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Ten Things That Drive Your Professor Crazy

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The start of fall semester is upon us. As I usually do in the fall, I am teaching Business Ethics, an undergraduate course. I look forward to this course because the mix of business with cultural mores, personal morals, principles and values has always intrigued me, and I have made it my teaching specialty. Besides, there always is plenty of fresh material in this field, which keeps the course relevant and generates lively class discussions.

What I don’t look forward to — even though I know they are inevitable — are the annoyances that are going to disrupt class and — OK, I’ll admit it — sometimes drive me to distraction.

Maybe I am crazy, but I imagine that many of my fellow faculty members all over campus feel the same way about at least some of the peeves I am about to put forward here. So I offer you this list of “Things That Drive Your Professor Crazy” in advance of the school year with the hope you will be kind, take pity, do yourself a favor, do me a favor, do all faculty members a favor — however you choose to think of proactively avoiding one, two or maybe even more of these pitfalls.

Here goes.

The No. 1 thing that drives me crazy is a student or students coming to class 20 or 30 minutes into an hour and 15-minute class. Part of what is annoying that if the student is otherwise conscientious, I have to fight the feeling that I should stop and bring that one person up to speed, which is another disruption that unfairly takes time away from the whole class.

Which brings me to: If you are 20 or 30 minutes late, I prefer you do not come to me immediately after class and ask what you missed. Ask your classmates. If they can’t tell you, arrange to see me during my office hours.

I hear you through Cyberspace: “But I couldn’t find a parking space!” I know. It can be a legitimate excuse. However, failure to find a parking space is a not routinely legitimate excuse. I had a student once who consistently showed up 20 or 30 minutes late to class. That is unacceptable.

No. 2: The second thing that makes me bonkers is looking into a sea of heads buried deep in their laptops. When I am talking and everybody is sitting behind their computers, I have no idea whether they are playing poker, checking Facebook or what. Students do need to poke their heads up every once in a while to let the professor know that they are paying some attention.

No. 3: People, you are in college; put your name on your assignments. When you have 50 students and somebody does not do that and you have to puzzle out whose assignment it is by process of elimination using the class roster, it is really annoying. If you have more than one paper without a name for the same assignment, it is maddening.

No. 4: Not reading the syllabus. I don’t know about most people, but I spend a lot of time preparing mine and answering questions. When someone asks me something that is just so obvious because it is addressed 50 times in the syllabus, I…I… Ay yi yi.

No. 5: The follow-up to Nos. 3 and 4 is get to know the system each one of your professors has in place. I often have TAs assisting me, and my students should be in email contact with them on a regular basis. I announce this in class, I put this in my syllabus. Don’t send me or your other professor up a wall by saying, in late October, “Oh, am I supposed to do that? You never said we had to do that.”

No. 6: I am ever hopeful that when I list an upcoming discussion topic and the reading the class is supposed to do to prepare for that topic, the majority of the class will actually read what they are supposed to — before class. Why is it then that I am always surprised by how many students do not do the reading? Or that I catch them trying to catch up by doing the assigned reading in class? This makes me nuts.

No. 7: We all have adapted to cell phones, and I don’t mind them in my class as long as you turn down your ringer and other sounds. Your politeness on this point does not mean, however, that texting during class is OK. It is not. Nor should you answer calls in class. No matter how quietly you may talk, you can’t talk quietly enough for me. Emergency? Step outside.

No. 8: No. 6 reminds me that if you come in late or have to leave early for whatever reason, please hold the door until the handle or push bar gently engages. Slamming doors and the loud gear-in-motion sound made by those bar mechanisms always, always distract me.

No. 9: I encourage people to talk in my class, to participate. However, no one in a class of 50 wants to hear from the same person every single time. Share the soapbox. Pass the mic. Encourage others to take the floor. Know-it-alls do nothing for my sanity.

Along the same lines, if you have something to say, say it in class. Don’t save your comments for me — and only me — and only after class. Usually, if this doesn’t incense me, it is going to irritate the incoming professor who gets the class next.

A final note on class conversations: We are there for civil discussion, and you need to recognize that not everyone grew up the way you did, shares your views or relates to the world as you do. Different is not better or worse; it’s just different. Don’t make me lose it by losing it yourself.

No. 10: Finally, and this is a big one, I go berserk when I don’t hear from students who are not doing well in my class until it is too late to help them. If you know you are not doing well or you suspect you are not doing well (in my class, if you are paying attention, checking the syllabus and checking in with the TA, you will know), get serious. And get serious before the last two weeks of the semester. Make an appointment to see me in person. I may indeed be driven crazy from time to time, but I care, and I will do my utmost to help you.

Diane McNulty

Dr. Diane Seay McNulty has been teaching at the Jindal School since 1987. She has served in a variety of administrative roles, too, including academic advisor before there was an advising office, and college master, the forerunner of the undergraduate dean’s position. She currently is associate dean of external affairs and corporate development. Read more articles

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