My late stepfather used to say that anytime you get a new boss, you should ask what his or her greatest pet peeve is and 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, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I thought about 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 a few of my professor friends who added to the discussion) probably can help you in many of your classes. In the spirit of setting you up for success, here is this academic year’s 15 ways to tick your professors off.
1. Losing or failing to read the syllabus
Professors spend hours planning, updating and tweaking each course’s syllabus.
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 the professor and the student. 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.
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. This rudeness really gets me worked up. Students who take value away from other students are removed from my class—immediately.
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 spins 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.
4. Missing deadlines
Journalists work on deadlines. I teach journalists. There’s not much more to say about that from my perspective.
5. Discussing grades in class
This is the student equivalent of discussing how much money you make with your coworkers. It’s just poor manners and a bad idea. It shouldn’t happen.
6. Coming to 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. Perhaps nothing grates on my nerves worse than students who come to class unprepared and beg supplies from classmates. This shows arrogance and a lack of concern about the course or your peers.
7. Asking to print
I can’t stand it when students come to class to ask permission to print. The assignment is “done,” they just need to print it. If it’s not printed, it’s not done. You missed your deadline (See No. 4). Just a bit of advice, if you wait until right before class to print, printers across campus will spontaneously combust. I guarantee it. Professors want you to print in advance.
8. 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.
9. 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 also sends an important message. It says “you can rely on me.” It shouts competence, which professors love.
10. 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.
11. Failing to problem solve
Students have more access to information than ever before. If you don’t understand a concept or the way something works, look in your notes and textbook first. If you still don’t understand, try consulting the Google machine.
Don’t get me wrong, professors want to help you, but they also want you to take an active part in your learning.
You can have a more informed discussion with your professor once you’ve clarified what you don’t know and separated what you understand from what specifically still confuses you.
In other words, don’t run straight into your professor’s office or email him/her every time you discover and issue. Try to solve your own problem before you ask for help.
12. Sighing and whining
Sometimes it seems students think that if they sigh and whine when a professor starts to give an assignment that the professor will forgo the work. It’s almost like they think the professor will say, “Oh, I was going to give this assignment. I planned it all semester. But, since you sighed, I’ll just skip it.” This has never happened in the history of ever.
13. Not proofreading
Your assignments and emails are a professional representation of your work and, frankly, of you. Professors just feel disappointed and annoyed when students don’t bother proofreading assignments or send informal, error-laden emails, especially those without subject lines.
14. 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 give us enough advance time to actually help you.
15. 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.
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.