Tips from the Teacher

It’s after Labor Day, and most schools are once again in session. When my daughters went off to college, I gave advice about balancing bank accounts, safe sex and getting along with roommates. And I offered them a few suggestions about what I know best:  How to please a professor. Of course, there’s the obvious – do your work and go to class. All successful students do that. But there are other, more subtle ways to make a positive impression on someone who makes a final judgment on you. I’ve taught at a university for decades, so here’s some tips to make any academic star shine a bit brighter. (This works for high school students as well)

1. Get a good seat.  In most classes there’s a choice on where to sit.  Come early the first day and sit up front. In a large class, aim for the T-zone: across the front or in a line up the middle.  Students who are sitting in the very back by the door are sending a message: I want out.

2. Look engaged.  Even if you’re not the least bit interested in European history at eight in the morning, fake it. Don’t yawn open-mouthed. Don’t read e-mail or the newspaper. Don’t pull a cap down over your eyes and hunker down in your seat.

3. Work hard on the very first paper you hand in. Study hard for the very first test you take. Your teacher doesn’t yet know who you are.  Set the standard with a great first impression.

4. Talk in class. Make a resolution to say at least one thing the first week of class. Show you’ve read the assignment. Ask intelligent questions.

5. Talk in class. But not too much. Don’t hold forth just to make yourself look smart. Don’t become that person who always has an answer – even it’s the wrong one.

6. Come on time.  Making an appearance after class has begun is distracting and rude.  Many teachers begin their classes with important announcements that stragglers are sure to miss.

7. Make up work you missed without calling attention to yourself.  Never email a teacher and ask:  “Did I miss anything?”  You did.

8. Make a connection.  Teachers have office hours for a reason.  Visit to ask for help or to clarify a point you didn’t understand.  Stop by sometimes, just to add something to the conversation about a topic discussed in class.

9. Appearances count. Especially on the work you hand in.  Proof-read anything you write.  Remember that spell-check can’t do all the work because it misses homonyms like too/to/two or their and they’re and there.

10. If you have a special problem, let your teacher know. Teachers are people, too.  We can make accommodations for someone with a disability, a health problem, a family emergency.  But we can’t if you don’t tell us.

Teachers have their favorites. Don’t ever think we don’t. But often our favorites are not the smartest ones in the class. They’re the kids who try hard and who seem grateful that they have the opportunity to learn.