Friday, August 24, 2012

Top 10 Words of Warning Advice I may or may not tell my students on the first day of class

 School starts for me next week, and believe it or not, I’m strangely excited about it. I have always, always, even when I was in middle school, loved the first day of school. What happens after the first day may be another story, but there has always been something magical about the first day for me.

That’s probably why I’m a teacher today. It's all about the first day.

So as I’ve been working on my syllabus for this semester, working through new textbooks and thinking about my past classes, I thought of some things my students might want to know ahead of time. These pieces of advice come from 21 years of teaching experience. Boy, could I tell stories!

Oh, I guess I have.

Now, understand, I hope and pray that none of my students EVER find my blog (ha!), but just in case you know a college student who would benefit from these words of advice, feel free to share.

1. I am not your mother. I do not want to know that you stayed up until 3:30 in the morning and couldn’t get out of bed for class. I will not call you to make sure you get up. I will not text you to see where you were. Just come to class. On time.

2. I like paper. Call me a murderer of trees, but I like to read your paper on, well, paper. I like to scribble and make squiggly lines on your paper. I like to write long notes at the end of your work—I think this is one of the best ways you learn how to get better at your craft. I don’t want you to send me your paper via email (although lots of great professors do), and I certainly don’t want you to hand me a disk that I’ll have to put in my own computer and which could possibly give my computer a virus of some sort. Nope. Just gimme the paper.

3. Your phone is not invited to class. If something is more important than my class, go handle it outside of class. Take an absence if you want, but just don’t bring it into my sanctuary.

4. And speaking of absences . . . yes, they do exist in college. I may not look like I’m taking attendance in front of the class, but I’m doing it in my mind. And, yes, your presence in our class matters—to me and to your classmates.

5. Sniffing. I hate sniffing. Get a tissue.

6. I’m not blind—I see stuff. I see your phone under the desk (put it away!). I see you doing homework for another class (it’s pretty obvious when you should be taking notes and when you don’t need to be writing anything). I see that smug look on your face that says, “I could be teaching this class right now.” That’s the one I really wish I could remove from the classroom.

7. I’m not as self-assured as I might seem. When you give me that smug face, it actually does hurt a little bit, even though I don’t want to give you the benefit of thinking so. Remember that your professor is a human being and treat me as such.

8. Which reminds me to tell you that I have a life outside of this classroom. Last night I probably ran my daughter to piano lessons, made dinner, vacuumed the living room, worked on a writing project, cleaned up dog puke, and graded papers until my head felt like it was going to explode. My life gets to me sometimes just like school gets to you. Grace, please.

9. You are not God’s gift to the English language. (And neither am I.) You are in my class because you have at least one thing to learn, so figure out what that is, practice it like crazy, and feel like you’ve accomplished something by the end of the semester. A big head about your abilities will get you exactly . . . nowhere.

10. I like you. I have no preconceived ideas about you based on where you’re from, what positions you take, or especially (goodness no!) how well you write. I come into the semester thinking that we’re going to have fun in class and that I’m going to learn something from you. I assume that you are a decent, interesting, likeable human being. Try not to prove me wrong.

So here we go. The semester is here. It’s going to be crazy-busy, a writing whirlwind—a typing typhoon if you will (ah, no). You’ll want to shoot me at times, and you’ll probably want to cuss me out at other times. But hopefully, in the end, you’ll see that I cared about you and wanted to help you learn something.

Let’s get to work!

How about you? What words of advice would YOU give my students? Did you like the first day of school?



  1. I hope all your students find your blog and read this post. They will be better for it.


  2. Great anreformed procrastinator, I would remind them that what they get out of class is directly proportionate to what they put in! Do the reading, do the assignments, and think about what you're doing in time to contribute to the class. Both you, your classmates, and your prof will enjoy the class even more that way. I used to hand in everything at the end of the semestef & take the hit to my grades, still passing with flying colors. Much to the chagrin of my profs!!! And I realized later that it would have been a better experience had I just been engaged from the get go.