Sunday, January 15, 2012

    So you're taking my class?

    First, you need to know some things about me.

    I look forward to working with you, and I want to thank you for choosing to take classes with me, and at OCC. You have come to the right place; this is a fabulous college, with amazing resources and students. I think we are going to have a great semester.

    I believe savvy students choose their classes and their professors wisely. So, in the spirit of that belief, here are some things you should know about me:

    My chief purpose is to support your success.

    Everything we do in class is designed to achieve this goal. If you're taking EGL 101 or EGL 097, my goal is to help you become a better writer. If you're taking EGL 092, EGL 094, or EGL 110, my goal is to help you become a better reader. If you're taking EDN 260, my goal is to help you become a competent reading teacher. For all of my students, in all of my classes, my goal is also to help you become a critical, independent thinker.

    I've designed our course schedule, readings, assignments, assessments, and policies around these goals. Nothing is arbitrary. There is a purpose behind every choice I make. I am here for you, for your success and growth, and everything we do will support that.

    This is why the next few things are true, and important for you to know about me as an instructor, if you are to be successful this semester.

    My expectations are high, and non-negotiable. 

    I am not what you would call a flexible teacher. That's not to say that I am strict, or mean, or impossible. Rather, I set expectations for my students that I believe will best support your growth this semester. I've detailed most of these expectations in our class syllabi, but it's important for you to know that I am not just *saying* these things because I think they look good on paper. I mean them. Every single one.

    I did not begin my teaching career this way. I used to set high expectations, but then I'd allow for exceptions here and there. In the beginning of the semester, it started out innocent enough. However, after collecting data on student success, I quickly learned that the students who met every single expectation learned more, and showed more growth, and got their money's worth out of our classes; and the students who asked for extensions here and there ended up falling behind and never catching up. Sounds simple enough, right? Of course it is!

    So, I changed my approach, stopped granting exceptions, and guess what? Suddenly, nearly everyone was able to meet those high expectations, every single time. My students consistently show more growth in class. They become stronger readers and writers. And they get their time and their money's worth.

    It is so true that people rise to our expectations, or in some sad cases, they fall to meet them. I want you to rise this semester, so that is what I require.

    I do not sugarcoat things. 

    You know that friend who sees that you have a piece of spinach in your teeth, but she doesn't tell you about it? And then you go home and look in the mirror and realize that you've talked to at least twenty people with a big, dark splotch across your otherwise lovely teeth? Mortifying, right?

    I won't be that person. I won't let you down like that.

    When you write for me, or read for me, or teach for me, I'm going to tell you exactly what it is that you need to work on to become better. I will not sugarcoat things, or overlook them, or pretend that they don't exist. I will tell you what is going on, and how to improve it, and you will come out on the other end of 16 weeks a better student for it. That is my promise to you.

    Don't take it personally when my feedback about your latest essay includes fifteen items in the "things to work on" list. In fact, you should take it personally if you're paying to take a course and your professor doesn't tell you what you need to work on, and how to do it. That's what you're paying for, isn't it? That is my job, and I promise to do it.

    I am extremely organized. 

    This means I can make even more promises to you:
    • I will return all of your work, with copious feedback, within one week of submission. Every once in a while I will tell you on submission day if something is going to take me longer than one week to read, but it doesn't happen often.
    • I write everything down. I will know exactly how much class you miss, down to the minute, as well as exactly when you submit all of your work, especially late work. I will tell you how much time you've missed, and how much work you've neglected to submit on time, when I give you progress reports every three to four weeks. 
      • The purpose of this practice is to make you aware of how your behavior and choices as a student affect your learning and progress in class. I'm not trying to rub it in your face if you're absent, I'm trying to make you aware of how your absences are affecting your growth. 
    I care about your success in this class. 

    It takes a lot of time and energy to give you detailed, ongoing feedback, and to keep track of your progress in class. I do all of this because I care. Most professors do, of course. After all, you are our reason for being in the classroom in the first place.

    That being said, I will put as much effort into your growth this semester as you put into it, yourself. You know those office hours professors post on their doors? That is time that we set aside just for you, our students. At Oakton, we commit to being in the building and available to students for at least five hours every single week. If you're falling behind in class, please come and see me during office hours! And if those hours don't work for you, contact me and let's set up another time to meet.

    The worst thing you can do is to become a ghost student, just a name on a roster that your professors can't even place because you haven't shown up for class in so long we've forgotten who you are. We're only human, after all, and we are far more likely to go out of our way to help the students who show that they care about our classes than those who don't.

    I love what I do.

    I love this job more than I ever thought it was possible to love a job. I feel that it is a privilege to work at Oakton, an with you. I believe in the work we do in the classroom, so much so that I think reading and writing are essential skills for anyone who hopes to live a fulfilling life. In other words, I believe the work we do is transformative. I believe you will be a better person for having attended OCC. I believe your time here will change your life.

    You know those people who are so perpetually happy that they're always smiling and cheerful, and telling other people to smile and be cheerful, that they are actually really annoying to be around? Well, I might have a bit of that going on. Because when I'm teaching, I'm happy. I'm in my element. I'm in the zone. 

    You know the best way to deal with those annoyingly happy people? Ever heard the phrase If you can't beat 'em, join 'em? That will be your best approach with me this semester. Just go with it. Trust me. Surrender to the process, and we will have a great semester together. That's my final promise. Join me.


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