I listened to a great podcast this morning, engaging and informative—engaging because of the personalities, enthusiasm, and energy of the podcasters and informative because of the tips they shared with listeners.
Professors/instructors at a two-year college, Paul Crolley and Carl Beckham feel the frustration and stress that arrive at the end of each semester, and realizing that their students experience some of the same negative emotions, these two young profs offered helpful suggestions for students everywhere.
I listened to the podcast while on a morning walk and smiled pretty much all the way through it. Been there, done that, I thought. Below are three of their recommendations. I’ve taken the liberty to add my two cents’ worth from a slim volume I wrote entitled Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding in a Community College and Beyond.
#1. Read the syllabus. And then read it again.
“A syllabus is a document that gives information about topics you’ll be covering, how final grades are calculated, the name of your text, and your instructor’s contact information. Chances are good that any question you might have has already been anticipated and addressed on the syllabus.
“Still, you could be confused about something, and if that’s the case, contact the teacher. By the way, in a technical or community college, faculty keep required office hours, and those hours will be listed on your syllabus.” According to Carl and Paul, students rarely visit during office hours.
#2. “Pay close attention to requirements and important dates. In addition to the above, your syllabus includes test dates and assignment/ paper/ activity deadlines, holidays and school closings, and dates like the last day of add/drop and the last day to withdraw from a class without a penalty. Even if you don’t anticipate having to change your schedule or drop a course, it’s a good idea to know these dates.”
#3. “Follow instructions to the letter. I recently submitted a story to a magazine. Before I hit “Send,” I read and followed every guideline on the website. I was a little annoyed that I had to save my document as a .doc instead of .docx, but the instructions clearly stated that failure to do so would toss the writer’s story out of the running. I sighed and did it their way. I didn’t want the story returned unread so I took the time to learn.
“If the instructions say to double-space and use one-inch margins, then do it. If the instructions indicate that the paper should be three pages, don’t write five in the hopes that your teacher will be impressed with your diligence. She won’t. In fact, she’ll likely be aggravated because you didn’t follow instructions. If you’re asked to give a five-minute speech, then give a five-minute speech. Going over the time limit shows that you have no respect for other people’s time. Speaking less than that shows that you haven’t prepared well.”
The podcasters shared an incident in which a student submitted a paper using PDF instead of Word despite written and oral reminders from the instructor. I’m pretty sure it went unread.
“If a teacher says to send a paper or assignment to a dropbox, then do it his way. If a teacher says to use APA formatting for a psychology paper, then do it without becoming miffed and telling the teacher that MLA is used for English classes. Your psychology and history teachers already know that.”
Paul and Carl use rubrics to help their students, and I’m going to follow their example. Letting students know more specifically how their work is going to be evaluated is a huge benefit for parties on both sides of the lectern.
“If it seems that I’m going a bit overboard about following instructions, there’s a reason. Teachers care about student success and get flabbergasted, frustrated, and flummoxed when they ignore instructions or appear to take educational opportunity for granted.”
It’s the midnight hour, the critical time before the end of the semester, and students are scrambling to get their work in. Their teachers are feeling the pressure, too–pressure to read, grade, and assign semester grades by the due date set by their employer. The process would be more efficient and less stressful if everyone fulfilled his or her part of the bargain.