Monday, August 08, 2005

Golden rule days

Short summer, wasn't it? Time to get back to classrooms, back to the drone of lecturers and the whirr of overhead projectors.

If you're a student in the class of 2009, welcome to the big show. And here are a few tips to make that first day of class a smidge easier (if I've left some good ones out, please post them in comments):
  • Show up on time. Better yet, be a few minutes early.
  • Use those few minutes before class -- or take a minute after class -- to introduce yourself by name to the instructor. It helps more than you know. I still remember Alex and Jenny and Meghan and Michael, who shook my hand and told me their names on the first day of class. Somehow the name sticks better when the student makes the effort to be known.
  • Look nice. Don't overdo the wardrobe, but at least make the effort to wash up. Clean hair, clean nails, clean feet. Sure, it's still flipflop season, but nobody likes looking at your dirty hooves, so wash, trim and polish. Also, keep visible skin to a minimum. We're not sidewalk inspectors. Don't show us your cracks. And like Jonathan the hairdresser said to that heavily tattooed stylist he ended up firing on Blow Out: "More sleeve, less ink."
  • Don't buy the books till you check out the class. Some profs may tell you they've changed books or aren't using the ones on the bookstore shelves anymore. Or maybe you can tell by the syllabus that you'll only need to read a chapter or two in that $60 text that's on the list. In that case (if you're trying to save money), you can check it out of the library or just sit in the bookstore and read the relevant sections without having to buy it. (I think the price of textbooks is a scandal and a racket. But then, I haven't written one.) You could also co-op books with another student in class. Just make sure it's someone who's a fast reader.
  • Make friends in your classes. Introduce yourself to someone who looks reliable. You can find yourself a study-partner or note-sharer that way. And when the day comes that you really do have the avian flu and can't wing to class, you'll have a buddy who'll feed you the info you missed.
  • Do NOT tell profs on the first day of classes that you have to leave early for fall break or that you have to miss the midterm because you're in a wedding, you have non-refundable tickets to Hawaii or your parents expect you to spend the full week with them in Nantucket. Profs don't care. And those are not excused absences. They're just annoying reminders that students get better vacations than the people who teach them.
  • If you have a learning disability, don't use it as an excuse to miss assignment deadlines, exams or other class responsibilities. Nobody in the real world will cut you slack because you're dyslexic or have ADHD. Work with profs if you really get in a bind, but otherwise, try to overcome it. You'll have to eventually anyway.
  • Resolve right now: You will not grub for grades. You will not grub for grades.
  • If the prof is boring on Day 1, drop the class. He or she will never be more energetic than that.
  • Don't be afraid of the professors you've heard are really tough. The harder they are, the better they are and the more you'll learn. Seek them out and take their classes. You won't be sorry.
  • Take time to read every word of every syllabus (those are the class outlines handed out by the teachers). Syllabi are ridiculously long these days because teachers have to spell out every requirement of the course to keep students from using loopholes. I used to offer a "monkey bonus" on writing assignments -- 10 extra points if you worked the word "monkey" into any story. But you wouldn't know that unless you read page 8 of the syllabus. And I didn't mention it in class. I could always tell which students read the syllabus. Cheeky monkeys!
  • You're in college now. Nobody knows that in high school your cross-eyed cousin was your prom date or you were the treasurer of the Hillary Duff fan club. You're a blank slate, able to re-invent yourself to be whomever or whatever you want to be. Right now. Today. Shed the old baggage. Erase the old tapes. You're cool.
  • Get some sleep the night before classes start. Do not try to start school with the worst (or first) hangover of your life. First impressions count.
  • Take a deep breath, walk in and own it. You're in college!


Anonymous Tiana said...

Turn off your cell phones, pagers and beepers. Nothing makes the worst first impression quite like your favorite jingle buzzing from your purse as the prof. is making his or her introduction.

Bring paper and a writing utensil- you might actually have to write something down. Unlike high school the teachers in college aren't your mommy, and probably aren't going to remind you to do your homework or when your next test will be.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Tiana said...

Oh, and eat breakfast- not all profs will let you kill off your snack attack during their lectures.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Badger said...

Don't ask your TA if they're a "real teacher." Graduate students are a bitter, bitter group, and yours will no doubt hold a grudge against you for the rest of the term.

(Or I will, at least.)

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Keith said...

Do not walked up to the Campus Police and ask them "Hey Barney, where's that one bullet at?" It's probably not a good idea to ask them "are you a real cop" because it might end up in a parking ticket or worse.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous lulu said...

Great list, Elaine! I'm going to print it out and hand it out on the first day of class.

Another one: Don't think you can hide by sitting in the back of the room. I walk around while I lecture. I intentionally spend a lot of time at the back of the room. There is no escape and no safe place to nap!

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

I think the most important thing I've learned in my three years of college is to sit in one of the first two rows. Its really not that scary and you won't be temped to talk, play on your laptop, or sleep. You actually pay more attention even if you hadn't planned on it. Plus the people you're seated near are good students and reliable if you ever need study help or if you miss a class. The professor isn't more inclined to call you out because they're usually either calling on the people who volutneer or the one's in the back that are trying to hide.

5:45 PM  
Blogger L. Maxwell Ward said...

Not all hard professors are good, nor does a hard class mean you'll learn a lot.

Some professors are hard because they're lazy and bad teachers, while some are hard because they're good and the material demands it. I've had classes where I did a busy work and had to memorize material that was irrelevent. I've also had classes that were difficult because there was a lot of material I needed to learn.

Likewise, some professors are easy because they're lazy and bad teachers. Some good professors are very easy.

Get opinions on professors from people you trust. A reputation for being hard or easy is no guarantee of anything.

6:30 PM  
Blogger DVE said...

I actually agree with the part about hard professors. I asked around in college for the hardest professors and never regretted it. They also tend to be the ones that most appreciate a hard-working student and will do you a favor or two later if you build a relationship with them.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

Wow, Elaine, great advice! I plan on printing today's entry out and handing it to my son, who is leaving for college on Wednesday. (Heavy sigh and a tear drop falls). Oh, and by the way, my Daddy's nickname for me was MonkeyDoocle.... can I get my extra credit now?

6:47 PM  
Blogger liz said...

What a fabulous list!

7:56 PM  
Anonymous Superholmie said...

Love your blog. I look forward to it, and read it enthusiastically.

I would give anything to be a student in one of your classes.

If I may add something to your list of tips-

When you miss a class, don't ask the professor, "Did I miss anything?" This implies that nothing worthwhile took place in class during your absence. A better question might be, "What did I miss?"

As you might suspect, I learned this the hard way.

8:22 PM  
Anonymous Charles said...

A few other notes...

If you know for some reason that you're going to be late, send the prof an email beforehand, apologizing for the fact that you'll be walking in late. And when you do walk in, try to come in from the rear of the lecture room. It's less disruptive than coming in the front.

Binders are often not a good plan for taking notes. If you're in a lecture hall with those tiny fold-up writing tables attached to the seats, a clipboard is perhaps more comfortable, and then you can transfer your notes to your binder later.

If your faculty has a pubnight (more likely here in Canada, where the legal drinking age ranges between 18 and 19, depending on the province) it's a good opportunity to meet people in your program and also presents a chance to meet your professors in a relaxed environment. Just don't get roaringly drunk, tell them about your last time skinny dipping, and pass out on the table.

Keep active. Join an intramural team, or workout in the gym a couple of times a week. Walk everywhere. Do whatever you can to keep the 'freshman fifteen' off. The temptations of fast food are strong, but putting on fifteen extra pounds isn't something you want to do. Plus, physical activity and good nutrition helps with the other freshman fifteen-- the huge mark drop-off, as you adjust to tougher standards. You can minimize that drop by feeding your brain the good stuff.

In the first couple of weeks of school, everyone is desperate to make friends. If you were shy in high school, try to bust out of that shell, and make as many friends as you can, while everyone else is uberfriendly.

Just some thoughts from my experiences.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

As a recent college grad... all I can do is pretty much parrot what others have already said.

Get involved. That doesn't mean you have to join every single club the first day of school (the first freshman semester might be kinda hard, anyway, so unless you're the kind of person who likes to channel stress into other things, you may want to just concentrate on getting acclimated). But I only got involved in a club the last semester of junior year and I feel I missed out on a lot. The only real college friends I had came from that. (I was a commuter, too, so it was harder to connect, anyway.) Just one activity that attracts like-minded people is all you really need.

If you know you won't be in class, as others said, write the professor an email. Keep it as bland as possible. A simple "I'm terribly sorry, but I will not be attending class today" is much more effective than a whole long story about your vacation plans or whatever. The less the professors know, the better off you'll be.

Certainly ask around about what professors to take, but also remember to keep an open mind and swallow it all with a pinch of salt. Some of the professors I loved the most got horrible reviews and vice-versa. Different people like different things in professors.

Good luck!

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Ragman said...

You're not in high school anymore. Don't expect a prof to give you make-up work to cover your flunked test. If your grade is based only on 3 tests, don't get smashed the night before a test. You will not grub for grades.

You WILL have at least one professor with some sort of accent. They may not even be foreign. You will also have to work with someone who has a strong accent after graduation. Pay attention, and you will understand that they mean "substitute" when they say "subastitoo".

To all the teachers; how about making the grubbers write "I will NOT grub for grades" a hundred times on the board in exchange for NOT being docked 10 points? Yeah, I'm evil that way...

6:44 AM  
Anonymous smirktastic said...

Less a tip than an observation: are high schools doing so poor a job preparing kids for college that such common sense things are missing and need to be spelled out? All of these things were drilled into me and my contemporaries throughout senior year of HS. And I went to college in the 90s, not that long ago!

8:55 AM  
Blogger Angel, librarian and educator said...

These are some excellent ideas that I would not mind passing on to some of our students as the new year begins. Some of the additions the commenters have made are excellent too. I just have an issue with the item about the buying of textbooks. Two things: One, telling them to read one or two chapters in a store without buying the book may not be a smart idea. Many, many moons ago I used to work in a campus bookstore (yea, I also think it is a racket, but at the time I needed a little extra dough). Anyhow, they used to gently but firmly send people on their way out if they were caught doing what you suggest. Much better idea to either co-op the textbook between two or three students, or borrow it from a library and copy the pages. However, borrowing it from the library may not be a viable option either. Unless the professor actually placed a class textbook on reserve, many academic libraries do not make it a rule or policy to buy textbooks. In part, because they want to avoid having a rush of students coming in to avoid buying books. But more importanly, because textbooks usually change editions so fast (due the aforementioned racket) that it is not practical for a library to buy it. Having said that, here is another little trick. Since editions don't change that much (they often add a chapter or less, but it is substantially the same), very often an older edition may do the trick. This usually works for an anthology work. If you have to read an excerpt of some novel or a short story from an anthology, odds are it will be the same no matter the edition. The thing to pay attention to may be the introductions, which some professors do require their students to read. If it did not change, an older edition may have it, and sometimes libraries may carry an older edition (bought due to a request from faculty, like if they published or edited it). But this is rare, overall, unless a book is actually placed on reserve, I would not encourage students to try to find it in the library. And I am telling people this both as a former adjunct and a librarian now. On a final note, students, do encourage your professors to put things like textbooks on reserve. They very often have an extra examination copy or such they won't miss, and by asking a teacher, he or she may be moved to place a copy on reserve thus making things a bit easier on those who can't afford books. Anyhow, some caveats or thoughts. Best, and again, thanks for all the other pieces of advice.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be careful about not buying books before classes--ask around about the prof first. Some professors, especially for Science and Business classes, expect you to have your texts on the first day!


11:07 AM  
Anonymous Tiana said...

... and join! Tons of incoming freshman already have.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Stef said...

Great point from Charles~ invest in a clipboard! It's really much easier to maneuver on the small desks!
Also, if you plan to walk to your classes... buy an umbrella! You'll appreciate it on rainy days.

Passed along advice:
I started college at a small community college, with plans to transfer to a larger university later. A prof suggested saving all of my syllabi during community college "just in case."
I thought it was strange, but did so... and when I went to my university, one of my required classes hadn't transferred from my community college. My adviser said, "If you have your syllabus from that class, we might be able to work something out."
WOW! Would you know that I received 3 hours of course credit (on a 4 hour course) just for having that syllabus?!

Thanks for great reading! :)

1:14 PM  
Blogger Angel, librarian and educator said...

Wow! That tip about saving syllabi is a great tip. I had heard that such could go on, but never actually had a student who had done it. Cool.

While on the topic of websites, some students (and others) use that website. At least, from what the students tell me, it could be something to look at, however, something to take with a (big) grain of salt, much like you would take the advice from other students which others here have stated so well. Do note, the website does depend on whether students give it input or not, so some schools may have more names than others. Just adding to the monkey mix? (Do I get extra credit now? haha). best.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

one piece of advise/common sense:

about, please be smart about what you post on your profile. Just because it is possible to list your dorm address, home address, cell number, etc. doesn't mean you have to. Honestly, while I admire the people who started that website, I have to wonder what on earth they were thinking making that information available. But more than that I wonder at the inane college students who fill in all the blanks. Just because all the scary people outside your campus can't see the information doesn't mean there aren't scary people ON your campus. Know what I mean?

6:23 PM  
Blogger hannah said...

I was amazed when I started university at the people who turned up to seminars minus pens and paper.

Buy a wall planner, would be my advice. I didn't even have mine on my wall last year, I stuck it to my desk so it was always visible. And then I wrote absolutely everything on it, which because I go to an institution that loves changing rooms on you was invaluable.

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More tips from a professor:

Get two e-mail addresses of peers on Day 1 of class (two in case one drops the class), so you can e-mail one of them first about any confusion.

If you HAVE to be late to a class -- like if another professor holds you over or the campus shuttle is late -- GO IN THE BACK DOOR of the classroom. Do not walk across the prof as she lectures, saunter down the aisle so that all eyes turn from her onto you, etc.

If you have to leave early, e-mail the professor to let her know, sit in the back, and slink out. If you have an emergency, slink out. Don't slam the door. It's the auditory equivalent of giving the prof. the finger, and she *will* remember who you were.

If you need an extension on a paper, you can often get one by asking no less than 24 hours in advance of the due date, via e-mail, and explaining the situation. The earlier you ask, the better, and 24 hours won't be enough for some profs. But most are actually compassionate about circumstances beyond your control if you signal that you manage your time well.

Go to office hours once early in the quarter or semester, once near the middle, and once near the end, so your professor will get to know you. If there's a line or she's very busy with other students, be sure you're not there just to shoot the breeze. But if she's just sitting there, it's OK to arrive with no other agenda but, say, a remark about the reading or discussion. You can develop very nice, lasting relationships with professors this way.

Don't assume the young person at the front of the classroom is a TA. Don't assume that the older person or the male of two people at the front is the professor. Don't treat your TAs with anything but the same respect you give the professor. Don't play your professor and your TA off of one another. If your TA goes above and beyond the call of duty, write him a thank-you note and let the professor know what a great TA she has.

Save not only your syllabus, but returned papers with comments. When you ask a professor for a recommendation, she will often want photocopies of your major papers from her class, so she can see her own comments again.

If you got a B+ or below in a class, don't ask for a recommendation for graduate school in the field of that class. If you want a good recommendation, take more than one class from a professor, the smaller, the better.

If you are getting messages that your writing needs work, USE THE WRITING CENTER, or Learning Skills Center, or whatever it is called. You are paying for it with your tuition, and the people there are usually excellent. Swallow your pride and keep in mind that the best writers always seek to improve their writing, and don't think of it as remedial (even if your professor uses that word). Don't be defensive about the fact that someone should have flunked you in 8th grade English, just consider yourself lucky that a professor cares enough to tell you. At the same time, don't expect your professor or TA to turn into your personal grammar or spelling tutor during office hours; that's a waste of her time. Go to the right campus unit and begin the work of getting yourself to where you need to be.

If you loved a class or a particular aspect of it, tell the professor after grades are in. And tell her why. We need to know the good things, too.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree about taking criticism. You don't go to school because you're perfect, but because you can be better and there are people at aforementioned school who can (and are often paid to) help you become better.
You may already be good. You can always be better. Keep an open mind, and don't take criticism personally. The critique is for your work, not you personally.
I've seen so many kids whine about not getting "A+ Perfect" on every single paper. THAT'S THE POINT. If you do get "A+ Perfect" on every single paper, quit paying tuition and go teach.
A lot of experience, time, and thought goes into comments you receive on your papers. Pay attention to your critiques.
< /rant >

9:27 PM  
Blogger The Calvinator said...

I particularly love the "You will not grub for grades." I am an Adjunct at a local community college in your area, and I have been tempted every semester to bring in a DVD of School of Rock just for the line, "Summer, if you grade grub one more time, I'm gonna bust you back to Kindergarten."

I have one student right now who has an "A" safely sewn up, but she' upset because it's not "high enough." Now, I have no idea why it matters whether the grade is a 90.1 or a 99.9. An "A" is an "A" is an "A".

Even more annoying to me ARE the ones who grade grub but don't put the effort into the assignments to deserve the precious "A" they seek.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Lizett! said...

I'm surprised no one has really addressed this, but get to know at least one of your professors from your major very well, preferably two. As a poli sci and theatre major who is going to law school now, I developed a great relationship with both my political science and theatre advisors and I guarantee that is what helped me get into some of the top law schools in the country that I barely the grades or LSATs for.

Also, for overachievers like myself, be prepared to study and STILL not get straight A's. It's a fact of college. Get over it and don't whine to professors about it.

10:58 PM  
Blogger theprofessor said...

Great tip, Lizette. And let me add that getting to know the departmental secretary of whatever your major is can be the smartest move you ever make. After all, he or she is the one who signs the forms that let you into classes that are full, and it's the secretary who fills the department chair in on which students need scholarships or deserve special recognition for something. So be friendly, be helpful and don't be a pest. The secretaries really run most universities (just don't tell the deans that).

11:50 PM  
Blogger Miranda said...

Calvinator, I am one of those overachiever types that would complain about a low vs high A. It's not that it matters whether my final grade is a 93 or a 98, but whether I was putting in sufficient work to maximize my time in that class. That is also not something I would expect to be in purview of my professor. You will be happy to know that I (happily) received a B+ in a course last spring and I'm weaning myself of always needing the highest grade in all my classes.

I never grub for grades, but I always check for accuracy. Once I found that my professor marked a question wrong because I used "H20" instead of writing out "water" when answering a short biology lab practical question. Obviously, I asked that my score be corrected. That's not grubbing, is it?

12:09 AM  
Anonymous Sam(antha) said...

I keep a diary with two sections - one where I write out the dates that all major assessments are due in by (similar to a wall planner) and the other where I record everything I need to do for homework, when I need have it done by, and a space to tick it for when it is done. This record gets rewritten every day so I always know exactly what I have to do and when I have to have it done by, and whether or not I need to get to work or if I can relax and take some 'time off'.

5:29 AM  
Anonymous Natalie said...

I was in the school's bookstore yesterday and overheard two women talking about this blog. I'm a huge fan...I joined in the conversation, when one of the women said, "Sometimes the blog is funny, but other times it's just plain bitchy".

I laughed in her face--she was the mother of an Ashley AND a Brad.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

don't sit your class in alphabetical order.

I'm a Z and was forced in the back for 16 years

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A pal of mine just got an e-mail which comes down to the following, "I won't be in school the first week of class because my family is going on vacation"... translated -- "I don't care ehough about your lousy community college to look at the calendar and plan my vacations accordingly -- but, you should let me take your class anyway, because I gave you notice via e-mail:..

My pal wrote her back advising that she drop the class --

9:39 PM  
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