All posts by Michael Holtfrerich

Difficult Times

As I have been contemplating this weeks topic I’ve decided to write about an event that happened in the Math Department many years ago.

The discussion about textbook selection came up in a department meeting. The discussion got a little heated. In the next meeting after this initial discussion several members, in my opinion, did not act that professionally. After that second meeting there was a definite split in the department. Thus, I figured that bringing in a specialist would be the best course of action. Several folks disagreed with me about bringing someone in to help. But fortunately I managed to win the day on that. As it turned out that was one of the best choices I could have made. We had several meetings as a department with this person, from District, leading the discussion. At the end they had managed to bring us back together. The waters had been smoothed and we had come to a majority decision that exists to this day. BTW, not the decision I preferred 🙂

I share this event here because I learned how important it can be to have the right people along side you when difficult times come upon you. Don’t be afraid to seek out experts as needed. My 2 cents worth.


Please Don’t Listen To Me!

What would you love to be able to do to improve yourself in relation to your job or to change your job? What are your dreams for improving your job, work/life balance and/or efficiency in your work?

What a question! Glad I’m not in an interview and this is my question!

My dream would be that the students all did their part. I feel very confident that if every one of my students did the homework all the time and asked question when uncertain and came to class always that very very few of them would not pass. We spend so much time and effort on talking about, researching, experimenting, dreaming up, new ways to teach and explain material and structuring curriculum and and and, but our student success rates change only slightly. When I begin a semester and I’m talking with the students the first day, it reminds me of the comic routine “Bill Cosby Himself”. It was a standup routine he did years ago. One of the stories he brings up is the kids “night” routine. He states that if the kids would just mind Mom there wouldn’t need to be any “beatings” tonight. If any of you have never seen this, you must. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. I feel this way at the start of every semester. “If you students would just follow my advice you wouldn’t have to take me, again!”



Assessment is tricky business. There are so many different options to use in trying to assess how much the students have learned. And I just have to say, that grading is not one of the favorite parts of being an instructor. I have been teaching for a long time. I have tried several different ways to assess the students in my courses. What I have found to have made the biggest impact on their learning of, and retention of, mathematics, has not been my change in how I assess, but how often I assess. It isn’t unusual, in mathematics, to have your pass rate fall within the (50-60)% range. After having assessed basically at the end of chapters, 16 years ago I switched to assessing every week in many of the courses I teach. These are major assessments not just little quizzes. After this change I noticed a pass rate that was 20 to 35 percentage points higher than before. Here is an example, my college algebra course went from 55% to 80% pass rates on average with just this simple change. I’ve tried collecting Homework, daily quizzes, collaborative activities, large group projects, working at the board, etc. and none of those had the impact that this did. The biggest change wasn’t necessarily that the students were learning more but that more students were learning. The big change I saw was that the withdraw rate went from around 40% to 10%. I don’t know if this will happen in every subject or every different course within a subject area but I have seen it work for all of the courses I teach (intermediate algebra, college algebra, pre-calculus, and calculus 1 2 and 3). Give it a try if you haven’t ever.


Lord it’s hard to be humble

Many of us “old timers” might remember the Mac Davis song “Lord It’s Hard to be Humble”. As I have thought about this week’s discussion topic this old song came to mind. Our society seems to think this song is true (..when you are perfect in every way..). I think a good leader starts with the opposite of this song. If you are humble, because you know you are human and can make mistakes, you are more likely to have an attitude that respects others and values their input. When you have a humble approach to life you show a caring attitude and tend to put other before self. A humble leader will tend to exhibit the following in the work place: openness to others opinions, attentiveness to their needs, not hesitate to admit mistakes and take ownership of them, accepts change and shows flexibility, is good at self-reflecting, and they put people in positions and LETS them do their job. Most entities seems to taut strength, charisma, enthusiasm, vision, decisiveness as prime characteristics of good leaders but all of those go awry if not controlled first by Humility.


Why I Work Here.

As I look back on my life, I see that I have always enjoyed helping people. When I was growing up on the family farm I would often go over to the neighbors when I was done with jobs at our farm looking for things to do to help them. In school I always found myself helping my friends with their math. In fact, during my senior year in high school when we lost our math teacher (calculus class) and we got a permanent substitute, whose major was English, my dad, who taught math at PC, would teach me the math the night before and then in class I’d teach the students. At MCC I was a tutor. I found that I really enjoyed doing that. In fact, I had an experience there where a student tackled me one morning while going to class because she had just gotten her first A on a math test ever. That was the exact moment I decided, I need to teach 🙂

There is no better feeling than to see someone “get it” and you know that you were instrumental in their increase in understanding. That is why I do what I do.