Professors' Pet Peeves
No. 107, August 2011
The fall semester has begun and I, along with thousands of students, professors and administrators across the country, have returned to campus. As syllabi are studied and college classes begin from coast to coast, college, university and graduate students alike should know that social savvy and personal polish begin on the first day of school. Just as future managers will have their own likes, dislikes and personality quirks, so too do your professors. Your ability to ascertain what is important to your teachers, and how to conduct yourself in their classroom, will translate directly to your transcript. But how to unravel the academic mysteries which are your professors? Here are a few helpful hints gleaned from my travels and from my academic associates.
Type A's Want A's: Professors want their students to do well, but as Professor Robin Judd from Ohio State University notes "I really want them to master the material. Instead of asking me how they can get an A, students should request 'studying strategies' or opportunities to submit work for me to read well in advance of its due date."
It's All Important: Professors understand that there are occasionally extenuating circumstances which prevent students from attending classes. However it is quite off putting as a professor to receive an email asking if there was anything important covered in class. If it was not important, it would not be part of the curriculum. Professor Jan Susina from Illinois State University would prefer an email stating "Sorry I wasn't in class today. Could you please let me know what information I missed?" Or even better, ask a classmate.
If At First You Don't Succeed: Professors put time, energy and effort into creating the syllabus for their classes. Professor Karen Southall Watts from Bellingham Technical College notes students "don't read the syllabus, so they don't know what to expect from a class. They begin assignments without reading the instructions, requirements or required readings, so they immediately get lost and frustrated." Be sure to read these and any assignment directions carefully. Like most things in life, coursework is easier when you try following the directions.
Typing, Texts and Tweets: Professors use electronics and the internet too. They know these devices can help or hinder students. For most classes, as Professor Eileen P. Acello from Immaculata University notes, "It is rude and distracting to others while I am teaching plus they miss out on the lecture being taught." Professor Jake Frederick from Lawrence University "actually had a student chatting on Facebook right next to me in a discussion and happily admitted the fact when I asked her what she was doing. Whether that irritates me or not, I have found out from a number of students that it really distracts them when a student nearby is surfing the web." Turn off your devices and tune into class.
Buddy, Your Ear Buds: Just as professors can see the Facebook screen reflected in your glasses, they are also able to spot the Bluetooth or ear buds in your ears. Professor Valerie Dibble from Kennesaw State University actually allows students to listen to music while working on their art projects, but is "annoyed when they have both ear buds in their ears so they can't hear me." If you can not hear the professor, why bother going to class?
First Names for Friends: Professors are professors due to their depth of knowledge and experience in their field. As such, they should be extended deference. As one West Coast professor said "I hate when students call me by my first name without even asking if it is all right. It feels like they have absolutely no respect for me." Even worse, as Professor Karen Mallia from University of South Carolina points out, is being addressed as "Hey!" If you do not remember your instructor's name, "Professor" will do.
Personal Grooming in Public Spaces: Professors understand that not every student will be attired in a business suit for every lecture, but dressed and presentable is appropriate. Lecturer Barbara Roche from The Wharton School was speechless when she "had one student apply finger nail polish while a fellow student was presenting a mid-term project." Grooming belongs in the bathroom, not the classroom.
Listen Past Your Life: Professors have knowledge and experience beyond your 18 years. When expounding a point during a lecture understand that the exception you may know of does not negate the rule. Professor Constance Gager from Montclair State University explains "while personal experience is important, it is not representative of the larger social context. I will lecture, on how 2/3 of wives do more housework than their husbands despite working full-time. And inevitably a student will raise their hand and say 'But my Aunt Jane doesn't do more housework than my uncle Joe?' They just don't get it!"
An Army of Acting Attorneys: Professors know college is tough. This is why they provide students with a syllabus at the beginning of the semester and offer office hours for additional explanations. What professors do not appreciate is students protesting grades for poorly produced papers. Dr. Linda B. Nilson from Clemson University explains "The students strategy seems to be to wear down their instructors, as the vast majority of the complaints are questionable, if not groundless." If you plan to protest a grade, it is best to prepare your defense and try submitting it in writing as whining does not work.
Exception to the Rule: It would be remiss in an academic discussion to leave out a counter point. Professor Joseph LaMountain from Georgetown University has an unusual take on students' bad behavior. He feels "If they're searching the internet in class, or texting or daydreaming, it tells me that my lectures are boring and I need to do more to keep them engaged. I appreciate this 'instant feedback' when it occurs and believe it has made me a better instructor."
Still not sure what tickles your professors' fancy and what just ticks them off? Search the syllabus for obvious do's and don'ts. Still stymied? Stop by office hours, introduce yourself and ask.
Here's to a great year!
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