by Col. Phil McNair
Contributor, In Military Education
Let’s conclude our four-part series on classroom tactics with a dual view of what going to class is all about. On one hand you take classes to gain knowledge. Ideally you leave college having learned something – perhaps quite a lot – about a field of study that you are interested in. Let’s call this the academic view.
On the other hand, on a very basic level you go to class to meet specific requirements for your degree. Whether you actually learn anything in class or not, you still need the grade and credit hours for your transcript, right? Let’s think of this as the mechanical view.
Together these two perspectives define a successful student, one who learns something and also earns the grades necessary to achieve his educational goals. Certainly there are those who don’t care about grades and only seek knowledge. If you fall into that category you might want to simply audit classes, which is usually cheaper and normally does not require one to take exams or do other work necessary for a letter grade. Of course, your classes won’t count towards a degree either, so let’s assume here that you are in fact interested in both knowledge AND grades.
To effectively learn the material presented in your classes and acquire knowledge requires a student to have a certain skill set. Good study habits, time management, note taking, pre-exam reviews, active listening, classroom participation, well, you know the drill. There are numerous web sites that can provide tips and techniques in this area. For example, here are three that are worthy of your attention.
But here in our discussion about classroom tactics we’re focused more on the mechanical view, that is, how to maximize your chance for a good grade regardless of whether you have actually learned anything or not. This may sound blasphemous, but let’s be honest. You really want that grade, right?
This brings us back to a recurring theme in our discussion: the professor. Because your professor is the one who awards your class grade, you need to think about how to make your professor think most positively about you. Sure, your actual numerical score on exams, for example, will affect your grade, but much of college grading is done subjectively by the professor. In other words, the professor’s opinion really matters in the grading process, particularly on such assignments as research papers, essay-type test questions, classroom participation and discussion postings online. In matters of subjectivity you will help your chances for a good grade if your professor has a good opinion of you.
So, how can you affect your professor’s view of you in a positive way? Let’s review what professors like, and what that means to you.
– Professors like respect and courtesy. You should address them as “professor”, or “doctor”, if appropriate, and always interact with them respectfully. Don’t call them “Bob” or “Mary” unless they specifically request that students use their first name. You can disagree with them or challenge them (many like that) but be sure you do so in an academically proper manner.
– Professors like work that is submitted on time, so be sure to turn in your assignments by their due date. If you anticipate a problem, discuss it in advance with your professor.
– Professors like good writing. If you have trouble in this area, seek help. Libraries often have writing resources for students. By all means, take advantage of the writing tools available in your word processor, such as spelling and grammar checkers. And please, do yourself a favor and proofread your work before your submit it or post it. Better yet, ask someone else to proofread it.
– Professors like good classroom interactions. Don’t take your frustrations out on other students, or be a bully. Express your opinions thoughtfully and courteously. Don’t be the student who disrupts class by disagreeing violently and inappropriately with the professor or another student.
– Professors like students who have something to contribute. Before you start to write your weekly discussion post or prepare your notes for a classroom discussion, think about what you are going to say. Citing outside sources can be useful here, and show that you cared enough to go the extra mile.
– Professors like good questions, not petty challenges. If you have an honest question, especially one for which the answer could benefit the entire class, by all means ask it. Or if you have a real question about assignment instructions, ask it. But don’t get into an argument with your professor over his instructions or guidance – that will be viewed by everyone as childish and unhelpful. If you really don’t understand an assignment after asking questions of your professor, consider reaching out to a fellow student for an interpretation.
– Professors like to be appreciated. Tell them thanks from time to time. Say something like “I enjoyed your lesson last week”. You don’t need to ingratiate yourself, just be pleasant about it.
– And finally, professors HATE plagiarism and cheating. Just don’t do it.
The bottom line is that you should try to make it easy for your professor to give you a good grade. If you are on the fence between an A- and a B+, you want your professor to think “Gee, Mr. Smith was a very engaged and pleasant student, so I’ll just nudge him up to the A-”. Ideally you will have also gained the knowledge you needed from the class in addition to earning a good grade, and that makes you a successful student!
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