This year I will be a visiting professor at The University of Regina. As I begin my new experiences here, I have decided to update my open letter to my students.
To my students:
- University is different from high school: reading all the material and going to class does not guarantee you an A or even a B unless you are considerably above average in ability. You actually have to study too. I expect you to do about two hours of work out of class for every hour in class.
- If you miss class, please do not ask me if anything important happened. I wouldn't give the lecture if I didn't think it was important. What do you expect me to answer?
“Yes, actually, on the one day you missed I decided to give a pop quiz that counts for 20% of your course mark. Then we discussed the answers to the final exam, and then I gave everybody real, not invisible, chocolate chip cookies. Too bad you missed it.”
- When I was an undergraduate student, I had friends who got out of many different assignments and exams for all sorts of reasons; further, any excuse I didn't hear about as an undergrad I have heard enough times in my 74 years as a prof to be familiar with it. Deaths in the family, apartment fires, tears on command, cars breaking down, feigning symptoms of depression, you name it: I either knew someone who used it or have had to deal with it. I have a pretty good feeling for when you are trying to bull$hit me, so don’t try. And while I am very sympathetic if your excuse is legitimate, I am ruthless if you lie to me. (For example, see this).
- I read quite a bit, and I am an okay writer. People who read copious amounts and who write a lot notice writing style, so if you try to plagiarize, I will almost always be able to tell. If you plagiarize work for my course, I will report you, and I will fail you in the course, and I may try to get you expelled from the university (as I did several years ago with one student whose offence was repeated and flagrant). Don't plagiarize. I will catch you even if TurnItIn.com doesn't.
- Cell phones are disruptive. Please turn them off before you come to class. If yours rings in class, you will have to leave. In fact, because of past disruptions from students playing games or text messaging, if your cell phone is on your desk or in your lap, you will have to leave class, regardless of whether you are actually using it.
- The same thing applies to laptop computers or iTouch web-surfers and the like. Don't bother bringing your laptop to class because I will just ask you to close it and put it away. If you really would rather spend your class time surfing the internet, just change majors to hydraulic socionomology or transfer to York (or Calgary).
- And while we're on "don'ts", please do not eat in class. Doing so is very distracting to the students around you.
- During the lectures and discussions, I may seem fun and amusing, but that does not mean my tests are easy. My exams can be hard.
- Class clowns may have been funny in high school, but they aren't in university. My classes are not like Canadian Parliament --- heckling is not permitted.
- Please don't send me nasty e-mails about an exam or mark when you are fired-up and angry or in a drunken stupor at 4am. Believe me, you will regret it the next day.
- I hope you are not offended by my jokes. They are funny, but sometimes not to social conservatives or most liberals.
- If I am late for a meeting and rushing out of my office, or if I am trying to eat lunch in between classes, or if I am out with my colleagues for dinner, I might not be all that keen to answer questions about the upcoming midterm or about something you missed in a recent lecture.
- Incompletes are for students who, for legitimate, documented reasons, could not finish the class. If you don't like your grade, you may not take an incomplete.
- If you take the midterms and do badly, and then don't drop the class, and then come back 3 months later and try to act as if you were never in my class and you want me to sign a form, I won't. I'm a pushover for many things, but that does not include unwillingness to accept responsibility for your own actions or inactions.
- If you are failing this course, do not make sly little suggestions about what you might do to earn a passing grade. You are failing the course — why should I think your performance would be better in any other areas? Besides, I'm too old to care.
- If I see you out on the town or at the sports bar, and you want to buy me a drink, you cannot currently be in my classes or ever take any of my classes again. Then probably you can buy me a drink.
- If you see me out on the town or in a mall or whatever, and you're too shy to come over and say "Hello", we'll develop an official course gesture that will stand for, "Hi. I'm in your class."
- When you tell me, “I’m getting kicked out of school because of the grade I got in your class,” this might make me feel bad, but it certainly makes me question whether this is the first/only bad grade you have ever received.
- If you come to see me because you are worried about your grade, and you use all the study suggestions that I might provide, and I really honestly believe that you are trying hard but you are still getting a bad grade, I will wish I had the courage and integrity to tell you that not everyone is meant for university, and in my curmudgeonly dotage, I just might!
- If you ask a stupid question in class, I will try not to laugh at your question. I apologize if I do. After all, I shudder whenever I think of all the stupid questions I have asked (but which helped me learn).
- In fact, please ask all the questions you want in class. I learn from my mistakes, and I suspect that most other folks do, too, so ask away. If I see anyone so much as roll an eye, I will pull them aside after class and tell them their behaviour is inappropriate. If it is a very large class, though, and your questions seem to be dominating the class discussion, I may have to ask you to save some for after class.
- I like to tell stories. Once you figure this out, please do not use it to try to reduce the content and coverage of the actual, regularly scheduled lecture, and hence, the amount of material for which you will be responsible: You will still be responsible for the assigned material regardless of whether we cover it in class.
- If you work for me on a project, and you do a good job, I will write you a glowing letter of recommendation. If you work for me and do a lousy job, I will write a letter that, while not direct, will let the program or job you are applying for know what kind of a student you are. Remember that things like, “She was often on time,” or, “From my conversations with him, it is clear that he very much wants to go to graduate school,” are not really compliments.
- And, please, if you liked my class, if you feel that it changed the way you think, if you learned a lot, if you were challenged, please tell me. Because people in our economy face limited resources and time, seeing the lights go on for you is what keeps me going. I love teaching, and I am clearly not in it for the money. Actually, this last item goes for all your professors.