Program Error

May 4, 2007, 12:30 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Josh J  | 1 Comment

When I was a senior in high school, I decided to fulfill a few of my remaining elective credit hours by taking a class in computer programming. Halfway through the second quarter, our teacher disappeared and lost his job. He was replaced by perhaps the worst teacher I have ever had on any level.

The heart of the problem was his inability to admit a mistake. Programming is based on mathematical principles that are consistently reproducible — it’s completely objective. One might think this would make it difficult, even impossible, to deny a mistake when the results reveal one, but he found a way. His pride simply could not let him acknowledge he was wrong.

It played out the same way many times over. A friend of mine in the class was more adept than most at noticing mathematical inconsistencies in our assignments — but not very adept at behavioral pattern recognition, as you’ll soon see. The reasonable thing to do seemed to be to alert our teacher to the mistake. It was usually quite minor, a simple mistake, but something that would nonetheless result in a wasted class period and lines and lines of useless code. My friend wanted to save us all that wasted time following the wrong direction.

Our teacher would never even entertain the possibility. He would emphatically tell my friend he had no idea what he was talking about. My friend, certain truth was on his side, would persist, only to draw our teacher’s increased ire. Back and forth they would go until our teacher’s yelling, verbal abuse, and public humiliation reached the point necessary to send my friend slinking back to his seat.

Of course, the man would still have a problem on his hands, since my friend was indeed right, and by the end of the class period everyone would have an incorrect program. So he would wait ten minutes or so, letting everyone go the wrong way, and then he would make an announcement. He had randomly changed his mind about the way he wanted the assignment done. He told us to make an alteration in our figures, the exact change my friend had suggested, as if we hadn’t heard them arguing right in front of us just minutes before. And somehow he did this with a straight face, as a room full of people who had trusted him went back to square one.

This exact scenario played out multiple times, each time with my friend taking the brunt of this man’s arrogant wrath. It didn’t take long for me to decide I just wasn’t going to listen to this so-called educator anymore. When I noticed a mistake, I would simply correct it in my program. I wouldn’t try to convince our teacher; I would do what I knew was right. He had lost all intellectual authority.

One thing he did teach me: effective leadership is understanding that infallibility and credibility are not synonymous — they’re mutually exclusive.


1 Comment to “Program Error”

  1. Mrs. Sweet on May 4th, 2007 2:10 pm

    One of the teachers I worked with had the same sort of complex. She didn’t want her mistakes pointed out in front of the fifth graders because somehow she thought it undermined their respect for her. After watching her do math incorrectly or putting a spelling word on the board to go home that was incorrect I would try and take her aside or graciously correct something jokingly and no matter how i handled it I received criticism. After that I simply kept my mouth shut. I think she did a student a disservice. Students need to know teachers are people too, we make mistakes, sometimes we have to look things up and sometimes we have to admit our mistakes. Teaching children that they don’t have to be perfect and that we learn from our mistakes is one of the best lessons we can pass on.

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