Preparing for the first day of class involves many routines. Figuring out what to wear, or showing up in what you slept in, is a common pre-class ritual. But before you wander in to choose your seat and look around to see if you know anyone, I am going to give you some “insider information.”
As a faculty member, I expect you will have questions on the first day. Let me respond to several of them before the first day. In fact, I list these questions in my own syllabus under the header, “Questions students will not ask in class.” Read the responses carefully. Knowing the answers will save you time, and possible embarrassment, as well as save your instructors a headache. Take notes — I will quiz you at the end.
When is it due and will you accept late assignments? This question has echoed through campus classrooms and hallways around the country. I have come to expect it and my time-tested response remains the same. Read your syllabus. I promise you that taking the time to read your syllabus will answer this and 99.9% of your questions on the first day. Trust me, I have been writing syllabi for years. So what about late assignments? Most instructors spell out their policies about late assignments and many times they do not accept late work with full credit given. Asking you professor about turning in late work, especially if this has been spelled out in the syllabus, will not change his or her mind. However, professors understand that every student may have a personal emergency during the year. If something like this happens to you, go and talk to your faculty member about it. Asking about accepting late work when you have not even turned in any assignments will not magically change a policy that has been established long before you entered the classroom. In closing, I beg of you to read your syllabus. I promise you that we, your instructors, do not write them for fun.
What kind of extra credit? The second most common question to cross a students mind and be asked in class relates to getting extra points added to a final grade. The concept of extra credit is just as it sounds. It is credit given above and beyond the total amount of points given in class. Professors are not required to offer extra credit. In my classes, I am less inclined to offer it if a student asks about it on the first day of class. Here’s why: I feel that many students think of extra credit as a safety net for their grades. Being offered a chance to get extra points in class was never meant to function as a grade savior. The possible points earned for assignments are spelled out at the beginning, and the work to earn them is explained as well. Focus on the coursework and do not hope for extra credit. More and more students seem to believe that extra credit is a standard part of the coursework — it’s not. Take the opportunity to earn it if it is offered and do not consider extra credit as a regular part of possible points in class.
What kind of test and will “it” be on the test? The answer to first part of this question could go one of two ways. First, see the first question in this article. Many faculty members will explain the structure of their tests in the syllabus. However, the second answer may surprise you: It should not matter. If you are in a math or science course and complete the equations in the homework, you will be prepared to do them on the test. If you have actively participated and listened to definitions of terms or events in a history course, then be prepared to write an essay about them. Simply stated, I believe students use this question to figure out what they will not have to do to prepare instead of figuring out what they will have to do. As long as students keep up with the reading, complete the homework and pay attention in class, chances are they will be prepared for the test no matter what the format. It is a matter of being confident that you know the material by being an active participant in all facets of the class, not how you will be questioned about it, that will make you successful on exams.
How many pages are required? This is another infamous question that arises on the first day of class. You may be tired of hearing this, but this question can be answered by reading the syllabus. But when it is not listed on the syllabus, it may not be an accident. The professor is giving you the ability to, as I say in my classes, write until you feel you are done. I see students cringe when they hear this. They still proceed to press me for a page amount. Again, it was just given to you. The limit is when you feel that you are done. Page limits tend to be arbitrary, and honestly, knowing a specific amount is not going to be helpful. Not being given a page limit is more freeing than students seem to think. If instructors continually give page parameters then students only write to that limit instead of thinking about it as a guide. So, don’t press for a page amount because you, as well as I, know that the amount given will not satisfy you. If you do see a page amount in the syllabus, view it as a guide and not a finish line.
Will you really? I have had many variations of this question and the pretense is always the same. In one way or another, students want to know if I will “enforce” the guidelines and rules set down in the syllabus and class assignments. The answer is “yes.” If a student’s phone rings in class, I have and will continue to answer it. Do not act surprised when you are held accountable. Students still feel the need to test the enforcement of guidelines in various parts of the syllabus. Absences are a prime example. Students will pose “what if” scenarios around the attendance policy to see what the flexibility is and I can say with confidence, and many semesters of teaching, that these scenarios almost never actually happen. Here is my response to the absence question: If it does happen, then come talk with me about it and we will see if something can be worked out. This is no guarantee, and understand that instructors are not out to “get you” with these rules. We are out to make sure you are learning the course material, being present in class and completing the assignments we lay out for you.
At one point or another you may have thought about, asked or listened as another classmate posed one or more of these questions to the instructor. I hope you will give these questions, and my responses to them, some thought before you ask them in class. As I am sure you’ve realized by now, the answers are not anything you do not already know. I also hope that by seeing the instructor’s perspective, you have a new understanding of these questions.
Now here is your quiz. The one and only question is…what have you learned?
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