Wednesday, August 21, 2013

6 Things You Should Say to Your College Professor

From Ellen Bremen at USA Today.  I have added some commentary after each point.

1.  Instead of saying, “I’m so lost!” say, “I am confused about our upcoming paper. Here is what I’ve done: I read over the assignment sheet. I reviewed your examples. I am stuck on the transitions and two of my sources. Can you help with that?” 

Most of the students I teach do not have a problem with this one.

2.  Instead of saying, “I really needed a 4.0 in this class!” say, “I am striving for a 4.0 and I’m prepared to work for it. I’ve reviewed the syllabus. I would like to make an appointment so I can ask questions and discuss my plan for achieving my goal.”

This has only happened to me once in nearly 20 years of college teaching.  A student (not a history major) was taking my Immigrant America course to fulfill a pluralism requirement.  It was her last requirement before graduation and she was very concerned that I would ruin her 4.0.  On the first day of class she announced that "she needed" an "A" in the course to keep her perfect GPA.  What she meant was: "If you don't give me an 'A' I will not graduate with a 4.0 and it will be your fault.  Can you live with that?"  I told her that I was glad to hear she had done so well in college, but if she was truly a 4.0 student she would prove it to me by working hard for an "A" in the class.

In the end, she did earn an "A" (but it was close).  I saw her and her parents at the reception following the baccalaureate ceremony and informed her of her grade.  She gave me a big hug. I watched all the anxiety and pressure disappear from her face.  It was a nice moment--the kind of moment, when combined with similar moments, make for a meaningful career.

On a side note, I also had a student, one who was a history major who I had worked closely with over her four-year career at Messiah College, approach me after our commencement ceremony to tell me that she had graduated with a 3.99 GPA.  I had given her an "A-" in her very first college class  She wanted to thank me for the grade because it meant she did not have to deal with the stress that comes with pursuing perfection over a four-year college career.

3.  Instead of saying, “I worked so hard! I deserved an A!” say, “I am working toward an A on our assignment, so I finished my project early. Would you be willing to take a look and give me some feedback?”

Unfortunately, very few students put themselves in a position to do this.  They usually complete assignments far too late (sometimes on the same day that they are due) to allow me to read a draft and comment on it.  I always tell my students that I am happy to read drafts, but less than 10% ever take me up on the offer.

4.  Instead of saying, “Will this be on the test?” say, “I used my notes and textbook and downloaded your lectures and PowerPoints to create a study guide for our upcoming exam. Would you look and see if I’ve missed any major areas?”

For whatever reason, my students never ask "will this be on the test."  This is probably because I tell them that everything will be on the test.  I give the students a study guide for each exam and some of them will occasionally stop by the office to discuss their exam preparation with me.

5.  Instead of saying, “I’ve missed four classes, but can I still pass?” say, “I missed the last four classes, which was unavoidable. I do not plan to be absent again. I’ve reviewed the attendance and late-work policy on the syllabus. I calculated my lost points. Here is what I propose to catch myself up (submit your proposal), based on your policies. Have I missed anything in my calculations? I believe I can still pass if we agree on the dates I will submit this work, according to your policy and penalties.” 

I wish more students would do this.

6.  Instead of saying, “Can I leave early? Will we be doing anything important?” say, “I need to leave class early today. I noticed on the schedule that you are going over chapter six. I read chapter six and started on the assignment. I will have it done on time and do not need to leave early again.” 

How a student handles a class absence of this sort is a great test of his or her commitment to the course.  I get both responses pretty regularly.

I encourage you to read Bremen's post here.