February 2010 Archives

A few weeks ago the student newspaper ran a list of 50 things every teacher should and should not do. Some of them things simply cannot pass without comment.

2. Just because you were a student doesn't mean your students are in the same situation. True, I drove a 1972 Dodge Duster with an AM radio and an add-on air conditioner that didn't work. The car had over 100,000 miles on it when I got it! It got 9 miles per gallon because, as I found out when I sold it, it had a small leak in the fuel line. Just as well, I didn't have the money to fix it anyway. I was not given an SUV or a new car. The age of 16 meant I got a drivers license. A new car could wait until I got a job and paid for it. I was also moved to school and then saw my parents at Thanksgiving. We talked at most once per week because long distance rates were expensive. My parents never EVER once called a professor or administrator of mine to complain or ask a question--that was my job. So, don't worry, it is not likely we will ever think today's students are in our situations.

4. Don't keep students later than the assigned class time. Good point, we would certainly hate to give more knowledge than was paid for. The excuse of "my next class is too far away" is old, and in many cases not true. Pull up your pants, wear some real shoes, put down the cell phone and you would be amazed at how fast you can really walk to class.

5. If a student shows up late, don't count them absent. They still made the effort to show up. This is one of my favorites. Try that one on your boss when you have an important meeting. How about the next time you are late for a flight you call the airline and tell them about the effort you are making so they should wait for you. The point is, showing up late for a class is rude to the professor and to your classmates. It says to them "hey. Look at me; I'm just too good to be here on time like you are." Sure, there are times you will be late, we all understand that. If you are on time most of the time, most professors will cut you some slack, we do understand that things happen. The problem is that what I see is that it is always the same people who are always late. By the way, effort counting is a myth perpetuated by high school teachers. In the real world no one really cares about your effort, they only care about your results.

9. Be fair in grading. Never use 'fairness' as an excuse to deny information to a student. This is my second favorite. Reading between the lines this is saying, be fair, except in situations where I want something that no other student is asking for so give it to me.

10. Tell student how you would like to be addressed on the first day. How about showing courtesy that should be shown to anyone? Try Dr., Mr., Mrs., Professor. If they want to be called Bubba or Princess, they'll let you know. This is really good practice for the real world. If you think when you go on an interview or meet new clients, that they are going to go to great lengths to tell you what to call them, think again.

24. Effort is important and shouldn't be forgotten in grading. See #5.

27. When grading a paper, explain what the student did right, not just what they did wrong. This one baffles me. I think is more of that high school teacher stuff about making students feel good even if they are failing. What are professors supposed to do? Grade papers and congratulate students for spelling words correctly? This makes no sense. If there are no comments then you did it right, if you don't know why it is right then you need to see the professor and tell him that you just lucked up.

39. Use out-of-class assignments sparingly. I really want to know the major of the student who came up with this one. Newsflash, if you are doing assignments in class, save for the occasional short paper or similar active-learning techniques, you are not in a college class regardless of what you might think. The vast majority of a student's time at college should be spent studying and doing assignments outside of class. Again, college is not high school. If that is problem go see your high school teacher and blame them.

43. If you are not going to use the book you assign, tell your students on the first day. A required book does not mean that the professor will use it in class every day. Some professors actually expect students to read the textbook before coming to class so that lecture material will complement what you read in the book.

44. Don't read handouts and the syllabus word-for-word to students; they're in college and obviously can read. This is actually a good point except, from my position, I deal with a lot of students who DON'T read the syllabus...at all. Then they are surprised when they make a poor grade, miss an assignment, or sleep through a test.

46. Be careful about assigning group papers. They're almost impossible for students to write fairly. I hated group papers as a student too but, once you get in the world of working stiffs most of the "papers" you write will be group papers. You will still not like it but that is what you have to do. Better to learn it in college than after you lose your first job because you cannot function as an effective team member.

So, now that I have been fairly critical of the list of things some students think professors should do, I have to stress that not all students think like those on the newspaper staff. In fact, most of the students I deal with do not think like this. But, now I have a list, a fairly short list, of things students should do to be successful in college.

1. Come to class prepared for class. That means read the material BEFORE class. Digest it, think about it, review it. You will find that lectures then tend to be more reinforcing and your questions are more meaningful.

2. Leave the excuses at home. If you can't come to class try to let the professor know beforehand and if there is a real excuse (illness, death in immediate family, etc.) let them know that too and they will likely be understanding. If you have to miss a class for a university function, let the professor know and offer to make up the work before you miss the class. You will be amazed at the amount of goodwill that earns.

3. If an assignment is due at the beginning of class, have it ready to turn in at the beginning of class. Don't run around trying to find a stapler or root through your book bag for it.

4. Be professional and respectful in class to the professor and your classmates. Speak clearly and like an educated person. Leave the street talk on the street. Do not insult a professor by turning in an unprofessional paper or assignment. And like, whatever, you like, do, like avoid using "like" like as much as you like possibly can...like.

5. Dress for class. I don't where the idea that it was acceptable to attend class wearing pajamas or the most worn out clothes in your closet began, but it really need to stop. And gentlemen, take off your hats inside. I've seen about all the advertising for John Deere and Skoal I care to see.

6. Students, remember your professors were students once too. Those excuses you have for not doing work, for being late to class, for needing to move an exam, are not new. I've heard them all and I tried most of them myself. They will work for you about as well as they worked for me. Don't waste your time. By the way, I know this should be common sense, but missing class or an assignment because you were in court or jail is not an excuse. If you have to go to court for jury duty or are subpoenaed as a witness then let the professor. Being in court as a defendant is not an excuse and does not win points.

Someday I'll have to expand this to a list of 10 but for now, this will do. And again, just to be clear, many of the students I deal with are outstanding, conscientious, well-intentioned, and hard-working. They do not complain or make excuses, they simply do their best. But there are a few, a precious few, who would do well to follow these suggestions.

There is much talk about text books these days and how expensive they are. The Board of the Institutions of Higher Learning is working on a policy that will address the issue somewhat, but it will remain an issue. Textbooks are expensive. That's the way it is. Faculty, students, nor college bookstores have much control over the prices of books.

Some things can and will be done. It has always troubled me that some sections of the same course would use a different book. This certainly cuts down on sharing books, passing them down from student to student, or even being able to reuse the same book should a student need to take the same course again. Books can be adopted for a longer period of time which will increase their resale value. And some books can be more clearly labeled as "required", "recommended", or "suggested".

But what is bothering me more than the cost of textbooks is the attitude of some students towards books. Some, by no means all, students have been educated in schools systems with such low expectations that they are unable to make the switch from high school to college. I dare say some of them do not even belong in college. For example, on the television news tonight one student was quoted as saying something along the lines of "my professor uses PowerPoints [sic] and doesn't even use the book." Let's see now, could it possibly be that in a college class a professor does not stand in front of the class and read from the textbook? Could it be that in some college classes the professors actually expect the students to read the textbook before they come to class (gasp!)? Could it be that the textbook is expected to be used outside of class by students who are actually working at the college level?

The important factor is not the cost of a textbook but rather its value. I recall spending in the neighborhood of $120 for my calculus book a few decades ago and it was expensive then. However, I used that book for four required courses, used it as a reference in several others, and while working as a research engineer I would even pull it off the shelf for reference. My English Composition text sits on my shelf to this day and I will occasionally pull it down to research some grammar question. Yes, these texts cost a lot of money but they also had great value.

I fear too many people have started to look at higher education from the point of view of what it costs and not what it gives. Regardless of what some may think, a college education is truly a privilege and those in college are in the minority. Given the reaction some are having towards textbooks, I think they may have come a bridge too far.

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