In another week, my Baby Girl and I will be off to her college orientation. In honor of that occasion, and the millions of teenagers just like her who will be embarking on their college careers this fall, I thought it might be helpful to review a list of things that you should never say to your professor/instructor. You might think some of these are painfully obvious. Once upon a time, I did, too. Then I lost count of how many times I heard these things, just in one semester. So here’s my Top 10 List of What Not To Say, Part I.
1. I wasn’t here on Monday. Did I miss anything?
I’m astonished at how this one persists, even though I’m utterly certain that every student has heard admonishments not to say this and the inevitable joke “No, we realized you weren’t here so we all went home” or something to that effect. First of all, it sounds as though you believe that life doesn’t really go on as usual in your absence. It takes a special kind of egocentrism to imagine that everything stops when you decide to go elsewhere—the kind usually only awarded to 3 year olds who are cute enough to pull it off. More importantly, though, the question is a little offensive. It implies that at least some percentage of the time what’s going on in class is useless—and that the instructor is well aware that it’s useless and is just doing it to fill time. You may not see the value of what’s going on in class, but you should at least have the sense to acknowledge that the instructor does. Frankly, we just don’t have the time or energy to waste on thinking up busy work for you.
2. I wasn’t here on Monday. Can you tell me what we did?
Better, but still not ok. This assumes that something of some importance went on in your absence, so that’s a step in the right direction. It took 50 minutes for the rest of the class to go through whatever it was that happened on Monday; what makes you think I can distill it down to 2 minutes for you right now before class starts? You might be brighter than everyone else in the room, but I’m guessing you’re not THAT much brighter. If it were possible to cover the material in 2 minutes, that’s what I’d have done on Monday.
3. My flight leaves on Wednesday afternoon for Spring Break. Is it okay if I’m not here that Friday?
The short answer, of course, is sure! Knock yourself out. In Loco Parentis stopped applying the day you got that high school diploma, Snowflake, and I’m not your mom. Also, I don’t pay your tuition. You don’t HAVE to be here any day. You already paid for this class. What you’re really asking is, can I get credit for being here and still go on vacation early, and the answer to that is an emphatic no. Here’s why—the dates for spring break are set years, seriously, years in advance and are published. They’re on the school web site. They’re on your syllabus. They’re plastered all over campus. This is a little like saying to your boss “I’ve used up my vacation days, but I REALLY want to go to Cancun with my friends? Is it ok if I don’t show up for work next week?” The best answer your likely to get here is “Sure. It’ll make payroll that much easier this period if we don’t have to pay you for next week.” The likely answer is “Ok, but if you’re not here next week, don’t bother being here the week after, either.” You get a week off. If you want to take more, that’s up to you, but you’re not going to get special allowances to be able to do it. You’re asking someone else to do more work so you can go play early. That never goes over well.
4. How much do I have to write?/How many pages does this have to be?
Ok, I get that a lot of students ask this question because they’re anxious about doing well and want to make sure they’re putting in the right amount of effort. What this sounds like, though, if you’re on the receiving end is “This assignment is so far beneath me that I need you to tell me the minimum amount of effort I need to put in to get credit before I can move on to really important things. Like who Snookie is sleeping with.” There are a number of students who ask this question who are thinking this very thing (with some variation on the really important thing); you may not be one of them, but you sound like them when you ask this. There are better ways to get the information that you really want: “I’m trying to gauge the level of detail you’d like in our responses. Do you have a maximum page limit for this assignment?” or even “Would you mind looking over a draft of my response so I can get some feedback as to whether or not I’m on the right track?”
5. I just figured out my grade and it turns out I’m failing, which is a HUGE shock to me because I only missed the first 2 weeks of class and then those three days before break! I swear I’m a really good student and I NEVER do this badly in class. What can I do to get more points in the last 3 days before classes end???
Again, there is a short answer to this question and you probably already know what it is: Nothing. You had 14 weeks to prove to me what a great student you are, and you did. What you’re really asking here is that someone else do more work to make up for the fact that you did less than what was expected of you for the last 3 months. If you were truly that conscientious about your grades, I doubt you’d be this shocked, SHOCKED to find out that there’s a failing grade going on here. You’d have already known after the first test and taken steps to correct the problem then. How do I know? Because at least 1 of your classmates did exactly that.
I do occasionally hear this request for special extra credit from students who are doing very well in the class and want to create a buffer to be sure they get the highest grade attainable. My response to them is that I don’t report total points or even percentages when I turn in grades. The registrar asks for your assigned letter grade—that’s all. No one will ever know that you got a 99% instead of 105%. Honest.