Simple pens are used to take notes in courses.

Misadventures in Teaching —
Turn the Page (If You Can)

Turn The Page

I was teaching a one-week Linux system administration course. We were about 75% of the way through the course and its 200-page exercise manual when a student seemed to suffer a sudden brain shutdown. The exercise had a step like the following as the last step on a right-hand page:

Try to restart your httpd service using the following command. This will fail, observe the error message. The problem is caused by the NSA Security-Enhanced Linux settings for a configuration file.

/etc/init.d/httpd restart

I was helping one of the students (possibly with their simple arithmetic), and noticed that another student was staring at their screen, their exercise manual, the screen, the exercise manual, and not doing anything for at least two to three minutes.

I got the first student out of their self-dug hole, and went over to the one who looked especially confused. The following ensued.


Remember that the room was filled with employees of the U.S. Federal Government and its very well-paid contractors. This was the cream of the system administrators for the Department of Defense and the intelligence community, or so I had been told.

Him: This step doesn't work.

Me: Right. And?

Him: Well, it doesn't work for me!

Me: Read the step. We KNOW it isn't going to work. We want you to see this error message so you learn how to fix this problem.

Him: [Reads the step one more time.]
Oh. How do I get it to start?

Me: Go to the next step!

Him: [Looks at the exercise manual. Looks at the screen. Looks at the exercise manual. Looks at me.]
How do I do that?

Me: Uh... Go to the next step, it's on the next page.

Him: [Looks at the exercise manual. Looks at the screen. Looks at the exercise manual. Looks at me.]
What? How?

Me: Mike, turn the page.

Him: [Blank stare at me]

Me: Mike, take hold of the right-hand page in your manual. Lift it up, turn it toward the left, and lay it down. There is more writing on the other side of it.

Him: Ohhhhhh.....

Me: Mike, I'm not going to have to add a step to the bottom of EVERY right-hand page saying "Turn this page over" and explaining how to do that, am I?

Him: Ohhhhhh.....

Now, how did he manage to get about 150 pages into the exercise manual on his own? I have no idea.

Teaching horror stories