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!