Campuses around the country are getting ready to open for the Fall 2013 semester. Students are buying books, checking out schedules and class locations. Professors are organizing desks, planning lessons, and working to ensure that this semester is one to remember. In the spirit of having a great semester, I offer you the following list, so that you can benefit from my successes and failures.
RJB’s Top Twelve List for a Good Semester
1. Introduce yourself. Many of your students want to know more about you. Tell them why you teach.
2. Bring extra pens. Yes, they need to come to class prepared. Sometimes even great pens run out of ink.
3. Have a sense of humor. Laughter is the best medicine, stress reducer and ice-breaker. Keep in mind, however that sarcasm often comes across with an edge of anger or aggression. It usually fails miserably.
4. Do not judge a book by its cover. Some of your most creative, engaged students may offend your sense of decorum. They probably don’t appreciate your “comfortable” shoes or your bow tie, either.
5. Show respect; don’t ask for it. Respect is one of those things you gain by giving it away first.
6. Be flexible. Life happens. In these stressful times, our students have much to contend with, economically, socially, and emotionally. A little flexibility may make a difference between succeeding—and giving up.
7. Don’t confuse flexibility with enabling. I believe part of our jobs as educators is to help prepare our students for their futures. For example, if an employer wouldn’t allow you to hand in all monthly reports in one heap at the end of the year, I would suggest it doesn’t help for you to accept all of your assignments in that fashion.
8. Be engaging. “It isn’t our job to entertain students.” That might be true. It is also true, however, that media—social and otherwise—competes for their attention and in many respects is better at it than we could ever be. To successfully facilitate their learning we must capture our students’ attention. Have we invited their participation? Do they see the course content as relevant to their lives or career choices? Is it interesting?
9. Be accessible. Your school may have an academic center, graduate assistants, tutors, and or study circles. Yet students sometimes struggle because they don’t think they can approach YOU. Offer your help, and be available to them.
10. Demonstrate fairness. All of us want to be treated fairly. Sadly, fairness is a very difficult concept to demonstrate; people sometimes view circumstances as unfair when they do not benefit or are harmed in some way. I suggest that in the classroom setting, fairness entails transparent policies, consistent application of the policies, and a willingness to listen to everyone’s request for flexibility. (See #9.)
11. Stay current. Some of my least effective (and most comical—at least to me) moments have come from using examples from the wrong year. Or usually in my case, the wrong decade: The Betamax, the laserdisc, New Coke, rotary phones.
12. …but not too current. There is nothing more hilarious in a sad, pathetic way than me using the language of my students. Or more accurately, TRYING to use the language of my students. Don’t do it. Whatever you say will be yesterday’s lingo anyway.
To all my fellow educators, have a great Fall semester. Let’s get jiggy with it! (See #11 and #12).