I have heard a lot of craziness from students in my many years as a teaching assistant and as a young professor. By young I mean, I just finished school-so I have not forgotten what it is like to be a student-and also young meaning age-wise young…so I know what a young person’s life can be like. Personally, I think that I am pretty accepting of many things students do and say; in fact, I find most of it pretty entertaining. However, there are just some things that students really should avoid saying in front of the person who is in charge of giving them a grade in a course. This person is also likely to be responsible for writing a letter of recommendation for a job/further education (or consulting with the person who is writing it). So, having a somewhat good reputation with them is a good thing. Yes, I understand that students should be treated as equals and I am in no way trying to place them in a subservient position; I tell me students “question everything all the time”. However, I approach my job in a professional manner, and if a person’s job, or one of their jobs, is to be a student, they should do that job in a respectable way.
Just to help everyone out, here is a list of things you should never say in front of your professor or TA:
1. A month into the class: “I haven’t looked at the syllabus”
Seriously? Wait…seriously!!!? We spend so long working on something to give you, the student, so that you can stay on top of your assignments, so that you can have some organization in the class, and so that you know what is expected of you. We spend the entire first day of class going through the syllabus with you all…painstakingly. We ask if you have any questions. We assume you know how to read. Saying you did not even bother to look at it, (it was sitting right in front of you for like 30 minutes on the first day!) is like saying “as a student, I don’t think it’s necessary to read”.
2. “I didn’t have time to do your assignment because I was working on [blah, blah] from another class”
Way to tell your professor that you care way less about their class than the other class… While you’re probably trying to make yourself seem like a studious person, telling your professor that your dog ate it would probably make them feel better about the class they’ve been working like all heck to make interesting enough for you (not to say they’ll necessarily believe you).
3. “Where is your office/what is your email/what is your office phone number/what is my grade based on/etc..etc…?
This is 100% related to #1. All of these things are always listed on the syllabus. By asking these questions, you are basically saying “I have not read the syllabus” or “I am not responsible enough to look this up on my own, while I’m on my laptop in your class”.
4. “Can you change my grade in the class?”
Sure. I mean, I did start the semester off telling you everything you had to do to earn the grade you wanted. I have returned everything to you with a grade on it. I spoke to you directly about the fact that you were not doing well in my class. I even emailed you before I turned the grades in to give you an opportunity to turn in a missing assignment. But, hey, you know what, just because you asked nicely, I’ll forget all about fairness and change your grade. You don’t even have to offer to make up the work.
5. “Should I read the textbook/reading you assigned?”
Asking this question is absolutely ridiculous. We assign textbooks for you to read, not because we need to read them. Don’t ask your professor if you should read something assigned to you; JUST DON”T READ IT!!! If you’re getting tested on it, I guess you’ll just have to figure something out.
6. Starting a sentence like this: “You should/you need to….”
As an instructor, I am ALWAYS open to feedback. Please, tell me to speak up in class. Tell me if what I just said made absolutely no sense to you. Talk to me about any confusing assignments or exam questions. However, telling your professor that he/she needs to do something is an entirely different thing. Even if you wholeheartedly believe that this is the worse professor in the history of professing, you were not hired to teach the course…..just shut up and go along for the crazy ass ride you’re on. They’ll give you an evaluation form at the end.
7. Anything that remotely suggests that you have much more knowledge on the topic of the course than they do.
You might know some stuff. You may even know some stuff about the class you’re sitting in. But, I can assure you…you have not completed your undergraduate degree, spent 7-10 years in a graduate program, worked on one single document (aka dissertation) for an entire year…or more, and collected tens of thousand of dollars in student loan debt; so…no, you don’t know. But, most importantly, if you knew enough to question the professor’s authority on a given topic and you were under the assumption that you could teach this course yourself, why did you sign up for the class in first place? So unless your goal was to sign up for a class that you did not need for the sole purpose of trying to one-up the professor, I suggest you do the same thing I suggested in #6
8. “I just want to do what I have to do in order to get a passing grade in this class”
Let’s just say that is actually true; all you want is a D or a C- in the class, for god’s sake, keep it to yourself! There are so many things wrong with that sentence….”JUST”…”passing grade”…. All you’re saying is, “I’m lazy” and/or “I don’t care enough about your class to try”. We could fill your seat with someone who would give anything for a college education you privileged bastard!! OK, I’m calm again.
9. Curse/cuss/swear words
Personally, I have a pretty high tolerance for cussing and other words that are often frowned upon by some professor. In fact, I often ask students to tell me words used to describe things/people and I prompt them to say the “bad” ones. However, every professor is not like me and most never want to hear them. Most importantly though, cursing in class and loudly in the halls (yes, we can hear you yelling BITCH from our offices!!!) simply tells anyone within earshot that you have no self-control. And why should you care what they think? You may need to ask them for help getting a job or applying to graduate school one day (you’re going to need letters of recommendation) If you can’t stop yourself from cursing for 100 minutes or so, then you’ve got some serious problems and the lack of professionalism is only one of them.
10. Leave in the middle of class and come back talking or asking to be caught up on what you missed.
This is college; nobody is going to stop you from getting up and going to the bathroom or leaving the room to answer a call or going to get something to eat in the middle of class (no matter how rude that last one is). However, don’t come back and interrupt our flow of instruction because you clearly missed something when you walked out and you are now confused about life. You should have thought about that before you walked out in the first place. #GYLT (Get Your Life Together)
11. “Is this something I/we should know for the exam?” And related, “Did I miss something important when I was absent?”
No, don’t worry about it. I actually enjoy wasting my time, and yours, discussing things that have no relation to this course and will never end up on exam. Also, I am happy to hear that you only care about memorizing things that will be on the exam and plan to completely check out if I even remotely suggest that we should all be learning for the sake of learning.
12. “I really need a [insert letter grade] in order to [insert reason]”
If you need that letter grade, then I suggest you earn that letter grade. By telling a professor this, the student is basically asking the teacher to cross ethical and moral boundaries to give them a grade they did not earn. Not only is it really presumptuous of a student to think a professor would even do it, but it puts the professor in a very awkward position.
Are you asking me to just give you the grade or just sharing your woes? Does this usually work for you? Who’s just giving out grades here!?
13. Sending an email with text message lingo, or starting with “hey”, or is in all lowercase letters.
I know you think I’m cool, but we are not friends. When I see you in the halls, talking with your friends, I don’t come up and join you all’s conversation. I don’t show up at dorm parties. This is a professional relationship and should be treated as such. There is nothing professional about those kinds of emails and it suggests that you are not giving your instructor the respect they deserve. Side note: if you have mentor/mentee relationship with a professor, this might not apply, but perhaps err on the side of caution. Side-side note: We do not need to read the details your disgusting illness over email…just say you were absent because you are sick and would like to know if there is something you should be doing to stay on top of your work.
14. Asking a stupid question
Remember when your teachers used to say “there’s no such thing as a stupid question?” Well there is; they are all liars. A stupid question is one that asks something we JUST said. I don’t mean a clarification type of question; I mean literally asking something that just came out of my mouth. If you were too busy sexting, or talking, or daydreaming to have heard it, that is not my problem. Example… Professor: “The exam is on Wednesday” (followed by the date, time, and location…just to cover all bases) “It is multiple choice and 45 questions.” (moves on)
Student raises hand: “When is the exam and what’s the format?”
15. This isn’t something you say, but rather you could do…openly using your cellphone or your computer/tablet for non-academic purposes. Or looking down in your lap to try to hide it.
We are not idiots; we see you on your electronics. I personally don’t care if you’re on your laptop using Facebook or looking up new Jordan’s; however, the person next to you and behind you is being distracted by you and it’s the same as distracting them with a conversation. They came to class to pay attention, so if you want to jeopardize your grade, then pick up your stuff and leave the room; you’re already halfway gone anyhow. It’s also just plain rude. You wouldn’t want to be right in the middle of a story and your bestie busts out their phone to play Candy Crush. Next time I am listening to student presentations, I am going to look at my phone every 10-15 minutes and show the people next to me stuff on my tablet…see how much you all like it. Also, just for the record, it looks like you’re masturbating when you’re looking down in your lap and then get this little grin on your face….oh we see all of it from up front….and we don’t like what we see. Again, this is about practicing some self-restraint and showing that you have some of it to a person whose opinion of you should be, or might end up being, important to you.
The bottom line is that college students are all adults; if I wanted to teach high school, I would have. I do not consider myself to be the best professor in the world, but I care. Because I care, I try really hard to cover the material students need to learn if they plan to brag about having taken a course in [blah blah blah] one day. I try very hard to use videos, discussions, and technology to make it a decent experience. I want the students in all of my classes to do well and continue to achieve well beyond my courses. However, students have to be willing to meet me, and professors like me, halfway.