How to Talk To a Teacher – Bridging the Generational Gap

See this picture. It’s me and my college roommates – thirty years ago. When I look at this photo, I’m immediately transported back to the early 1980’s. For me, it feels normal. For you, it must seem antiquated. That age difference makes it hard for us to connect.

And yet, thirty years ago, no one was connected. There was nothing to connect to. I’d never seen a cell phone nor used a computer. My papers were typed on an electric typewriter. My housemates and I had one phone, attached to the kitchen wall with a cord that stretched three feet to the refrigerator. No one I knew had an answering machine. If a guy you liked said he’d call, you sat by the phone and waited. If you went to a college party, you had no idea who was there until you arrived and no evidence of the night’s shenanigans were captured electronically. This photo was as bad as it got. Personal information remained personal and ‘sharing’ was a behavior learned by nursery school kids. If a better party was happening somewhere else on campus, you’d never know, so you didn’t care. The party was wherever you were at – as this picture proves.

Pants sat above your hips (I submit my stonewashed jeans as evidence), undergarments remained hidden, sneakers had not become collectibles, flip flops were strictly a beach item, tattoos were unthinkable unless you’d been to prison, music was played on a stereo system with giant speakers. Check out the size of the black box behind my head. If someone told me they had earbuds in 1980, I would have suggested they see an ENT.

Rap music hadn’t gone mainstream. The term ‘urban lifestyle’ hadn’t been invented. Hair was big, shoulder pads were enormous and MTV played the same three music videos.

I’d never heard the letters ATM until I got my first real job after college. If I wanted money, I had to wait on a physical line to cash a check. No one lived at home after college and parents were not considered your friends. First week freshman year, you waited by the payphone to speak to your parents. If your family’s phone was busy, you waited until the next week.

If I wanted to speak to a teacher, I had to show up in person and hope the line outside their door wasn’t too long. Teachers couldn’t fire off emails to a class or post announcements on an e-board. My questions were prepared ahead of time so I could get the most out of my five minutes of face-to-face time. If I had to leave a teacher a note, I proofread it and included a formal salutation and close. I never called a teacher on the phone, and obviously, I never sent a teacher an emoji.

In class, students listened carefully. PowerPoint slides were not made available before or after class – or ever. There was no such thing as electronic slides. Teachers talked and students wrote notes. Lots of notes. With little else but our notes to go on, textbooks were very important. We bought them, we read them, we carried them to the library to study, we high-lighted the important parts in neon green and then we prayed the bookstore would buy them back after a  semester of serious abuse. I hope you didn’t miss the guy sitting on the couch in the back of this picture. He brought his textbook to a party!

So – is it hard to talk to your teachers? Of course it is. Our college experiences are formed by our generational differences. This makes our interactions difficult. Lots of times, I just don’t get what students are trying to tell me because their approach is based on their fast-moving electronic world. In my college world, circa 1983-1987, parental contact and support was limited, information was hard to come by (no google), distractions were minimal (no cell phones or YouTube), and class time had value simply because we had little else available to earn a good grade.

Here’s my advice. If you need help from a teacher, show up to their office. Email conversations with a teacher are often doomed for failure. Speak slowly. Introduce yourself. Be prepared and thank them when you’re done. Resist the urge to check your phone. If you want to take notes on your computer, have it booted up before you walk into the office. Don’t talk about your family. In fact, don’t say anything personal. If your teacher is distracted by their own cellphone or email, then they’re probably not much older than you. In which case, you’ll get along just fine!

 

 

Should Attendance Count?

Attendance is a tough topic for me to discuss because I’m not sure I agree with the current educational theories related to showing up for class. Logically, attending class should result in better grades because if the teacher is teaching and you’re listening, then learning should occur. Hopefully, the time spent at the desk will rub off and result in correct answers on tests. Conversely, the less time spent in class might result in fewer correct answers. For that reason alone, students should be motivated to attend class. I’m on board with this type of thinking.

My real question has to do with earning additional points for attending. Should attendance, otherwise known as the act of being present, count as points towards your grade? Check your syllabus. Are you earning points for attendance? Or rather, are you losing points for not attending? What if you got a 100 on a test and then lost points for not attending? Would you be angry?

Before you answer, remember that attendance is not participation. Attendance is nothing more than arriving and leaving at a prescribed time. What you do for those minutes in between, is up to the student. You might be the type of student who attends and pays attention. But what about that kid next to you? He’s sleeping and earning an equal amount of points. It’s like those old diet commercials that tried to convince people they could lose weight while they slept.

I don’t particularly like giving or subtracting points for attendance but teachers seem to feel that those extra brownie points act as a motivator – they get students who wouldn’t ordinarily show up to attend, regardless of their level of consciousness.

So – I pose the question to students. Points or no points. Let me know.

 

 

Cut The Cord

Last week I had a meeting with my boss. I couldn’t make it so I had my mother call and explain my absence to my boss. Then, I had a doctor’s appointment that I couldn’t keep. I didn’t cancel the appointment and the doctor was going to charge me for the visit anyway! I had my mother call to get me out of the penalty payment. It worked! She’s a tough one, my mom. Finally, I got pulled over because my car’s inspection was overdue. I whipped out my cell phone and had the cop talk to my mother. He was shaking in his boots.

I feel a bit guilty asking my mother to cover for me, but I’ve been doing it so long, it just seems natural. Most of the time, I have to lie to my mother to get her to do it, but she always believes me. In fact, sometimes she pretends it’s me when she calls on my behalf. Oh! Remember that meeting I missed with my boss? I told my mother I was sick, but I really just overslept.

Do these scenarios sound ridiculous to you? Of course they do. I’m an adult. Why would my mother make excuses for me when I’m perfectly capable of taking the heat on my own?

Word to the wise – do not have your mother call me to get you out of an assignment, test or paper. Having a parent intervene for you, sounds as insane to me, the teacher, as the fabricated stories above.

As always, this blog is inspired by my everyday teaching experiences.

What to Wear at Your Internship

I  was at the post office today. An intern, a young woman, no more than twenty, was at the desk assisting a full-time postal worker. You may ask how I knew the young woman was an intern. I knew because she had a plastic name tag that said ‘Intern’ pinned to her sweater. I noticed it. Everyone waiting on the endless post office line noticed it. In fact, we were all talking about her name tag.

It wasn’t the generic moniker, “Intern,” that caught our eye. It was the placement of the name tag. Apparently, the Postmaster General or Deputy Postmaster or the Assistant to the Postmaster General or whoever runs the post office, made the intern clip her blouse shut with the name tag.

Clearly, an uncomfortable moment had transpired, and I imagined the intern was mortified that her clothing choice was rejected and then awkwardly modified. The tag was practically choking the poor girl. I’m guessing this fashion fix was hurriedly accomplished as the “I” was pointed down and the final “n” was titled up toward her shoulder. The man next to me shifted his head to get a better read and then blushed when he realized the purpose of the tag’s placement.

What can I say about dressing for your internship? Here goes. If you feel good about your outfit, change immediately. What you think looks good, probably looks too good. You’re there to represent the company and its products or services. Check out how your co-workers dress, and then dial it back about ten notches.

My Five Favorite Words

 

If you really want your professor to like you, try these five words.

 

“What else do you teach?

 

Like a fine bottle of wine, this question needs time to age. If you throw it in too early, it won’t ring true. I recommend saving it up until the end of the semester. Why? Because it implies a tangible action that benefits the professor. Registration is open and you’re about to pick classes. Teachers’ need to fill their classes, especially electives. Your question is exactly what they want to hear.

 

Consider this –compliments are perishable. They’re gone the minute you walk out of the classroom. Asking a teacher what else they teach is a compliment with a complimentary commitment. It’s like down payment and timed correctly, it will leave your professor with a positive feeling about you.

 

And that can’t hurt during final exams. So mark your calendar now.

How To Get A Teacher To Like You

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A student stopped by to catch up last week. He told me his name and shook my hand. I looked at his face, and then I drew a complete blank. He seemed nice enough, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember him. And yet, there he was, talking about my course with a comfortable familiarity.

 

Had I completely lost it? Was it possible I had overlooked this student all semester?

 

I carefully looked down at my lap and was relieved to find I wasn’t wearing pajamas or yesterday’s clothes or anything that might explain why my memory had utterly failed. I went along with the conversation for a few seconds, nodding politely, and then I came clean.

 

“Do I know you?” I asked.

 

         “I’m taking your class,” he replied. “Next semester.”

 

         “Next semester? You mean in September?”

 

         “Yes.”

 

         “And you stopped by to meet me three months before the class starts?”

 

         “Yes.”

 

All right kid, you win. That’s right. You’re my new official favorite student of the Fall 2015 school year. I still don’t remember your name, but I’ve got all summer to check my fall rosters and figure it out.

 

Note to all other students – anyone that takes the time to voluntarily meet their professor months in advance is winning some serious brownie points. Now you may think that this move, executed beautifully by the student, was designed to influence me.

 

It was. And it worked.

 

How To Email A Teacher

 

 

In a world before email and texting, students were required to appear, in-person, during office hours, to ask a teacher a question.

Try it sometime, but don’t be surprised if the interaction is awkward. Students always seem to think their visit is disturbing me. Not true. The only reason I’m in my office is so you can come in. And when I say ‘come in’, I literally mean – come in. Most students linger by the doorway as if my office floor is paved in hot coals. And that empty chair next to my desk? It’s not an electric chair. It’s there for you, so we can sit comfortably and talk.

As a result, most students opt for email, especially when the question involves something negative. Missed a test? Forgotten homework? Half-written paper? Excessive absences? Who wants to sit inches from their teacher’s skeptical frown while they discuss their dog’s homework eating fetish?

If you choose to go the email route,  here are TEN commonly used email tricks a teacher will quickly dismiss.

 

TEN EMAIL PITFALLS TO AVOID

  1. “I stopped by your office, but you weren’t there.”

 

             No you didn’t, so don’t say it.

 

  1. “I couldn’t make it to class today 🙁   So I’ll be handing my paper in tomorrow!”

 

          “Not for you to decide.”

 

  1. “I put my paper in your box. Just wanted to make sure you got it.”

 

           “See above. If the paper was due during class, don’t assume the teacher will take it just because you wrote it in an email.”

 

  1. “You haven’t confirmed you received my paper. You must have missed my first email where I sent you my paper as an attachment. I’m resending the paper now.”

 

            No again. The missing email strategy is a red flag especially when it arrives a few days after a due date.

 

  1. “I understand this paper is late and you won’t give me a grade. I just wanted you to read it so you know that I tried my best.”

 

             What? I was planning on reading the dictionary today!

 

  1. “About my absences, I just wanted you to know that it’s not you. I really like your class.”

 

           Whew! I was worried about that.

 

  1. “I was going to email you earlier, but I didn’t know your name.”

 

           Okay, now my feelings are hurt.

 

  1. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to come to campus during this weather, so I’m emailing you my paper. Due to the weather, it’s little late.”

 

  How do you think I got here? On a magic carpet?

 

  1. “Here’s my paper. I had to email it because I overslept!”

 

   Then why didn’t you hit send before you fell asleep?

 

  1. “Here’s my paper!” (attachment missing)

 

  Here’s my grade. 0%

 

Ooooh, that’s mean on my part.

 

The missing attachment scenario actually happens quite often. When it does, I’ll email a student back immediately and let them know they forgot the attachment. However, if the student doesn’t respond within a few hours, I have to assume there was no paper.

All comments welcome!

What’s The Point Of Teacher Evaluations?

 

Twice a year, most schools ask students to fill out a teacher evaluation form. These standardized forms  give students the opportunity to rate their teachers on topics such as clarity, organization, level of difficulty and responsiveness.

 

Whenever I mention that the forms are available, my request is met with a bunch of eye rolls. It’s like a bag of marbles fell out of someone’s backpack and I’m stuck trying to justify the significance of teacher evaluations while tripping over a green agate.  I’m sure from a student’s perspective, you start to wonder where all that survey information ends up. Does anyone even look at the results? Do the results matter? What happens if I say something mean about a teacher? Will they know it’s me?

 

Let me tackle the topic of anonymity first. If you just fill in the bubbles, then I won’t know it’s you. However, if you choose to write something in the comment box like, “She hated my paper on the cultural impact of rap music,” then I can probably guess it was you. What can I say, I’m just not a rap fan. Luckily, teachers don’t see the results of their evaluations until the next semester so your grade is safe, but your paper is still lame.

 

The surveys really matter when the teacher you are evaluating is not a full time faculty member or possibly an un-tenured faculty member. In this case, a teacher’s job could be on the line and any input you can provide is helpful, as long as it’s honest. So what about those tenured professors.  If you’ve never heard of tenure, think of it as a life sentence with no chance of parole. Tenured professors become Teflon professors during the teacher evaluation process. There’s nothing you can say in those surveys that will threaten their position.

 

On the flip-side, I’m a tenured professor and I do read and consider students’ comments. Early in my teaching career, a student said I favored male students. It was an important comment and I worked hard to fix that perception, especially since I thought I had favored the females!  Another student said I wasn’t open to interpretations other than my own.  Wow! That’s totally me. I’m a ‘my way, or the highway’ kind of teacher. I’ve since attempted to correct for this, but only in a way that gives me complete control of the conversation.

 

The one thing I refuse to do is give students extra credit for filling out a teacher evaluation survey.  This is a common practice, but it feels like I’d be paying you to say something nice about me. Hmmm, maybe I should reconsider this last point. While I’m thinking about it, maybe you can take a look at the photo I chose of a teacher favoring a male student. This might be the worst stock photo I’ve ever purchased. Why is the teacher’s ponytail on his shoulder? Why does she even have a ponytail? And don’t get me started on that creepy baby hand reaching for the guy’s back.

Interpretations about the photo are welcome, because as you know – I’m open-minded. And by the way, please fill out your teacher evaluation forms!

 

 

 

 

Missed Class? You’ll Never Beat This Teacher’s Excuse

I love the Monday after Spring Break. The class is half-empty and the students that have shown up are in a good mood.  I actually enjoy teaching on the day after break because it feels like a secret club – the group that stayed home, the non-travelers. We binged watched our favorite shows in our pajamas and ate bowl after bowl of ice cream. We may be pale, but we’re not losers. We’re Staycationers! We’ve shown up on the first day back simply because we never actually left.

That magic is broken as soon those adventurous, traveling types start filtering in during the next class.  They’re all tanned and happy and ready to hit me with their best-ever excuse justifying why they missed the first day back to school.

This year I decided to out-excuse even the best of the bunch. The Friday before classes resumed, I had a rib removed — not from my porch chop dinner but from my own personal rib cage. It was extraordinarily painful, but medically necessary. I appeared for class on Monday, down one rib, for the sole purpose of winning the super-excuse Olympics. My only goal was to prove that I could show up for class even in the worst of situations.

Here’s some snippets from the post-Spring Break week.

“Your favorite grandma? I’m so sorry for your loss. I had a rib removed.”

“Your plane was delayed? Wow, that’s an inconvenience. I had a rib removed.”

“You had the flu? You must feel horrible. I had a rib removed.”

“You had sun poisoning? Ouch! I had a rib removed.”

“Your car broke down? I WALKED TEN MILES WITH A MISSING RIB TO GET HERE!.”

 

Okay – that last one is a bit of an exaggeration, but like the game, MadLibs, I’m offering the following challenge. Please fill in with your best excuse and we’ll see if you can beat me.

 

(Your Excuse Here)      VS            I had a rib removed.

 

I’m apologizing to two of my students who also used their spring break vacation time for an actual operation! We’re even.

 

 

 

 

 

 

College Excuses

As Spring Break nears, I have to prepare myself for the onslaught of ridiculous excuses used by college students to squeeze out another day of vacation.

 

To be fair, let’s assume that if your grandmother is alive today, there’s a good chance she’ll still be alive next week which means you’ll be able to return to school when classes resume.

 

Next, let’s assume you most likely will not contract a Caribbean virus like Dengue fever that prevents you from boarding your return flight. In addition, there is no evidence to suggest that passengers can’t fly with a severe hangover.

 

Another point. Consider the circumstantial evidence when you present me with your excuse for missing an extra day or two of class after break. If you’re tan and relaxed, I’ll be less likely to believe that your boat, flight or car was hijacked by island pirates.  I’m also less likely to believe you were hospitalized if your tan is still golden. And as far as missing luggage goes, I don’t care what you wear to class as long as you show up.

 

My most favorite excuse for returning to campus late was told to me by a fellow teacher.  It’s so insane, I’d almost like to accept it since technically, there is supportive evidence.

 

                                            “I couldn’t get back in time for class. I was getting plastic surgery in a foreign country.”

 

If you’ve got a whopper of a lie you ‘d like to let us in on, please share!