do you deal with others correcting you?

How do you deal with others correcting you?

I am not an accredited teacher. I’ve taught short classes in electronics, prop making, soldering, etc. at science fiction conventions and at maker spaces.

When I’m corrected, I thank the person correcting me. One of my pet peeves is students being given incorrect information. They are building an edifice of knowledge in their brains, and everything builds on what they’ve learned before.

If I don’t think they are correct, I ask them to show me why/how they think I am incorrect, or why/how they are correct.

One of the aspects of my personality is to bluntly tell people when I think they are incorrect. I’ve learned that this is more often than not unwelcome. It has taken me a long time to work on not just blurting out when I think someone is incorrect.

In grade school to high school, I pretty much just said when I thought someone is incorrect, regardless of who they are. It was never with rancor, but nearly always blunt. OK, always blunt.

I had a teacher who was teaching us longhand. She had the usual ABC display around the room just at the top of the wall, in longhand. The “p” had two choices for lowercase longhand “p”, one with a short top, one with a long top. She never expressed a preference, in fact she’d get annoyed when I’d ask her which one she wanted.

I don’t remember why, but I chose the “p” with a long upsweep. She kept marking my papers down, so I thought it just wasn’t quite good enough. She never said anything to indicate that my choice was wrong.

Finally, I got a paper back marked down with the “p” circled, but it looked identical to the image on the wall. So I asked her about it.

After at least 10 minutes of arguing, she =finally= told me that she wanted us to use the example with a short upsweep. I felt that she should take the -1 from my papers for every “p” I’d done up to then, because it was on the wall, and that I’d do it the way she required from now on. She refused to redo my grade. I kept asking why it was on the wall that way. In the end, I got an assurance from her that she’d cover the “p” with a long upsweep and I’d use the “p” with a short upsweep.

She never covered the wrong “p”. I kept bringing it up, she’d say she forgot, but get angry. Finally she admitted that she was not going to cover it, because she didn’t like how it would look. WTF?? I was very upset on behalf of all future students. She just punished me for “talking back”. Hmph.

I had some good teachers who would listen to what I had to say, and either thank me for correcting them, or show me how I was wrong. Sadly, the majority just got angry.

When I went in the US Navy, well, military instructors saw any corrections as a challenge to their authority. I had one who actually suggested we go outside and “settle this like men”! How crazy is that? How crazy is it that I went outside and waited for him? I felt very strongly about this, and about how he was going to misinform students just learning electronics. I’d been teaching myself electronics for a decade, by then. He never came outside. I went back inside, and he pretended like he’d not actually threatened to beat me up.

Later, he “got even” by capriciously finding ways to mark my test answers down. Many were essay questions. He’d do things like say “what is this?” and circle “0A” where I’d said “the current drops to 0A” as if he didn’t know that “0A” means “zero amperes”, just so I’d not get yet another 100% and get a day off.

At that stage of training, all of our instructors were current military. This particular instructor was called a “plowback”, a person who went right from student to instructor with no time in fleet. Usually given to someone with perfect military marks, no particular weight given to their grades, except that they must pass. Rumor was that he barely passed, I believe it based on his lack of knowledge.

So after class was over for the day, if I felt the instructor had made a mistake, I’d tell other students the correct answer. After a while, everyone in my class would listen if I started talking after class. And someone would ask me every day, if I didn’t say something first, if I had anything to say about that day’s class.

Later in the US Navy, the advanced electronics instructors were all retired former military. Wow, were they different! With the certainty of years of experience, and the calm of being outside the military hierarchy, they were self-assured and confident, and fully willing to admit mistakes and errors.

I was very cautious, due to previous experiences with current military instructors. I sat in the back. It took a lot for me to raise my hand and say something. As before, I’d bring it up with the other students after class.

Then one day, the guy sitting next to me saw me sit back and rub my chin. He whispered “What is it?” and got me to tell him my problem with what had just been said. He raised his hand and asked my question! Then when the instructor looked thoughtful, said he was right, he immediately pointed at me and gave me credit for the correction.

After that, I felt free to ask questions again. All I had to do was sit back and look thoughtful, and the instructor would ask me what I was thinking. I’m not saying I was smarter or more knowledgeable than the instructors. I had the luxury of having a chance to think about it, and they had to share a tremendous amount of knowledge. And I told them that, too.

In more than one case, when we could not agree, the instructor went to the lab and wire up a circuit, took measurements, and came back to give us the results. More often than not, I was correct, or at least more correct.

In each case, I was either respectfully corrected, or thanked for correcting them. Best instructors I’ve ever had.

Many decades later, I went to a technical college and got an AT degree in EET (electronic engineering technology) by way of the Displaced Workers Retraining program. The instructor was very aware that I am mostly self-taught and had been a professional electronic technician for decades, doing a lot of repairs and some designing from scratch.

So he was at least somewhat prepared for what was coming…

I think I got him to change answers in his Teacher’s Manual for the textbooks about once for every two chapters. Or to toss out a question as badly written.

In one case, he simply would not accept my answer for a question involving using simultaneous equations in a complex circuit. I worked it out nearly a dozen times, often changing tack, and came up with the same answer each time. He kept being unavailable to discuss it.

So I did it =again= on the whiteboard and left for another class.

When I came back, he was standing there with a rather severe-looking, unsmiling gentleman in a 3 piece suit and tie. My instructor said “Mr. Skeen did the calculations and came up with the same answer that you did.”

I looked at Mr. Skeen for a beat, then said “Then he got the correct answer, too.”

I found out later that Mr. Skeen didn’t smile because he just didn’t know what to make of me, and that is just how he is. Which is also how I am.

This technical college at that time graded 1 for incomplete, 2 for in progress, 3 for satisfactory, and 4 for exceeds requirements. I will remain forever puzzled and a bit angry that this instructor gave me a 3, not a 4. I tried to make an appointment many times to find out how I fell short. Now he’s retired.

On the other hand. Mr. Skeen said that as far as he was concerned, he’d have given me 4s.

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