The Commerce Journal

Opinion

January 26, 2012

Columnist provides college semester survival guide for fellow students

COMMERCE — As a second semester senior at Texas A&M University-Commerce, I’m used to the opening day routine. After all, this is my eighth time going through it. There are themes that have remained constant through my four years as a Lion, even as the people, places and subjects change.

You can tell what kind of semester you’re going to have on the first day. There are easy professors, there are very difficult professors, and there are a great many in the middle. Most professors allow laptops only for notes and drinks only if they have a lid, don’t like texting on cell phones, and adhere to the university’s three skips and you’re dropped attendance policy. At least, that’s what they tell you on their syllabus, which they read to you because, as a college student, you can’t be expected to read yourself.

In reality, most professors don’t care about drinks or food, don’t police laptops, and won’t drop you if you skip more than three times. If they’re really easy, they don’t even mind if you text openly in class or come very late. These instructors are usually graduate students or professors without tenure.

Then, there are the professors that don’t allow laptops, and they mean it, won’t let you into class late, will kick you after three skips and have unique punishments for using cell phones in class. One professor I know will actually take a cell phone if it goes off in class and, at times, answer it. In another class, every time a cell phone rings, the entire class takes a pop quiz.

I don’t mind these more hardcore professors. After all, if spent a sizeable chunk of time and energy preparing a class with the intention of actually disseminating that information effectively, I would do my upmost to prevent any unnecessary distractions.

These requirements usually only have a minimal effect on how attentive you are to them, how interested you are in the class, how much time you spend on homework, and how many times you attend class. The number one factor that determines whether or not students attend class on time, prepared and attentive is the instructor.

Granted, some class material simply won’t interest every student. Regardless of how awesome you are as a teacher, there will be a handful of students that simply don’t want to participate. But good teachers can take less interesting material and make it interesting to the student. Good teachers will have students attend class because they want to, not because there is some kind of strict attendance policy. Students wouldn’t dream of texting or surfing the internet in a class taught by someone who is engaging, knowledgeable and, most importantly, excited about their subject.

The most difficult classes to be successful in are the ones taught by professors that obviously don’t want to be there. Professors and instructors, put yourselves in the shoes of your students. After all, you were students once. Do you really think reading off of slideshows is a great way to communicate with students? If all you’re going to do is give me facts on slideshows, email me the slideshow and cancel class. I want to be engaged, challenged, etc.

There have been a handful of professors and instructors in the dozens of classes I have taken that have fit the above description, and I have learned more in these classes than in all the other combined. The professors and instructors create a strong following among their students, and teach classes that are full to the brim. Students recognize good teaching, and the vast majority of them respond positively to it.

New technology, stricter teaching environments, and the latest teaching tools are all well and good, but one truth will never change:

The better the instructor, the better the class and the better the students.

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