Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Richardson's Rules of Order, Part III: Appropriate Behavior in College Classrooms

Heather Cox Richardson

There is a difference between high school and college learning. In high school, you do most of your learning in class, and have homework largely to help you master the classroom material. In college, you are supposed to do most of your learning outside of the classroom, with lectures and readings designed to encourage your own explorations.


Use your early years in college to open up new horizons. Take classes in fields about which you know little, and really try to care as much for the material as the teacher does. You won’t fall in love with every subject, but you may very well find yourself developing new interests that stay with you for a lifetime. (To this day, I read science news thanks to a college professor who conveyed his love of anthropology in such a way that I could see why it was cool, even if I didn’t particularly want to do it for a living). By the end of your second year in college you should be thinking of a career path. Research the skills that are necessary for the career(s) in which you’re interested. Take courses that will give you those skills. Get to know the teachers. Look into internships. Don’t wait until it’s too late to discover you need to have a certain background to enter the profession you’ve chosen.

Once in the classroom, remember that your teacher takes his or her subject very seriously. College professors care so much about their subject that they have chosen to spend their lives studying it. Similarly, most of the students in the class will have a strong interest in the material. Even if you can’t see what’s so exciting about Shakespeare, don’t insult those who care about his work by rude behavior implying the course is a waste of time. Do not read newspapers in class, chat with your neighbors, do homework for another class, or sleep. If any of that activity is imperative during the time class meets, don’t come to class.

Do not pack up your belongings or start for the door before the class actually ends. It disrupts the class by throwing off the teacher’s conclusion and making other students unable to hear. If you know you will have to leave early, sit at the back of the room on the end of an aisle.

Address your professors formally unless they tell you to do otherwise. At most schools, this will mean “Dr.,” or “Professor.” “Mr.” or “Ms.” is reserved for people who do not have a doctorate. If you choose to use “Mrs.,” be very sure you have your teacher’s name correct, for a married name is often different than the last name a female teacher uses.

See also, Richardson's Rules of Order, Part II: Tips for Taking Notes in a College History Course and Richardson's Rules of Order, Part I: Why Study History?

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