Purposive Rambling

the journey is the reward.

Classroom courtesy: Not just for undergrads

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The most common complaints that I hear from grad student assistants and instructors regard undergrad students’ inappropriate behavior in the classroom. They’re texting, reading the newspaper, talking with a friend, listening to music, sleeping, showing up late, etc.

And, sure, these things happen in undergraduate classes. When I was an undergrad, I was the girl in the front of the room always raising her hand. So, I didn’t notice that stuff then.

Now that I’m an instructor, I think about it a little more. I even have a little “classroom courtesy” section on my syllabus. My spiel to my students was something to the effect of: “I know you all are sometimes doing things that could be distracting to fellow students or just annoying to me. Keep it to a minimum, and please don’t let me see it.”

I don’t see a need to be a hard-ass about it, because my guess is that they’ll do this stuff regardless of what I say. But I do find it disrespectful, and I’d rather not have to think about being disrespected when I’m trying to give a lecture.

Anyway, the thing is, recently I’ve begun to feel like a lot of graduate students are hypocritical when it comes to good classroom behavior.

The other day I was sitting in class – one that I am taking, not teaching – and I glanced around the room at my classmates. I see a lot of faces just staring off into space. And, I see someone sleeping! Plus, the folks with laptops are doing way too much typing to just be taking notes. This is a fairly small classroom with long, seminar-type tables. For a graduate class it’s fairly large, but it’s still only about 20 students.

To be fair, I was bored too. I was doodling on my paper. And I was looking around at people trying to distract myself from my boredom. The difference is that I didn’t totally check out, and I didn’t let myself appear as if I was bored. I feel very strongly that it’s important to not act rude toward someone who is taking the time to teach me something. I’d like the instructor to look out into the people in front of her and see that I am making eye contact with her, that I am listening, that I care about what she is saying, that I am interested, etc. And when she asks a question, I don’t want to be drifted so far out to la-la land that I can’t answer.

Another thing I have noticed about graduate students is that they’re late. We tell our students to show up on time and not to leave early. Some instructors will even consider students absent if they are too tardy to class. But repeatedly, I see graduate students doing the same thing. And sometimes with no explanation to the instructor. And it’s so much more obvious in a small grad class. You can’t exactly slip out the back door with no one noticing.

The point is, in general, graduate students are probably more interested in what’s going on in the classroom than undergraduate students are. Supposedly, we’re here for the knowledge and not just the degree. Not to say that is not the case for some undergraduate students, but you get my point. So if we can’t even stick to these common courtesies in our classes, how are we expecting our students to do so?

Also, I think there is another issue here that grad students should think about. For many undergrads, once a course is over their relationship with the instructor is also over. Not true for grad students. The professor who has seen you sleeping through her class is going to be a part of your life for several more years. And she might even talk to other faculty members about your rude behavior. Not good.

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Written by Lisa

February 7, 2009 at 8:40 am

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