6 Things I Wish My Students Understood

I realized recently that I’m currently in my fifth year of classroom teaching.  It doesn’t feel like that long, but maybe that’s because of how much moving around I’ve done: I started teaching at a big state university, switched to teaching at a small, nontraditional high school, and am currently in my first semester of teaching at a private university in Istanbul.  I’ve taught everything from creative writing to academic writing and remedial writing, and both American and world literature.  I’ve never had the same teaching schedule two years in a row.

Regardless of where I’m teaching or who I’m teaching, I notice a lot of similarities between the students.  Below are five things I wish all of my students understood.

1: The syllabus is more than just a list of rules and a schedule; it’s a blueprint for how to get a good grade in the class.

Students tend to zone out on the first day of class when the teacher/professor is going over the syllabus.  It might be because it’s boring, or it might just be that they figure they’ll worry about it later, when work is actually due.  However, if you care about doing well in the class, paying attention to how the teacher explains the syllabus will make things much easier.  We are EXPLICITLY TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO FOR A GOOD GRADE.  Not to mention that we get sick of answering the same questions over and over during the semester.

No, really. It's ALL on the syllabus.

No, really. It’s ALL on the syllabus.

2: Coming to class will make the assignments easier.

Students often seem really committed to the idea that they will only attend as much class as necessarily to not fail, and then are confused as to why they don’t know how to complete a project or answer questions on a test.  The point of assignments is not to randomly torture you; it’s to prove you know the material.  The material that we explicitly go over, and that I spend a lot of time explaining, in class.  Maybe you are one of those people who can magically understand everything from reading the book, and if so, congratulations, but you’re in the minority.  Additionally, I often give direct rubrics and outlines for the information that will be covered that you only get if you come to class.  It’s worth your time, I promise.

3: Related, the point of the class is to learn something.

The point of the class (ostensibly) is not to get a grade or a credit on your transcript– it’s to learn information and/or skills that will help you in life/your career/etc.  Again, skipping class as often as possible and then begging the professor to pass you anyway or trying to find other ways around actually doing the work doesn’t fulfill the actual purpose of getting an education.  I was definitely guilty of this as a student at times, specifically in classes that I wasn’t all that interested, and I think it’s a reminder that we could all use every now and then.

4: If you are a good, responsible student, I will be more understanding if you need a favor.

Shit happens.  People’s grandmothers do die (although probably not at quite the rate that students would seem to suggest when there is a big project coming up), printers do malfunction, we all get sick sometimes, we go through bad break-ups that leave us comatose for a week or two, so on and so forth.  However, if you never come to class or turn your work in on time and then you tell me your stoner roommates used your term paper to light a bonfire for their s’mores right before class, whether or not it’s true, I probably will not give you an extension.  If, on the other hand, you come to class, do your work and do it well, and participate, I will be MUCH more understanding if a situation arises where you need extra time or extra help.  I think this goes for pretty much every professor.

5: We are human too.

We all know that teachers make mistakes– in fact, students often are completely delighted to point it out when it happens.  However, know that we have bad days, too.  There are times we haven’t gotten enough sleep, or have headaches, or are worried about something that’s happening outside of work and distracting us.  We usually teach anyway, but there are times we are not at the top of our game.  I’ve been fighting off a cold and just this morning I taught my class with a major case of the sniffles, barely able to breathe and feeling like crap– and I went through the material quickly and let them go early.  No one wants a stuffed-up, sneezing professor (and everyone DOES want to get out early on a Friday).  So be patient with us on the days when we might be a little slower or a little less polished than normal.

6: I truly enjoy teaching, or I wouldn’t be doing it.

Yes, really.  There are times I’m tired.  There are times I’m irritated (again, it’s on the damn syllabus!).  But I really enjoy being in the classroom and working with students or else I would have found a different career by now.  No one stays in this job unless they love it, and here I am, five years later.

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