TITLE: Anger and Starting Again AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 25, 2009 4:16 PM DESC: ----- BODY: While running yesterday, I was thinking back to my entry on starting again. I say in that entry that having reach a certain level of accomplishment, however meager, makes starting over tough. It's not the same as a newcomer starting from scratch; in some objective sense the newcomer faces a bigger challenge. But starting over creates a new sort of psychological hurdle that adds to the physical challenge. When you've run 60-mile weeks and 10x800m speed workouts, trying to string together 3-mile runs on consecutive days can be, well, demoralizing. My mind then wandered of to a message from a reader who is former student. He sent me a note in response to Small Surprises While Grading that went far beyond the specific surprises I mentioned -- great stuff on what had been in his mind while taking the course. I thought of this specific comment:
I'm not sure why [there were so many 0s in the course gradebook], but every assignment left me in a bad mood. My mood after each assignment was worse than the previous one. The second to last assignment I did well on, but left me angrier than I have been in a long time.
I wonder if part of this student's bad mood and anger comes from the same thing I'm feeling while running? He is a successful programmer, nearing the end of his undergraduate work. Then this course comes along and changes the rules: functional programming, Scheme, recursion, language grammars. Maybe he felt like he was starting over. Knowing what it felt like to master a programming language, to whip out programs, and to feel good after an assignment, perhaps this experience felt all the more painful, all the more insurmountable. Though I have thought back to his message several times in the last couple of months, I didn't know to ask him this question until now. I'll ask. But regardless of his answer, I think the feeling I have occasionally while running these days gives me insight to what some students might be feeling. I also now realize consciously one advantage that I have as a runner who "has reached the mountaintop" over a brand new runner: I know what it feels like to break through the barrier.
One of the more remarkable experiences on a race course is the dramatic deliverance from the depths of discomfort to the rebirth of spirit, endurance, and performance. There's nothing like breaking through the pain barrier, and finding a better and stronger runner on the other side. -- from a Running Times article on endurance runner Lisa Smith-Batchen
Knowing that feeling is how I put the feeling of re-climbing the mountain in perspective, why any sense of despair seems to evaporate as quickly as it condenses in my mind. I will get back to long runs and faster times. The newbie may not be so confident. Oh, and as for learning CS: If many students feel what my correspondent says he felt, or if a few students feel that way often, then that is probably sign of a failure in the design of our curriculum, or of my course. I don't mind that students feel uncomfortable for a while as they learn; that is both natural and necessary. Anger and despair are another matter. -----