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If I Could Write a Letter to Our Students...

 

brad paisley letter to me 150x150

I have heard Brad Paisley's "If I Could Write a Letter to Me" at times, and I have told myself that I would do just that one day. I would go back in memory to what I was like as an undergraduate student and think of my mishaps, poor judgments, my inconsistencies, and my daily habits that were probably some of my teachers' pet peeves.

Did I even know the difference between an undergrad versus a grad student at the time? Did I know how important it was to get to class on time or to use a salutation more formal than "Ay" in an email to my instructor? Did I realize how easily I could frustrate a financial aid employee by again phoning to ask when my refund would arrive or how I could aggravate my English instructor by proclaiming that I made straight A's in high school when she (how dare she!) gave me a C on my first essay?

Now that I have been in the classroom for eleven years (on university, high school, and community college levels, respectively), I am eager to gauge what my students don't know so that I can hopefully make their experiences more rewarding overall and make my own interactions with them less frustrating. Although faculty and staff refer to college students as adults, the truth is, the students' experiences are vastly different than ours as the other grown-ups who have waded through those familiar trenches in pursuit of our degrees, job security, and higher wages. We, as instructors and support staff, should not forget that many of our students could use kind words and friendly lessons (or reminders) of proper collegiate and professional behavior because, after all, we were once those darling bodies sitting in their very chairs.

The following is the knowledge that I wish someone had bestowed upon me before, or even during, college so that I could have perhaps left a better impression upon my teachers.

(1) Never be excessively tardy. You make think your instructor does not hear the squeak of the door when you tiptoe in, but it is heard. Once or twice, it may be overlooked. But by the third time, your teacher knows your name (if he/she didn't already), and you might as well have stepped on that teacher's toe because that is now how distracted and agitated he/she will likely be, thanks to your lack of timeliness.

(2) Respect a person's space. Even if you have rolled out of bed, swapped your pj's for real-world clothes, AND brushed your teeth, most everyone still prefers a 3-foot distance when talking to you. No matter how nice your fellow student or instructor seems, he or she is probably a fan of personal space in the classroom and other areas of campus.

(3) Don't interrupt. I am truly baffled sometimes when I am in conversation with one person as another either calls my name repeatedly or waves to me as if I am expected to put the brakes on my current discussion. Show respect by waiting a turn and by not assuming that what you have to say is important enough to interrupt someone else.

(4) Don't compare your high school grades to your college scores. Sadly, collegiate experiences may often lead to lower scores than you may expect at first. Accept this as part of the transition by remembering that college standards are higher. That, after all, is why a college is referred to as an "institution of higher learning."

(5) Avoid asking friends or relatives for help in a class. Unfortunately, you may sometimes think Mama knows best or your third cousin, twice removed, is a great writer who could do you a tremendous favor by emailing research to you for an essay. WRONG. Quite often, these situations cause your grade to suffer because your resources do not know the classroom policies or assignment guidelines. Consult your teacher always when in need of help.

(6) Avoid slang or text-talk in emails to any instructor. This rule does not merely apply to English instructors. Professionals do not typically enjoy deciphering jargon such as "R U goin' 2 B in ur office l8tr? Wanna c my laz test." One day, you may need an instructor to write you a reference letter, perhaps for a scholarship or a job; therefore, you should always maintain a professional demeanor, even if simply talking via email.

(7) Respect an instructor's obligations outside of your classroom. In other words, try to refrain from making an office visit Tuesday afternoon to ask if your test from Tuesday morning has been graded yet. Many instructors are juggling 5-6 classes, most of the time involving 100+ students. 

(8) Remember that if you have been placed into a developmental class, it is NOT a waste of your time. Although you may be frustrated that your classes for college credit are being postponed, you NEED the developmental classes to perform at a higher level later.

(9) After being absent, avoid asking your teacher, "Did I miss anything?" Many instructors will react negatively to you if you mutter this question. Just assume that, yes, you missed something, and when you return, ask for handouts or other important information either at the beginning of class or at the end. Never interrupt to ask for missed assignments when an instructor is in lecture-mode.

(10) Do not complain or list out excuses for late/missed work or for tardies. Because your instructors have been through college, they know how busy a college student's life can be. However, they survived it--successfully! Currently, they too are busy with classes. Plus, like you, they have families and many activities and responsibilities. Instructors generally try to accommodate students by making out syllabi and scheduling assignments that are considerate and well timed, but they do have material that they must cover and, therefore, have no time for excuses from anyone.

Hopefully, the above notes will make classroom interactions a bit easier and more enjoyable. As a semester spirals forth, forgetting rules of polite behavior and social norms can occur, but having little reminders can definitely help the feelings of everyone involved!

2012 College Freshmen

 

Every year since 1998, Beloit College has released their "Mindset List" around the beginning of the Fall semester. The list is meant to reflect the way incoming college freshmen view the world. I always find the info interesting and entertaining, even if I don’t agree with every characterization and even though each new list makes me feel old.

This year incoming Freshmen were born in 1994. Since music has always been a large part of my life, it blows my mind that Kurt Cobain has always been a dead rock star to these students & Pearl Jam has always existed. I was a child of the “mix tape” era. Sure, I haven’t owned a tape since 6th grade, but I remember late nights of staying on the phone with my best friend, waiting for a song to come on the radio so we could tape it. That sounds ridiculous now.

I grew up watching Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson play basketball.  The original “Dream Team” played in the Olympics 2 years before this year’s incoming Freshmen were born. I remember when Jose Canseco was the 40/40 man, the first player in MLB history to hit at least 40 home runs and steal at least 40 bases in the same year. To my youngest brother, he’s always just been the steroid guy & a loser on reality TV.

There are some things that I think are really cool on this year’s list. I like #12 - maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department and #23 - Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.  I think there are some important things missing, such as our country being involved in major foreign conflicts & the rough economy that has existed for most of the lives of eighteen year olds. I am interested in how these things have effected the Freshmen at Hinds Community College.

describe the imageEach generation has their own experiences of historical events that help shape them. My parents remember Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. I was in first grade when the Challenger disaster happened on live TV, it’s something that will stick with me forever and fueled my interest in science. #26 on the 2016 list talks about the Furby, a toy (a very annoying one) that a lot of Freshmen this year played with as children. The Furby had as much computing capability as the Apollo 11 Lunar module that Neil Armstrong piloted. Our experiences regarding technology are definitely different.

Check out the list and let me know what you think about “your” list in the comments. I’ll be the first to say that most of the things on “my” list are untrue for me. We’re all different, of course.

Students, what are the most common references do your parents or instructors make that sound foreign or “old school”? I thought #27 was pretty funny - Outdated icons with images of floppy discs for “save,” a telephone for “phone,” and a snail mail envelope for “mail” have oddly decorated student's tablets and smart phone screens. Do you even think much about that kind of thing? What historical events helped shape you?

If you were born before 1980, I’d like to know your thoughts on the lists as well. What surprises you most about them?

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