I have a lot of teacher friends. Not colleagues or coworkers – friends. I hang out with them on weekends and watch Packers games with them. Some are related to me, some by blood and others by marriage, so we share in family gatherings. And, yeah, we’re Facebook friends. Like anyone, they post about the joys and frustrations of their jobs occasionally (within reason – no name dropping or boss bashing). And some of these friends teach at the college level.
This post is directed at my younger readers – the teens who are not yet in college and the young adults making their way through higher education now. Kids, when I say I know what you need to do to get ready for college, it’s not just because I’ve been there before. I may also be friends with your future professors. They tell me things – things that probably should be common sense, but apparently isn’t since they’re dealing with this stuff on a daily basis. So consider me your inside source on college professors and take this well-meaning advice, both for your sake and theirs.
- Stop plagiarizing. Seriously. Stop it. I can’t believe I have to say this after all the lessons that I know you’ve already heard on the subject, but I hear about it from every professor-friend I have, so clearly it’s an issue. Plagiarism is academic fraud that will cost you at least a failing grade, if not stronger action. And no, you can’t go running to the principal begging for a second chance if it happens in college. The administration will not be on your side. You are not a poor victim of ignorance – you’re a cheater, and that’s not going to fly. If I can catch you plagiarizing, so can your professors. And they do. And then they post about how ridiculous it it is on Facebook. Regularly. So stop it.
- When your professors give advice on a project, listen to them! If they say you need to expand your topic, narrow your topic, change your topic completely – don’t ignore it! I hear so many stories about students who disregarded their professor’s guidance, and then they were shocked when they didn’t do well on the project. Professors are the experts, not you. They got to their position because they know what they’re talking about. If they say it’s a bad project idea, they’re probably right. Plus, it’s just common sense. Holy cow, people, even if you don’t agree with the advice, shouldn’t you cater to the person who will be assigning the grade??
- Proofread your e-mails to your professors. And then proofread them again. And then have someone else proofread it for you just to be safe. Check the spelling and grammar. Use proper punctuation. Be polite and respectful, especially if you’re asking for a favor. Do not, by any means, insult your professor, because it won’t help your cause at all. Include a proper greeting, and address your professor by their title, not their first name (see #4). Sign your polite, respectful, grammatically correct e-mail with the proper closing. Then, and only then, you can hit send. This applies for any e-mail you send, no matter how trivial. If nothing else, the way you write in an e-mail sends a message to your professor about your intelligence level. Do you really want your professors thinking of you as an idiot who can’t even use capital letters correctly?
- Do not assume your professors are your buddies. Do not call them by their first names unless clear and specific permission has been given first. I had one professor I had the privilege of calling “Ned”, but that was the exception, not the rule. Everyone else – even the most casual, friendly of professor – went by Prof. _________ or (when applicable) Dr. _______. It’s a matter of respect. Calling professors by their first name without their permission is a sign that you see them as peers, not the authority figures that they are. Treat them with the respect their position demands and deserves.
- Take notes in class. Your professor sees and notices when you don’t. Even if you don’t think you need them (and you’re probably wrong), taking notes anyway shows your professor that you take his or her class seriously. That way, when you need help later, they’ll be much more willing to work with you. I can vouch for this one myself, though I do hear about it from friends, too. If a student shows me on a daily basis that they care and want to do well, I’ll do everything in my power to help them when they need it. But if they blow off my class until the very end, and then beg me for help to bring their grade up, I’m much more reluctant. They didn’t care to do the work right all along, so why should I go out of my way for them now? So take notes. Look like you care.
- Finally, be an adult. Do not expect other adults to take care of problems or challenges for you. At age 18, you are an adult, so act like it. It doesn’t really matter how much you were coddled in high school. It’s time to grow up. Read – and keep – the class syllabus. Some professors put really important info in there. Keep track of assignments and due dates without expecting the professor to remind you every week. Some will, but some won’t. Some just put due dates in the syllabus and never mention them again. You’re still responsible for the work, even if they don’t remind you. Look up the course requirements for your major and take responsibility for figuring out your class schedule for each year. Don’t assume someone else will do it for you. When problems or concerns arise, set up meetings with your professors to address them face to face (it will help a lot if you’ve been a respectful, conscientious student all along). And I can’t believe I’m going to validate this by even bringing it up, but do not have your parents speak to your professors for you. You are in college. It’s on you now. Deal with it. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it’s intimidating. Deal with it.
That’s all I’ve go for now, but I think it’s enough. The joy and excitement of college is the new-found independence that comes from being on your own. But with that independence comes the very real possibility of bad decisions and consequences. I’m not writing this to judge or belittle anyone, especially young adults. I want the best for you. I want you to do well. And I don’t want to hear frustrated stories about you from my professor friends, because I think you can be better than that.