Monday, May 4, 2009

Students Who Care... and some who don't

I've managed to irritate many students in my mass communication courses this semester. I do a little of that each semester. It seems more serious this semester.

I try to challenge students, to make them work hard, to make them feel accountable for the quality of their own work. I offer many hours a week to students who visit my office for help, advice, input on projects, etc.-- not just my advisees or those registered in my courses.

Last year, I was selected Professor of the Year at my university. I was honored and humbled, because the award was the result of a campus wide student election. We have dozens of excellent professors here at Winona State University, many of whom are deserving of the honor.

So, why are a few students irritated with me, more than in past years? It comes down to a couple things I say in the first week of classes and then hold firmly to those comments throughout the semester.

1.) In a journalistic article, if you spell a proper name wrong, the article receives an F.

It's simple. Check and double check names. Get them right. It's one of the biggest complaints people have about news media. It's lazy journalism. It's easy to check name spellings in a variety of ways. Perhaps the easiest and most credible way is to ask the person to spell their name slowly and clearly.

2.) Each assignment has a deadline. No extensions, no excuses, no late work accepted; Late equals F.

Mass Communication is a deadline business. When students graduate from our program, I want them to be prompt, professional, accountable. Try working in professional media, and miss a few deadlines. Better have some resumés printed, because the job search will be on.

3.) Show up for class. Miss more than two class periods in a semester, and the grade will suffer.

Students buy a product when they register for a course. They pay a fee and expect a quality product. You wouldn't buy a nice car then let it sit in the driveway. You bought a class-- drive it, every day.

In a 15-week semester, with a holiday or break day or two, a course that meets twice a week has about class 28 meetings. Miss three class periods and you miss more than 10 percent of the course information. It's not fair to expect the rest of the class to listen to material explained a second time for those who missed class. A professor shouldn't be expected to give lectures over and over for one or two people at a time.

My classes aren’t that difficult. They're challenging. There's a difference. I tell students I believe it is my job to make them uncomfortable several times each semester. It's in the uncomfortable spaces where learning occurs. If everything is easy and quick, they don't have to think, read, learn.

The recipe for success in my courses isn't difficult: show up, listen carefully, take notes, speak up occasionally, and apply what you hear in your assignments.

Since I instituted these class requirements, nearly every project is turned in on time, rarely is a name misspelled, and attendance is close to 98 percent. There's the occasional illness or family emergency, but those usually fall within the two classes per semester range. I consider this from the standpoint of expectations. I make my requirements clear in the first class meeting. Students can and do perform to clearly communicated expectations.

This semester, in the fifth week of the term one student had already racked up seven absences and turned in one assignment late. The project was poorly executed because the student hadn't heard most of the discussion of the theory behind creating an effective and memorable communication piece. I suggested the student drop the course because I saw little chance for a passing grade.

A colleague suggested that a college education is the one product some people purchase at full price hoping to get less than what they pay for.

Today, an email from a student who questioned my attendance policy contained this sentence: "I'm sorry my tardiness bothered you, if I was aware I would have put more effort into being on time." Yeeesh.

Thankfully, most students take their education seriously and challenge themselves to learn and grow and get the most value from their time in the classroom and the application of learning to their outside-of-class projects.

If my class expectations make me less popular with a few students-- but they help the majority learn and prepare themselves for careers or grad school-- I can live with that.


  1. I learned a lot in your classes, you have a great teaching style, and quite honestly going to class was a generally pleasurable experience.

    I think you are right to stick to your guns on these things, they are reasonable expectations that all work to the students advantage.

  2. I don't think those expectations are unreasonable. The real world is about professionalism and promptness. How does a college student expect to make it in the real world if they can't even be on time to class.

    Some day those students who didn't like the expectations will realize how minuscule those expectations were in comparison to others.

    I wish more professors would raise expectations.

  3. Almost all my Profs at St. Kate's had similar rules to your #2 and #3. I never took any Journalism classes, but #1 seems like a reasonable expectation.

    I had a Professor once who had all her students write down 2 "great" questions about the assigned readings to help facilitate class discussion. Every class we had to bring 2 questions, share them with the class and then turn them in for grading. It was the hardest assignment ever because she expected and only accepted "great" critical and well communicated questions. For the literary reviews, she required a 2 to 3 page review. If you went over 3 pages or under 2, she wouldn’t even read it. I’m a wordy person (as this lengthy comment probably indicates), so this was a great lesson in being concise!

    Some of the first year students would always leave the classroom grumbling about how tough she was. Having had a number of tough professors already I'd tell them "Yes she's tough, but she's tough with a purpose."

    Asking insightful and concise questions is a skill I use every single day in my professional life. Thanks to Dr. Fletcher’s high expectations, that skill is honed to perfection.

    I think you are right on target. Being "uncomfortable" is the only way people adapt, grow and learn (permanently).

    Maybe I should take one of your classes. Do you teach any night or weekend classes? I’ll put those irritated students in their place! J/K :)

  4. I agree whole heartedly with this blog, being one of your present students (in two classes during one semester), the time commitment is a factor that can make or break how you do in the class.

    The attention to detail goes hand in hand with attendance and performance in every class (especially with mass communication, because its focus is TO THE MASSES).

    I'm proud to have a professor that takes pride in his policies, because it teaches students the discipline needed to survive once we all leave this safety net of college.

  5. I can honestly say the professional world has no room for late work, misspellings and incorrect information. Errors like that cost thousands of dollars to fix! The threat of an "F" on a project is nothing compared to standing before your boss and trying to answer why something was late (which usually has a late fee) or contains errors. There is no small error in the Professional World.