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Monday, November 8, 2010

The Worst Question to Ask a Professor!

In all the years I have been teaching in higher education, there is one question that Professors never want to be asked.  Students who miss a class pose the question "Did I miss anything important?"

The answer is yes.  You missed something important.

If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to find out what you missed. If you are lucky, the Professor posts PowerPoint presentations and/or class notes on a class website.  However, many Professors do not do this for a variety of reasons.  Here are some steps to follow if you must miss a class.

First, contact the Professor as soon as you can to let her/him that you cannot be in class.  Be sure to read the syllabus.  Professors will usually inform students of the missed class policy.  For example, you might discover that you cannot individually turn in work that is completed in groups during a class period.  You might find that you must contact a Professor within 24 hours of missing an exam or you cannot take a make-up exam.  The syllabus also might state how many absences you can have before it negatively impacts your grade -- if you miss three classes, your final grade will be lowered one letter grade.

Second, be sure to have the names and contact information of at least three students in your class.  These students can provide you class notes and important announcements.  Do not ask the Professor for her/his notes.  It is very rare for a Professor to copy notes for students and some do not use lecture notes!

Third, review the notes and ask for clarification from the student(s) who provided you the notes.  If you are still uncertain, contact the Professor.  You should let the Professor know that you have reviewed the class notes from another student (or two or three!), but you still had a few questions.  The Professor will be most impressed by your initiative!

Again, be sure to read the syllabus about attendance policies.  You certainly don't want to end the term with a lower grade because you did not understand the Professor's attendance policies!  You might consider your situation unique.  But, I can assure you that your Professor has probably encountered a student with a similar situation previously.  Therefore, it is unlikely that a Professor will bend in their attendance policies.  Professors develop such policies to make sure that all students are treated fairly.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why a Syllabus is Important!

Over and over, I hear Professors say they wish their students read the syllabus.  In fact, some Professors have resorted to having students sign a contract indicating they have read and understand the syllabus or  have students take a quiz on the syllabus content. Why do they have this wish?

The syllabus is designed to provide students relevant information about the course.  This information usually addresses frequently asked questions about the course.  Most syllabus will include:

  1. Contact information for the Professor -- name, office location, phone number, email, and office hours.
  2. Textbook information
  3. Course Description with course objectives
  4. Topic areas by week or day
  5. Assignments -- readings, homework, exams/quizzes, papers and so on.
  6. Classroom Policies -- late work, attendance, mobile phone use and so on.
As a student, you are responsible for reading and understanding the material in the syllabus.  If you do not understand something after reading the syllabus, then it is appropriate to ask the Professor.  The syllabus is seen by many Professors as a contract with you.  Therefore, if a Professor indicates in the syllabus that you need to contact him/her within 24 hours of missing an assignment, it is your responsiblity to know this and do so.  If you do not, than you must accept the consequences of your inaction.  So, before contacting your Professor about a question, first review the syllabus to see if it has already be answered in the syllabus!

If it is in the syllabus, it is important to your Professor!  Professors are most impressed by students who have read the syllabus and then ask clarifying questions. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Professor Can't Teach! What Should I Do?

Like it or not, you will have professors who can not teach or teach in a way that you learn best.  What are your options? 

If you attend the first day of class, you might find some hints on how well the professor teaches.  Be sure to look at the syllabus.  Is the syllabus clear?  Is it organized?  Do you like how you will be graded?  Is the final grade calculation clear?  Are homework assignments included?  Who is the Professor?  What are her/his credentials?  When you walk out of the first day of class, you should have a clear understanding of the course requirements and how to be successful in the class.  If you dislike something, you should consider withdrawing from the class and looking for an alternative Professor in the future. 

Unfortunately, you may find yourself in a position where withdrawing from the class is not an option (the Professor is the only one who teaches a course and/or your schedule will not allow you to take the class at a different time).  If this is the case, it will be up to YOU to learn the material independently.   This might require you to read the course text/material and additional material suggested by your readings.  I recommend that you take notes on your readings and identify difficult concepts/ideas.  Work on developing specific questions for your Professor to answer in class (you should continue to attend class!).  If this fails, you might be able to further clarify difficult ideas by seeking out reputable websites on the topic.  Sometimes a University/College will have tutoring labs.  Can you locate a tutor?  Other Professor's might be able to help you to understand difficult material -- just be sure to make an appointment.

Remember, Professors are not often trained on how to teach.  In higher education, it is your responsibility to make certain you are learning the material.  It will mean extra effort on your part, but it can be rewarding! 

Monday, May 24, 2010

How should I Address a Professor?

Understanding how a professor wants to be addressed can be difficult to determine. If you are uncertain, you should address your professor as Professor LastName. You will always be correct in using this form of address.

If you know your professor has a doctorate (e.g.,PhD or EdD), you can refer to her/him as Doctor LastName.

If invited, you can refer to your professor by her/his first name.

You can usually find clues on a course syllabus regarding the professor’s preference. If you see your instructor is “Dr. So and So” or “So and So, PhD,” it is my recommendation is that you refer to her/him as Doctor. If her/his name is simply “So and So,” your best bet would be to refer to her/him as Professor.

If the syllabus indicates they are a graduate student, graduate teaching fellow, teaching assistant or so on, he/she will probably be ok with being addressed by her/his first name.

The underlying theme is to be respectful, always. It generates positive feelings and behavior between people.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why a Professor is Not a Teacher!

Most people teaching in higher education institutes consider themselves professors, not teachers. Teachers are usually associated with K-12 educational settings. Teachers have been specifically trained in the methods of teaching and learning. Most of the curriculum teachers take in higher education prepares them for teaching many subjects. For example, if someone becomes an early childhood educator (K-3rd grade), they have been trained to teach a variety of subject matters – reading, writing, mathematics and so on. If they are becoming a secondary education educator, again, they tend to take a limited number of classes in their specialty areas – natural science, mathematics, and so on, in addition to courses on educational theory.

In contrast, professors have not been formally trained as educators. They have not been specifically trained in teaching methodologies or educational theories. Instead, professors have spent many years being trained in a specialized field. Most professors will have advanced degrees (Master’s or Doctorate) in a specific area – Biology, Political Science, Sociology, Psychology, English and so on. They are professional biologists or professional political scientists. Furthermore, professors may have specialized in a specific area within a field. For example, a biologist might have specialized in zoology or anatomy and physiology or marine biology. Professors are considered Experts within a field of study, very much like medical doctors who have been specifically trained in the field of medicine.

Do not refer to a college-level instructor as a teacher. Refer to her/him as a professor.

A Very Old Problem!

A professor’s frustration with students is not a new problem.  I hear the same complaints from professors’ year-in and year-out.  It is often the little mistakes that a student makes that lead to bigger misunderstandings with professors.  Usually, these mistakes occur because the student is acting out of habit based on prior experience in the education system.  Certainly, higher education uses the same props as primary and secondary educational institutions – classrooms, textbooks, teachers/professors, tests/exams, papers, and so on.  Thus, students new to higher education enter the environment in much the same way they approached all other educational settings.  They do not make a distinction between a professor and a teacher.  For professors, this is an important distinction!   

Every year professors have the same complaints regarding students.  Professors wonder why students do not read the syllabus – because they don’t understand why it is important.  In order for students to succeed, they need to be introduced to the Mind of the Professor! 

This blog explores some very old complaints that professors have about students.  I will explore complaints and explain why the professor has this complaint and what students can do to make interactions with their professors more successful.

I hope if you are having difficulty with a professor, you will post to this blog and I and my colleagues will try to assist you in resolving the issue!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Welcome to My Mind

Any student entering higher education is required to make a transition. Part of successfully making the transition is to understand the expectations of professors. Unfortunately, this information is not readily available to students. Information that is available is not comprehensive and offers mere glimpses at the mind of a professor. Often times, information is passed from student to student without the underlying reason for a professor’s behavior/expectations being explicit. Students understand that they should go to class, take notes, pass exams, read the text, write papers. This blog explores the many idiosyncratic behaviors that are exhibited by professors and the logic behind these behaviors. Hopefully, this will help students avoid misunderstandings with their professors.