A Theoretical Dissection of the Five Stages of Math Class:

I'm sure we've all felt it- that naive sense of hope when we enter the classroom- " I think I might really have a chance at understanding what's going on today, really. After all, derivatives aren't that complicated..." And so we walk into the classroom, trusting little lambs that we are, and we take a seat and get out our scribblers and our calculators, almost managing to ignore that niggling sense of impending disaster. This foolish optimism rarely lasts.

Stage One is Mild Confusion, which sets in almost as soon as the teacher starts to talk. Within minutes, the students' tiny brains, crippled by countless years of television and sugary breakfast cereals, struggling to comprehend the arcane hieroglyphics on the chalkboard, will progress to Stage Two- Frustration. Suddenly last night's homework doesn't make so much sense anymore. Things that seemed perfectly clear five minutes after they were explained yesterday (in that bleak, listless tone of voice that teachers get when they're explaining a relatively simple concept for the third or fourth time) seem completely obscure at nine thirty the next morning.

This stage generally persists for five or ten minutes before full realization of the desperate situation sets in and causes the subtle shift to the third stage: Panic. This stage is where the teacher frequently begins to look vaguely worried, noticing the fixed, deer-in-the-headlights expressions on the faces of many students. In this third stage, the concept being explains gains a sometimes exaggerated, disproportionate level of importance. "If I can't figure out how to use binomial expansions, how am I ever going to get through my university courses on the works of Shakespeare and sixteenth century literature?! This is impossible! What ever will I do?" or, "If I don't make over eighty on this next test, I'm going to stab my eyeballs out with this protractor."

Stage Four, Despair, usually ensues between the twenty-third and the twenty-seventh minutes of class time. By this point, the casual observer will notice many students wilting at their desks, burying their heads in their hands, and otherwise looking distraught. Having reached this stage, students quickly abandon all hope of understanding anything at all. The only thing that saves many of them from bursting into tears right there in class is the timely arrival of Stage Five, Denial. Stage Five begins to manifest itself with about ten minutes left of class, and grows stronger as the clock moves towards lunch hour. Students will find themselves unable to feel even mildly upset over the obvious fact of their certain failure on the next test. Outward symptoms of this stage include: a blank, unfocused stare, doodling in scribbler margins, and the construction of tiny forts using mechanical pencils, glue-sticks, and erasers.

Finally, class ends, and the majority of the students gather up their books and wander out to mill around aimlessly in the crowded halls. Occasionally someone will regain their wits long enough to ask brightly, "When are we having a test on this?" but the answer is lost in the bleating mayhem- "Test? What test? There's going to be a test?"