Professors as Tech Support
Written 8 June 1996
So I'm working the Calculus-support phone line, and someone calls in.
Me: "Calculus consulting, can I help you?"
Student: "Hi, I have this curve, and I want to find the area under it, but it's not working!"
Me: "What happens when you try?"
Student: "It's just not working!"
Me: <sigh> "OK, let's start from the beginning. What happens when you try to integrate the curve?"
Student: "Integrate? I don't know. Integrate?"
Me: "Have you read the textbook, sir?"
Student: "No. All I want to do is find the area under the curve!"
Me: "The information on how to do that should be in your textbook. Why don't you try reading it and call me back if you still can't figure it out."
Student: "But I lost my textbook!"
Me: <groan> "OK, well, you should really try and get another copy; there's only so much I can do over the phone. But I'll see what I can do. What's the equation of your curve?"
Student: "What's an equation?"
Me: "Well, in this case, it's a symbolic representation of the curve, usually using a cartesian system with x representing the distance along the horizontal axis and y the distance along the vertical. Sir, have you taken algebra?"
Student: "Algebra? No. What's that?"
Me: "Well I'm sorry, sir, but you really can't use calculus unless you already have algebra."
Student: "But all I want to do is [etc.]"