My late stepfather used to say that anytime you get a new boss, you should ask what his or her greatest pet peeve is, then never do that thing.
I’ve relayed the story to many students. I’ve even used it as a lead-in to discuss some of my own pet peeves. Years ago I started using it to help students succeed in my classes and others.
Trust me, a lot of professors have the same pet peeves. Understanding mine (and those of some of my professor friends who contributed to the discussion) probably will help you in many of your classes. In the spirit of setting you up for success, here is this academic year’s 11 ways to tick off your professors.
1. LOSING OR FAILING TO READ THE SYLLABUS
Professors spend hours planning, updating and tweaking each course’s syllabus. We want you to read it and reference it repeatedly.
I spend an average of four hours on a syllabus, even if I’ve taught the class before. I take the document seriously because I consider it a contract between myself and the students. I outline all of my expectations in the syllabus and assume the document will help lead the students to success. Most other professors do the same. Yes, we actually mean what we put in the syllabus. These are the policies we will follow.
It really makes professors angry when students don’t read the syllabus and ask questions about items specifically addressed in the document. Keep it. Love it. Cherish it. Live it.
2. TAKING VALUE AWAY FROM CLASSMATES
No student should be allowed to impede another student’s learning. This most commonly happens when students make loud noises (on purpose) or talk to others during class. No professors like to compete with you for attention or for you to steal value from others.
3. INAPPROPRIATE USE OF TECHNOLOGY
Texting during class is my biggest pet peeve as a professor. It’s just so rude and distracting. It makes my head spin in a complete circle all Exorcist style. We’re not so important that we can’t make it through a single class without communicating via technology. Also, professor aren’t just talking to hear their own voices. If you aren’t paying attention, you’re missing something you need to know.
4. MISSING DEADLINES
Journalists work on deadlines. I teach journalists. There’s not much more to say about that. The due dates? They’re in the syllabus. See how that works?
5. Attending CLASS WITHOUT SUPPLIES
It makes no sense when students come to class without pens or paper. You will need to write something in every class session, and borrowing from your peers is just rude and distracting.
6. GIVING EXCUSES
Professors aren’t interested in hearing all of the reasons you can’t do something. Just do it. If you can’t do it, deal with the consequences. When I hear excuses, I automatically think “everybody’s got problems.” I can’t help it. My pity meter is broken.
7. BEING LATE
My father says, “if you’re five minutes late, you might as well be five hours late because it means the same thing.” It means you didn’t care. You think whatever you were doing is more important than what is scheduled. Being late is a sign of arrogance. Be reliable. Show up on time. Being on time sends the important message that you can be relied upon. It shouts competence, which professors love.
An important note: Putting your backpack and water bottle in a chair in the classroom does not make you on time. If you are not physically present, you are late.
8. Scheduling things during class
Contrary to popular belief, your professors have lives outside of the university. We have hobbies, other jobs (or other aspects of our jobs), families, appointments we need to attend, etc. However, we don’t schedule those things during class because… we have class.
Students shouldn’t schedule work or appointments during class. They certainly shouldn’t take off class sessions to pursue hobbies or expect special accommodations because of things like scheduled flights. Your poor time management or failure to take your course schedule seriously doesn’t constitute special exceptions from your professors.
9. ASKING ‘DID WE DO ANYTHING?’
It’s rare that a student makes it through an entire semester without missing a class. Many of these absences are legitimate with causes like illness or car trouble. Whether the absence is excused or not, the approach to gathering information about the missed class session is one of professors’ greatest pet peeves.
You should never ask your professor something like, “I was absent for the last class session. Did we do anything?” Most professors have the same mental response to this question. It’s something like, “No. You weren’t here, and we just couldn’t go on learning without you.”
So, how do you find out what you missed in the class? Ask the professor the right way. Say something like “I was absent for the last class session. I got the notes from Amy. What else do I need to do to catch up?”
Being proactive about asking for notes or assignments from other students and asking this question correctly alters the professor’s response from snarky to helpful.
10. PROCRASTINATING GETTING HELP
Professors want to help students succeed. That’s why we became professors. But some students wait until right before an assignment is due or a test is being given to ask for help. By this time, it’s too late for us to help you. Do yourself and your professor a favor and visit us during office hours far enough in advance to actually help you.
11. ASKING FOR GRADE CHANGES
I have made mistakes in grading. I have no problem with a student asking me to explain their grade or questioning it. When issue arise, I almost always err on the student’s side. But it is inappropriate and offensive when students, after having received final grades, ask for extra credit to improve their grade or ask you to just change their grade. You received the grade you earned. It’s too late at that point to worry about the course, and your grade is not negotiable.
I know it’s a lot, but it really all amounts to professionalism. Students reflect in the classroom how they will behave in the workplace. The prompt, prepared and professional students are the ones professors want to recommend for great jobs.
What did I forget? Professors, how do students tick you off?