Tanya came up to talk to me after class. “Professor Howard, I don’t know what it was with your teaching today,” she said. “But you didn’t seem very consistent.”

I wondered if something I had said might have sounded like a contradiction. I couldn’t think what it could be, so I asked, “In what thing was I not consistent?”

“It wasn’t a thing, but just the way you taught today,” Tanya replied. “Everything seemed like a hodgepodge. One minute I would understand you, then the next, I wouldn’t. Then I would again, then I wouldn’t. It was like that through the entire hour.”

I had seen Tanya staring off into space now and then during class, and I had wondered if there was a problem. But we were almost to the end of the semester, and I couldn’t think how I might have taught differently that day than I had any other day. And I had seen no reaction from the other students indicating they weren’t getting it.

Still, Tanya was one of my best students, and if she wasn’t connecting with what I was teaching, I wanted to figure out why. We talked further, but she couldn’t describe more about the problem with my teaching than she already had. I invited her to come to my office so I could try to go over what she hadn’t understood, but she wasn’t inclined to do that.

“I’ll just try to read through the material and figure it out,” she said.

We had a weekend coming up, and homework was due on Saturday. Monday morning I checked how Tanya had done on it. Though she had attempted it, her score was close to zero. I realized she must not have gotten it figured out. We only had class on Tuesday and Thursday, so I made a mental note to talk to her after class the next day.

As I taught, I watched Tanya. The same thing happened that had happened the Thursday before. I could see her gazing off and knew I was losing her. I called on her once during one of those times, and she said, “Were you talking to me?”

I didn’t do that again because I didn’t want to embarrass her, but no matter what I did, I could see she wasn’t always with me. When I talked to her after class, she shrugged.

“You are still doing the same thing as last time,” she replied. “I understand you, and then I don’t.” But she couldn’t tell me any more about what I had done.

I once more invited her to come in for extra help, but she again declined, saying she would read the material.

I spent a lot of time through the next couple of days trying to figure out how I could do a better job of getting the material across. I even had activities to engage the students more, but I could still see it wasn’t helping Tanya. We met again after class, and she reiterated that my teaching was understandable, then it wasn’t.

“Tanya,” I said, “you are a good student. I want you to understand the material. I really think you should come in for some extra help.”

“But if I don’t understand you in class, why would I understand you in your office?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “But maybe one-on-one, I could try some different approaches.”

“That might be good,” she replied. “When should we meet?”

“The sooner the better,” I replied. “I would suggest tomorrow, so you will be able to do the homework for Saturday.”

“Oh, that won’t work,” Tanya said. “I learned last week that my boyfriend is going to ask me to marry him tomorrow, and there is no way I could concentrate on anything else.”

Suddenly, her own words must have hit home to her. She looked sheepishly at me. “Do you think the problem might be with me and not your teaching?”

I smiled. “It does sound like you have a lot on your mind. Next week might be better.”

She smiled and nodded. “See you then.”

As she hurried on her way, I thought, “Mystery solved.”