• August 30, 2014

Welcome to My Classroom

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Brian Taylor

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Brian Taylor

Good morning, everybody. My name is Rob Jenkins, and I'll be your instructor this semester. You can call me Mr. Jenkins or Professor Jenkins, for now. After you get your first essay back, you might want to call me something else.

Just kidding. I'm sure you'll do fine. I can promise you this: If you put as much effort into taking this class as I put into teaching it, you'll definitely learn something. Whether or not that effort translates into the grade you want remains to be seen. But we'll talk more about that later.

Believe it or not, I've been teaching this course for 25 years. If you have no trouble believing that, please keep it to yourself. When I started teaching, in 1985, students did all their written work by hand. No one had an e-mail address. Cellphones were the size of psychology textbooks and cost almost as much. Of course, as technology has advanced, I have too. So please, no handwritten essays. And no giant cellphones.

Over the years I've also learned a lot from my students, which has occasionally led me to change the way I do things. That's right, I learn from you. Students are always guinea pigs, whether they realize it or not. But you can rest easy, knowing I've already made most of my mistakes on the thousands of students who preceded you.

Probably.

On the other hand, I do still use a lot of the same activities and assignments I used 20 years ago, because they work. Besides, why waste a perfectly good set of mimeographed notes when the ink is still readable? Anybody know what a mimeograph machine is? Never mind.

Anyway, enough about me. Let's talk about you. The first thing you need to understand is that, as far as I'm concerned, you're all adults. Of course, some of you are literally adults, with jobs, families, and mortgages that are now worth more than your house—just like me. But even if you're a 17-year-old dual-enrollment student, while you're in my class you're an adult, and I intend to treat you as such.

Conversely, I expect you to act like adults. On a practical level, that means you have a great deal of freedom. You don't have to raise your hand to speak. If you need to use the restroom, leave early for a doctor's appointment, or have some other type of emergency, you don't have to ask my permission. Just quietly get up and go. I won't penalize you.

Nor will I penalize you for being late to class once in a while, or even being absent, beyond the natural penalties that accrue as a result of your missing class time and activities. Unlike some of your other professors, I will not withdraw you from the class for excessive absences. If you want to withdraw, you'll have to do it yourself before the deadline. Otherwise, if you simply stop coming, you'll wind up with an F in the course.

You should also know that, according to several recent studies, students who attend class regularly earn, on average, one full letter grade higher than students who attend only sporadically. If you don't know what "sporadically" means, you should definitely come to class.

Along with considerable freedom, being an adult also carries a great deal of responsibility. You're responsible, first of all, for displaying good manners, being considerate of others, and generally not being a jerk. That means you won't interrupt other speakers, including me. You won't routinely be late to class, or regularly leave before it's over, because that's rude. And you'll keep your cellphone turned off, unless you have some really good reason to leave it on, such as your mother is in the hospital, your partner is about to give birth, or the Braves are playing in the World Series.

Moreover, you are personally responsible for everything we cover in class, whether you're here or not. I don't mean that unkindly, but please don't come up to me and ask, "Are we going to be doing anything important on Wednesday?" Of course we're going to do something important on Wednesday. Otherwise, I wouldn't be there either.

And please don't ask "Is it OK if I'm absent on Friday?" or "Is it OK if I leave early?" As far as I'm concerned, it's neither OK nor not OK. I prefer you to be in class all the time, for the simple reason that I want you to succeed in the course. But it's entirely your decision. You're an adult. Do what you have to do. You don't need my permission, nor will I give it. Just remember that you're responsible for all the material.

Likewise, please don't stop by the lectern before class to say, "Can you tell me what we talked about on Monday?" No, I can't. We talked about a lot of stuff on Monday, and I spent an hour and 15 minutes on it. There's no way I can recap that for you in the 30 seconds before class starts.

Besides, I did my part. I went over the material, as promised on the syllabus. It's now your responsibility. If you have a legitimate reason for your absence—not an excuse, but a reason—such as a documented illness, a death in the family, or the Braves' losing to the Mets (which is kind of like a death in the family), then come by and see me during office hours and I'll try to bring you up to speed. Otherwise, I recommend that you exchange e-mail addresses with two or three classmates and agree to share information if one of you has to be absent.

Is everyone clear on that? In this classroom, we're all adults. I promise to treat you like an adult, and you agree to behave like one.

OK. Before we turn to the syllabus, let's go back briefly to the subject of grades. I'm sure many of you have seen the comments on RateMyProfessors saying that I don't give many A's. That's true. I don't. And for a very good reason: There aren't many A students.

If you'll look at the college catalog, you'll see that "A" stands for "excellent." The fact is, few students are truly excellent. I don't mean to hurt your feelings by saying that, because I know many of you have been told all your lives just how excellent you are. But you see, the root word of "excellent" is "excel," which means to surpass all others or to stand out. By definition, not everyone can surpass all others. If everyone stands out, no one does. No doubt you are bright, as indicated by the fact that you're here. But it's unlikely that, as I begin evaluating your work, more than a few of you will actually stand out.

On the other hand, while not everyone can excel, a lot of people can be good. You may have also noticed, on that same RateMyProfessors page, a number of others commenters who said it was easy to get a B in my class. That's not a contradiction—although I wouldn't say it's exactly easy. But it's certainly very possible. Because, going back to the college catalog, B means "good." And if you're smart enough to get this far to begin with, you're probably smart enough to do well in the course, provided you show up and work hard. In other words, while only a few of you will legitimately excel, most of you can be good if you want to be, in which case I'll have no trouble assigning you a B.

Now that that's settled, let's take a look at the syllabus. And by the way, just so you can adjust your expectations, I probably will keep you here the entire 75 minutes today. That way, when somebody shows up at the next class meeting and asks if we did anything in the first day of class, I'll be able to say, "Absolutely."

Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. He blogs at www.academicleaders.org and writes monthly for our community-college column. If you would like to write for our regular column on faculty and administrative careers at two-year colleges, or have a topic to propose, we would like to hear from you. Send your ideas to careers@chronicle.com.

Comments

1. pterodactyl123 - August 25, 2010 at 07:52 am

Many CC students show up and work hard. I'm sure this is true for students across the educational spectrum. Sadly, though, showing up and working hard is rarely enough to earn a B grade.

Students must also be prepared to go beyond the classroom and get help with their weak writing skills. They must be prepared to do college-level research, to think critically about issues, and to write in a way that demonstrates their understanding and synthesis of a range of ideas. In my experience, showing up and working hard usually earns a C.

2. robjenkins - August 25, 2010 at 08:33 am

You may be right, pterodactyl123. But I've found holding that B grade out as a carrot to be a very effective strategy over the years. I still probably give more C's than B's, but I think students are motivated to work a little harder if they believe they have a legitimate good chance to get a higher grade.

Rob

3. robjenkins - August 25, 2010 at 08:34 am

Sorry--should have eliminated "good" after "legitimate" in my editing of the last comment.

Rob

4. pterodactyl123 - August 25, 2010 at 08:50 am

That's a good point. I've heard that it is very important to set high expectations from day one.

I just dread the end of the semester, when some students come back and say, "I worked hard. I should have gotten a better grade in this class." I know they did work hard. I know it hurts to be "average" or even "below average." But I see where you are coming from and I may try that myself tomorrow.

5. karenrlow - August 25, 2010 at 10:05 am

I wish that other faculty members would adopt this view of class attendance!

6. szgoldberg - August 25, 2010 at 10:55 am

I am strongly considering posting the article on the Moodle for my students to contemplte.

As a chemistry professor when I present the first law of thermodynamics it is necessary to discuss the concept of work as it applies in physics. If one tries to move a heavy object and exhausts oneself but the object does not move no work has been done.

Grades of A, B, C, D, and F do not necessarily correlate to the nonexistent college grade of E for effort.

7. sherbygirl - August 25, 2010 at 11:35 am

This is going up on Blackboard for all of my students, regardless of their level.

Thanks. This is perfect.

8. rufuscoltraine - August 25, 2010 at 11:44 am

Thank you for this; I was glad to find some of our classroom practices similar, particularly concerning attendance.

The most notable error made my many of my colleagues is that they take themselves too seriously. While we might be 'experts' in our particular field, aside from a few Nobel winners, we are as unknown and irrelevant in daily life as the next guy. Make mistakes, laugh at yourself, and get ride of that God complex.

9. umfogler - August 25, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I've been giving a similar spiel for years, but never as well or as humorously. Thanks!!

10. jeffteacher - August 25, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Very nicely written, and I'm sure that all of us who teach at community colleges can relate. I almost always enjoy your columns, BTW.

But I have a question. Do you really think students listen to this? Does it sink in?

Because my impression of first-day lectures in community college classes is that they tend to intimidate those students who are already intimidated, and go completely over the heads of those student who, perhaps, need a little intimidation.

11. jcksn - August 25, 2010 at 03:35 pm

Well done. I'm posting this on my Blackboard site today as well.

12. 22235933 - August 25, 2010 at 03:38 pm

Holy Moly!

I give a speech very similar to this every semester, almost word for word in places, especially regarding the impression that my course is an "easy A". I tell students that I'm an "easy C" - that if they want to kick back, take it easy, try a little here and there, they'll get by with a C. The A is a challenge to get and only the best manage to get there.

As far as whether or not it sinks in - I'm less concerned. I'll correct students as they come to me. Already I had a student's mother email me explaining that their daughter would not be in my class because of traffic and another asking for permission to attend the Glen Beck rally.

And I said to the latter, it's not my place to tell you to be in class, only to explain that there are sometimes consequences for being absent.

13. crazyfrog - August 25, 2010 at 08:35 pm

Excellent! Thanks for sharing, Rob. I will share this with my colleagues and students too. I have said many similar things on the first day of my classes but one thing I gain from this essay is to remind them that they're adults and what follows from that.

14. 11161452 - August 25, 2010 at 09:38 pm

Hey, if you have to ask permission to go to a Glen Beck rally, you are not a true Beckster, right? "Live Free or Lower My Average a Letter Grade"? It's unwieldy and wouldn't fit on the hate poster.

15. ralphelton2 - August 26, 2010 at 12:27 am

I don't "give" grades, but I am a recorder of the grades that my students earn in my classes and most earn less than an A.

Also, I explain to my students that they can do what they want with my class(es) as long as they don't disturb or disrupt anothers opportunity to learn (example: sleep-can't snore; skip class to attend a game, concert or other nonacademic event, etc.)because they are adults, but they will suffer the consequences of their own actions.

16. fruupp - August 26, 2010 at 02:15 am

Rob wrote: "If you need to use the restroom...[j]ust quietly get up and go."

This is a mistake, in my experience. Once students know they can just get up and "go to the bathroom" without permission, they'll abuse the privilege and turn your classroom into Grand Central Station. They're just looking for a reason to leave the room, and they'll take their sweet time coming back.

My classes are 80 minutes, so an "adult" should be able to sit for that long without having to go. I tell them that, yes, they can go, but they can't come back, a policy that drastically reduces the (disruptive) traffic in and out of the room. All of a sudden they don't really "have to go."

17. performance_expert2 - August 26, 2010 at 05:41 am

I wish this was an address to members of the US Congress.

18. mkopelow - August 26, 2010 at 06:10 am

I wonder if others find your norm referenced approach to grading troublesome. By implication an "A" performance changes from year to year. After 25 years I would think you could identify ( and share ) a set of criteria for an "A" that if achieved would be rewarded. Then achieving such a grade may become a conscious decision and goal of students rather than an accident of birth.

19. welgersma - August 26, 2010 at 11:57 am

In the world of writing what is an 'A" and is it important? Writing is a process, our students hear this repeatedly. After we publish, we review the piece and know some parts could be revised. Regardless of whether we like this, grammar continues to morph so an "A" a number of years ago may not work today ie:
no one took their books to class. When did pronoun/antecedent agreement disappear? It is almost there according to Joseph Williams.
Learning-- not writing movitated by grades. Perhaps if academia in this country could get back to the value of knowledge, not grades, our students would value learning for learning's sake. Idealism? Absolutely, but I have had some brilliant essays written by less than what are considered brilliant students who put the grade aside to express themselves.
Thanks for the article. I may not agree with all of it, but I like it.
Bill

20. dank48 - August 26, 2010 at 04:16 pm

Welgersma, the third-person plural has been used for the third-person singular indefinite for centuries now, to the chagrin of schoolmarms everywhere. Aside from being accepted by everyone but pedants, it's invaluable for avoiding the more awkward "her or his" constructions.

Language changes. As William Safire put it, "When enough of us are wrong, we're right."

21. mmccllln - August 26, 2010 at 04:56 pm

As an adjunct history teacher at a local community college, I give a similar oration to my classes on the first day. Since history tends to be a throwaway subject in high school, too often taught by a football coach, my students have very little background on which to build.
On the first day, I go through a series of photos of important people in American history to gauge what the students do and don't know. This past Monday, upon showing a picture of George Washington, one student's remark was, "that's the dude on the dollar bill." Neither he nor his classmates laughed. The others nodded in agreement.
This will be an interesting semester.

22. posull - August 26, 2010 at 05:09 pm


I agree with much of this talk, and love the respectful tone of an adult-to-adult conversation. I have said much the same before and I think it's an important message. I would quibble with several of Rob's policies ... for example, I do not use a grading procedure that is "curved" or based on arbitrary criteria (achievement relative to peers in that class). I think that we should know enough to establish clear expectations for superior work on down through unacceptable work and then let students earn the grade regardless of any percentage. Perhaps I'm overinterpreting Rob's approach, and if so I apologize -- he may do much the same but has found over the years that few can actually demonstrate excellent work.

However, I would also hesitate to use this for my Day 1 talk. This seems to promote a first-day-of-class experience that is dominated by the instructor talking -- and talking about rules, policies and syllabus details. That has been the standard for some time (and I too followed that tradition for many years) but I've come to see that first day as a valuable opportunity to connect with the students and to connect them with the coure content. I want them to leave on Day 1 excited about the course content, ready for the challenges, and curious to return to see what they will be doing next class. Reviewing a syllabus, grading procedures and course policies tends to be a predictable, sleep-inducing demotivator. I can do that out of class or via podcast or syllabus quiz, etc. Instead, I recommend that we use the first day (even the first moments) to delve directly into the core of the course ideas, and help students understand the ways that this course and their achievement in it will be of value to them beyond a grade and into their career and life. If everyone else is giving the standard syllabus review, that makes my class look even more dynamic and generate more positive atttidues among my students relative to my colleagues. Just some food for thought.

Patrick

23. josieham - August 26, 2010 at 06:42 pm

Perfect ... much of what you say is what I've been saying for the past 25+ years. I like the "Braves in the World Series..." will have to use a similar comment... I also add "... you are an EMT..." and have had several students telling me they are... I think I saved some mimeographed copies - will have to drag these up to show my students ...

Thanks for a smile ... and a feeling of comraderie...

24. robjenkins - August 27, 2010 at 12:04 am

jeffteacher:

I think most of them listen. The part about grades gets their attention from the start, and I try to work in a little humor to string them along. In the end, very few of them come up to me during the semester and ask "What did we do last week?", so I guess they're hearing me.

fruup:

I've been giving some version of this speech for close to 20 years, and I've honestly never had a problem with a lot of students just getting up and leaving. And I don't necessarily agree that adults can "hold it" for 75 or 80 minutes. I, for example, have a problem with kidney stones, so I drink a lot of water, which means I have to, uh, you know, pretty often. I try not to get up and leave during a meeting, if I can avoid it, because I know it's rude. But sometimes I just gotta go. Also, having been married for 27 years and having a daughter (now an adult), I know there are times when women really need to get to a restroom.

Like I said, I haven't had any problems with abuse. I've found that the vast majority of students--even 18-year-olds--appreciate being treated like adults. It's what they've always wanted, and if they know you have that expectation, they'll try to live up to it.

Rob

25. juliewhite - August 27, 2010 at 09:01 am

This, along with the poem, "Did I Miss Anything?" will be a part of my welcome this semester! The poem is at: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/013.html

26. sharonmurphy - August 27, 2010 at 10:42 am

You have a nice way of putting things into perspective, Rob. And then there are the students (and parents) who claim to value "real world" experience while complaining about penalties for late assignments, low grades and class preparation that demands reading and (gasp!) library work. "Not all that theory, I need real world experience," as more than a few of us have heard.

27. robjenkins - August 27, 2010 at 04:03 pm

Thanks, sharonmurphy. And thanks to all the other posters, including those who were, uh, constructively critical. I definitely appreciate the immediate feedback this forum provides.

Best of luck to everyone as the new semester gears up.

Rob

28. i40fred - August 27, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I can't count the number of times I have said those things about being an adult and having never done anything important in class. In fact, your article inspired me to create this 80-second video of an exchange between an oblivious student and his sarcastic prof. Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9qTZFd2Eww

29. moronicox - August 28, 2010 at 08:28 am

As a student who reads assigned homework ahead of time, arrives at class on time, does not ask for grade adjustments, or play on his cell phone during class, I'd like to give some feedback from the other side of the classroom, as the large majority of responders here are professors who have merely had their own modes of operation confirmed and their backs patted.

First, this is a speech that the majority of professors I have had the pleasure of knowing have given at day one. Though many of you may think yourselves humorous and original, the myriad of comments like "I give a speech very similar to this every semester, almost word for word in places" should indicate otherwise, at least for the originality factor. As for humor, listening to this kind of speech the first day of class is as exciting as watching paint dry, as enjoyable as hearing nails scratch a chalkboard, and as enlightening as listening to a teenager's view of life.

Why? The tone is patronizing, of course, which makes the message of "equality" all the more hypocritical to even the most dedicated student. Secondly, to those who might just achieve that A, the professor becomes yet another drone in the army of teachers who emphasize form over function. Grades, formats, and class attendance trump ingenuity, understanding, and implementation of knowledge.

When a professor spends his or her first class dwelling on this, it makes the class focus not on learning the material, but instead upon achieving a higher grade. A grade is merely a representation of what a student has mastered, just as a diploma has no meaning outside of the knowledge that sits between its owner's two ears.

These symbols are important, but they should not take away focus from what they symbolize.

All that said, I know many of you get worked half to death for students who don't give a rat's can and expect the world on a silver platter. It's a disease that seems to be present in the majority of America's youth at present. Obviously, a good bit of what has been said in response to this piece has been affected by the frustration that has likewise led to the creation of a clip like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9qTZFd2Eww , posted by i40fred.

This kind of frustration and irritation leads to animosity towards students in general, with caring students becoming casualties to both their ignorant and irresponsible peers and their tired and irritated teachers.

All in all, I would point to the post by posull as a great recommendation to professors around the world as how to address their students effectively on the first day.

30. formerprof05 - August 28, 2010 at 02:14 pm

Having delivered opening talks much like Rob's for many years, I eventually stopped. Why? Because moronicox has it exactly right: the tone, despite attempts at humor, is patronizing and therefore gives the lie to expressions of equality of adult-to-adult relationships. I stopped giving such talks after a truly adult, mid-30s student told me that she found my approach to be arrogant. I thanked her and acted on her advice.

After some 40 years in the classroom and contending with hordes of 18-21 year-olds who care nothing for core courses in the humanities, I understand and share the frustration that dogs many of us. But before you distribute or deliver in person such a talk, please ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it merely to unburden yourself of past frustration, to think better of yourself, to forestall similar frustration in the future? If so, the "talk" might be counterproductive. Perhaps it is just better to outline your policies in the syllabus, absent any condescending humor, and respond to any questions that students might have.

Please think about how you might feel if your dean delivered a similar talk during faculty orientation. If it wouldn't work for you then, it might not work for your students either.

31. robjenkins - August 28, 2010 at 08:20 pm

I suppose some of my students over the years might have felt patronized or condescended to, but I don't think so. Not many, anyway. Overall, my experience with community college students has been that they find this approach to be a breath of fresh air, after being told by their other instructors to turn off their cell phones (or else they'll be confiscated), to behave themselves (or else they'll be removed from the class), not to miss more than three classes (or else they'll be withdrawn or fail), and not to be late (three "tardies" count as an absence).

Notwithstanding the number of posters who have noted that they give speeches similar to mine, I believe the other type of speech is more common at many two-year colleges--which is why they have the reputation among traditional-age students of being "13th grade": their "professors" treat them much the same way their high school teachers treated them. For these students, the presumption of adulthood, with its attendant freedoms and responsibilities, is a significant and welcome change.

As for non-traditional students, they're often filled with anxiety as they attempt to balance family and work with school, and they're greatly relieved to learn that they can miss a class, be late, leave early, or take a phone call if they really need to. Taking responsibility for whatever work they might miss is an acceptable trade-off.

Rob

32. tbozeman - August 30, 2010 at 08:04 am

Wonderful first day speech.

33. lurkskywalker - August 30, 2010 at 08:30 am

Enjoy this funny piece posted on a Midwestern college teacher's blog about students showing up for class. It is absolutely priceless:

http://myfallsemester.blogspot.com/2008/10/showing-up.html

34. denisefoures - August 31, 2010 at 01:11 pm

Thank you so much for caring about the future of students and making a point of asking students to do their job! If we want them to be successful we need to set high standards to get them there. Are we there yet........?

35. terrypruettsaid - August 31, 2010 at 05:45 pm

For those of you who think the opening day speech isn't necessary, i beg to differ at the community college level. Many of our students are totally unfmailiar with the way college works. They don't realize they won't be given time in class to study, don't know they have to buy books and other materials, and don't know they can go to the bathroom without getting permission. In many years of teaching, I've only had a few students abuse this. While some teachers go on way too long, and others come across as arrogant, for many CC students being in college might as well be being on the far side of Mars, and they appreciate someone telling them how college works.

36. jovanevery - September 02, 2010 at 02:44 pm

Not that anyone needs another kick in the pants but if readers of this article are under the impression that adjunct positions will eventually lead to TT employment and that is the only reason they are taking them, they can safely stop doing that.

Visiting professor positions and post-doctoral fellowships will look good on your CV. Unfortunately, too much adjunct teaching will make it harder for you to secure that coveted secure position. Better off taking other forms of low-paid work that allow you energy and brain space to actually finish the dissertation (if it isn't finished yet) and get some articles submitted for publication.

37. gdynner - September 03, 2010 at 08:21 am

This whole discussion makes me sad. I teach at Sarah Lawrence College, which has "grades" but manages to deemphasize them by stressing written evaluations. I have never had a complaint about grades; only a request for clarification or reconsideration of one aspect of an evaluation. I can honestly say that whatever motivates my students- intellectual curiosity, ego, career goals, etc.- it is not grades. And I've received far better work here than anywhere else I have taught, some of it beyond belief.

38. katemohler - September 03, 2010 at 04:08 pm

I, too, find the tone of this article patronizing. That's not to say that I haven't run some of this by my own students; sometimes I feel forced to put these rules and "insights" out there. I think we as instructors can certainly come up with something better than what Jenkins has to say. I address this topic in my blog post "Hate For Teacher" at http://www.hotdishing.com/2010/08/hate-for-teacher.html

I welcome all comments!

39. nehringbliss - September 06, 2010 at 11:08 pm

I agree with those that find the tone of this 'welcome' patronizing. And agree with posull that its necessary to engage students right from the beginning with the course content and not bombard them with rules and regulations that turn off even the most eager learners.

It is my experience that students will come to class, do the work, and meet or excede the course outcomes when they are are engaged in a meaningful learning experience. Students can read class policies and course outlines on their own time. It's up to us as designers of the learning environment to value the precious few minutes we have as a group and to inspire thinking through active classroom practices. just my two or three cents.

40. goddess60 - September 08, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I find this professor's First Day lecture very interesting. I wonder how many student's give up on the first day to succeed in his class since he has told the class that he does not have confidence in the majority of the students that they can do excellent work. The message I hear from Mr. Jenkins is why bother to work hard when it will not matter, especially if there is a student with low self-esteem.

It is my belief that it is up to an educator to assist their students in blooming and becoming all that they can be instead of casting doubt on their ability on the very first day of class. I can remember being a student and hearing those very words, which did nothing to make me want to work harder. As a student and now as an educator those words automatically put the students in a one down position and the instructor as omnipotent.

p.miner, msw, adjunct instructor

41. robjenkins - September 08, 2010 at 05:40 pm

@goddess60:

So, in your view, nothing less than an A qualifies as "succeeding"? I think I had you in my class a few years ago.

As a professor at a large, urban/suburban community college, I find that most of my problems come from two types of students: those who think "A" stands for attendance--that is, if they just show up they deserve an A--and those who come into the class scared to death, thinking there's no way they can make a good grade. The second group, by the way, is usually much larger.

Let me clarify briefly what I mean by "problems." Students in the first group get angry and complain anytime they get a grade lower than an A, which is most of the time. They're constantly telling me how they made A's in high school English or that their tutor read this paper and said it was an A. Students in the second group are angst-ridden and needy, hanging around the podium before class and dropping hints about how they really need to pass.

Of course I don't mind dealing with those students as they come to me throughout the term. That's part of the job. But I've learned over the years that I can diffuse some of the problems early on, by addressing those two groups directly on the opening day. To the first group I say: No, you're not going to get an A just for showing up. It's hard to get an A, and it should be. To the second group I say: Yes, you can do well in here. If you work hard enough, you could even get a B.

My experience is that students in that second group (and at a community college, there are an awful lot of them; I don't know about Sarah Lawrence) are usually encouraged by my words. The students in the first group, meanwhile, are rarely discouraged. Not enough, at least.

And how about the students who don't fit into either category? Well, that's who the jokes are for.

Rob

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