Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Students: what not to do

When the semester starts, I tell my undergraduate classes, especially my first year classes, that there are a couple things they should never do. I tell them that they're going to see other students do these things, and that when they do, they should know that even if the instructor is smiling, on the inside, s/he's not!smiling on the inside.

Here are the big two for my classrooms:

First, every student is going to miss a class at one time or another. But, if you miss a class, you should NEVER go up to the instructor afterwards and say anything remotely like, "I missed class the other day. Did you say anything important?"

You have to realize that college instructors tend to have pretty tremendous egos. Most of us believe that pretty much everything out of our mouths (or whatever other orifice) is golden (hence this very blog). You should pretend that you do, too.

When I tell students this little tidbit in the first class of the semester, I tell them that they need to get notes from another student BEFORE the following class, read them over, and then, if they need clarification, talk to their instructor for clarification. (Now, of course, I always get some really good student who's a bit of a smart aleck, who misses a class and then comes up to me with a HUGE grin and asks if I've said anything important. That HUGE grin is vital if you're going to do that, as is immediate waving of the notes you've borrowed and a hearty laugh.) Then I actually have my students exchange emails and phone numbers with each other so that they can get notes when they need them.

The second thing is more irritating, and not surprisingly more common. Again, it's inevitable that at some point in a student's career in college, s/he is going to have some technical difficulty with an assignment. I can deal with technical difficulties.

But inevitably, I will have some student with technical difficulties come up to me at the beginning of a class session, or as I'm trying to get things together to start a new class activity, and that student will present his/her problem, while 20-30 or more students wait.

There are a couple problems with this. First, it's just rude to think that a whole class needs to wait on your problem.

Second, and worse, though, is that you'll make your college instructor nuts. You have to realize that college instructors are generally problem solvers. Few people make it through a PhD program and actually get a job in a tight academic job market without being very pro-active about finding, identifying, and solving problems. So, when you present your instructor with a problem, s/he wants to solve it. But, there's probably NO good solution an instructor can come up with to solve your technical difficulty while 20-30 people wait in your basic college classroom. After all, if the problem could be easily solved, you would have solved it, right?

Think about it: you had a printer problem. There's no printer in this room. I can't solve your problem. Pretty much any technical difficulty is going to be unsolvable in the classroom with 20-30 or more people waiting, watching. And not being able to solve your problem leaves us with few choices: we can simply fail you, we can yell at you, or we can smile while we cry inside. None of these are good options for you. What you want is for the instructor to pat you on the back and tell you that it's ok, and no one really expects you to be a responsible adult. Just so you know, I am never going to say those words to a student.

So, wait until after class (preferably) or a time when others won't be waiting on you or the instructor to start class or do an activity, and then explain your problem. Better yet, go see the professor well before your class starts and try to solve the problem. Or go see the tech people at your school!

Why rant about this today? Because today, in my first year writing class, I was trying to start an activity with the whole class, and not one, but two students presented me with stupid technical problems.

You know, I really wanted to tell them what idiots they were. Instead, I told them that I really couldn't begin to solve their problems while the class waited. But I wasn't smiling.

1 comment:

  1. This is good stuff--I'm definitely going to have to use it when I teach a first year class again.