November 30, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Students, Thou Shalt Read This Letter

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To the Editor: Re: “Professors: Thou Shalt Read This Column,” Opinion, Nov. 10

Kudos to Sam for an excellent column that describes practices and behaviors that professors should follow in their teaching. She invited faculty to prepare their own list of “Commandments” for students, which I am delighted to do. Here goes: 1.  Attend class. Faculty often spend hours preparing for their classes. They may plan activities that require a certain numbers of students for the exercise to work. They make handouts or purchase supplies for a certain number of students. When a student does not come to class, plans are disrupted and money may be wasted (not to mention your tuition). In addition, many faculty live in outlying areas of Ithaca. They get up early, travel many miles and often drive through snowstorms to get to their class on time. It is hard not to take it personally when a student living on campus can’t roll out of bed in time to make it to class.2.  If you miss class for non-exceptional reasons, do not ask the professor to spend out-of-class time with you to explain what you missed. Professors are usually more than happy to provide additional help to students who genuinely want to learn, but asking for a professor’s time to accommodate your need to sleep in is selfish behavior.3.  Show up on time. It is very disruptive when students trickle in over the first 15 minutes of class. Not only do students have to find a seat, but then they must take off their jacket, find their notebook, put away the iPod  and cell phone, and find a pen. This is hard to ignore when one is concentrating on giving a lecture, explaining a concept, or providing directions. Arriving late is disruptive to fellow students who made the effort to get to class on time.4.  If you know ahead of time that you will be absent from class, email the professor to let her know so adjustments can be made. If you could not show up for work or for a meal to which you were invited, you would certainly let the boss or host know as soon as possible. The same courtesy should be extended to your teachers.5.  Do not text or surf during lecture. Multiple studies have shown that the human brain can concentrate fully on only one activity at a time. If you are otherwise engaged in texting or shopping or surfing, then you cannot fully engage in class. Why not just turn your back to the professor? The effect is the same. Although some students do use their laptop to take notes, nearly every person who has observed large classes from the back of the room can state that only about one-third of those with laptops are taking notes. This is among the bigger annoyances for us professors.6.  Proofread your written assignments. A strong signal to a professor that you don’t care or don’t take pride in your work is to turn in assignments containing grammatical and spelling errors. It doesn’t matter if the course is engineering or agriculture or English. Although content or analysis may still be lacking, at least the written word should be correct. 7.  Do not be afraid to ask for reasonable accommodation for assignments or exams. Professors are human and each has a soul. Most faculty will try to accommodate reasonable requests that are made ahead of time; for example, field trips in other classes, family weddings, or three prelims in the same day. The problem comes when accommodations are requested after-the-fact, or when requests show misplaced priorities. I have had students ask to be excused from an afternoon lab because their fraternity was having a party that evening and they wanted to help with set up. Although the student might think that it doesn’t hurt to ask, such a request will likely be taken as an insult by the professor. 8.  Ask your professors for help in finding jobs or internships. Cornell faculty are world-renown and have a large number of professional connections that they’ve built over the years. They can be your key to opening the doors to your future, but you have to be proactive and ask about these opportunities that are unknown to Career Services.9.  Get to know what your professors do when they are not teaching class. Most faculty also have responsibilities for research, outreach/extension or administration, and they will likely have interesting stories to share about these activities from which you can learn. Your teachers are almost always willing to talk about their families, weekend activities or travels — just like you. Arrive to class a few minutes early, go to office hours, or stay after class and get to know your professors for the interesting people they are. This can help build relationships that may bear fruit later, and can lead to a better classroom environment.10.  Invite faculty into your lives outside of the classroom. Faculty are flattered when you invite them to attend a sporting event in which you are participating, a concert that you are playing or singing in, or a faculty dinner that your sorority or fraternity is hosting. They may not be able to accept every invitation, but most will make an effort to attend if invited personally to a special event.If professors followed the suggestions Sam Dean posed a few weeks ago, and students followed the above suggestions, then the Cornell learning environment would improve substantially and both faculty and students would have a much more rewarding experience.Prof. Marvin Pitts, Horticulture