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Practical Advice to Students




pedˇaˇgoˇgy (pĕd'ə-gō'jē, -gŏj'ē)
  1. The art or profession of teaching.
  2. Preparatory training or instruction.

[French pédagogie, from Old French, from Greek paidagōgiā, from paidagōgos, slave who took children to and from school. See pedagogue.]




1. Show up to every class and lab.
This one should be easy, but I cannot tell you the number of times that I noticed some marginal student not showing up to class. Good heavens, how can I give a student a break if they don't even care enough to attend my class? The distribution of missing students is always bimodal - it's either the very top or the very bottom students. The top students tend to miss class because they already know the material, while the bottom students miss class because...I don't know... they are sleeping off a wild party?

2. Know your professor's name!
This one kills me. Picture this, I am tutoring a student and am trying to get a sense for the class they are finding so hard. Often I will ask about which instructor they have, I know most of them quite well, and this will help me focus on the important aspects of success for that particular class. However, the student will look at me blankly (sometimes a bit sheepishly) and will tell me they don't know the prfessor's name. They might admit not showing up to class much, or if they do tend to show up, they will try to describe them!

     John <trying to help out a student>: "Who's your professor? Do you know his name"
     Student: "Well, he's an older guy, he looks like he's Chinese, or maybe Indian...he wears glasses sometimes....his name?
     John <thinking to himself>: "Aaaargh!"

Your professor might be teaching two or even three classes, and have 70~100 student names to learn, while you might have 4 or 5 professors at most. Learn their names! If you were really ambitious, you would read their home page, check out their research, and try and get to know them as a person. At the very least, this effort might make you enough interested in their work to make their monotonous teaching style a little more bearable. :)

3. Complain to the instructor in complete sentences, and use decent English and grammar.
Here is verbatim the worst email I have ever received from a student asking for help:

     hi professor,
     i am haveing a small problem this semester. i am leaving to play
     professional soccer this semester and wanted to finish my last smc
     elective. i was wondering f could work with you to finish up these
     credits. my ocunselor said it had to be up to you but it will be
     approved. graduationg is very important to me so you would be helping
     xxx xxxxx

Please tell me what you would do with this request. Seriously! Even more ironic was that the student screwed up the email and sent it to me when he meant to send it to another instructor. We all write emails that occasionally contain a spelling error or two. However an email like this can really present yourself as a basket case.

4. Let a suitable interval of time pass before complaining about grades.
I have a story about this one also. I was one of 3 teaching assistants for a large introductory computer programming course, each of us had our own sections to manage, but we had given the entire class the same midterm exam. We had graded the exams round-robin style, with each of us grading two complete problems across all three sections. Over the course of a long weekend, we had graded our own section's selected problems and then had met to exchange exams with each other. As a result, each of us finished up grading and had possession of a set of exams from a different section. Follow me so far, right?  Well, in order to save time, we decided that each of us would enter in the grades for the section we had ended with, and then would exchange exams that next week so we could return them to our respective sections. So I enter Joe's grades, Joe enters Tom's grades, and Tom enters my grades. You see the potential here, right? As a result of this method, the students get to see their grades online before I even get a chance to see their tests myself. No problem, right? Heh.

So there I am, basking in the glow of having finished grading and entering a whole wad of tests (each section had about 75 students) when I get an email from one of my students. They are complaining about their grade. They tell me that they did better than the grade reflected. Now, mind you, I haven't even seen the exams, let alone any of the students. I am fairly stunned. I mean, I could imagine a valid complaint AFTER the exam is returned, after the student has had time to look at it, but BEFORE the student has even seen it??? Oh, my gawd.....this was really the most amazing chutzpah I have ever experienced with regards to whining about better grades. The student insisted, via several emails back and forth, that he just knew he earned a better grade and why didn't I realize that and adjust his grade accordingly?? This one still amazes me. And as Dave Barry often says "I am not making this up!"