It’s Not Just About Them: Professors’ Pet Peeves

African American male teacher, surrounded by papers, head in handsBe honest—do some students sometimes exhibit certain behaviors that just push your buttons? My guess is, we all have had a few buttons pushed! As someone who, for nearly a decade, taught a class that usually enrolled 200+ students (with a maximum of 350 students), there were a few that really bothered me. So let’s talk about pet peeves and how to help students to avoid them – trust me, they’d rather not annoy us!

First, I’ll share mine, in reverse order:

Number 5: Ink Color Matters to Me

White desk with 12 brush markers, of various colorsI used to tell students that it didn’t matter to me what color ink they used on handwritten assignments or on tests written during class. But as I aged, I had to change that answer. If students used blue-green ink on lined notebook paper (the kind that has pale blue-greenish lines), I struggled to read their words. So I asked students never to use that color ink for the last fifteen years of my career.

Number 4:  Coming in Late and Interrupting Other Students to Get to “Your” Seat

Latecomers didn’t bother me—they didn’t interrupt my concentration or lecture flow. What bothered me was when a student came late, who normally sat in the middle of the auditorium, forces about 20 other students to stand up (which often meant briefly packing notebook, pen, “clicker”/audience response system) so that the late student could get to “that student’s” seat. I’ve read the literature that many students feel territorial about where they sit, usually by the 2nd  week of class, but since I didn’t assign seats, couldn’t consideration for others outweigh sitting in that favorite seat, for one class period?

Number 3:  Leaving Class Early (If Not An Emergency) Without Letting Me Know Before Class

I asked students, out of courtesy, to let me know in advance if they had to leave class early. I never forbade them from leaving, but it helped my concentration during class, if I saw someone exit the classroom and I knew about it in advance. If a student just got up and left, her exit would make me lose concentration. I’d wonder if I should send a graduate assistant to check on the student, in case he was sick, etc. But if I knew in advance, I could relax and stay focused on sharing class content and classroom dynamics.

Number 2:  Not Stapling Assignments, If Needed

Black staplerWith a large number of students, “stray parts of assignments” which were unstapled slowed down my grading process, as I would have to search to find its match. If it was handwritten, it was easier to find it than if was typed, because at least I could try to detect similar handwriting.

And by the way, for me, students who tried to skirt the “staple your assignments” rule Person has bent left top corner of several sheets of paper over in lieu of stapleby intricately folding pages over (sometimes by cutting and folding them) didn’t help. They didn’t realize that this technique didn’t work for “long” periods of time—like the amount of time it took to walk back to my office (!), let alone for several days of grading at home. It usually ended up that I had many single sheets, folded over many times, which got caught up in other students’ assignments. Not good.

And,

Number 1:  Not Putting Name on Assignments

Game of Throne meme, which states, "One does not simply turn in an assignment with no name"Every assignment there would be about five or so students who didn’t identify that the assignment was theirs, and I would have to send emails to the class to try to figure out to whom they belonged or take class time to make an announcement. For any one assignment, it wasn’t a big deal, but collectively, with written assignments every class period, my frustration would grow.

Numbers 1 and 2 wore on me so much, that I redesigned all major assignments to be turned in via our school’s learning management system. Names were displayed on all uploaded files and no need for staples so long as I graded them online. Win-win!!

I’ve had my “list” almost since I started teaching. But I remember clearly the day when it hit me, that I was a key part of the problem. I was out for lunch with friends who were also faculty and the conversation morphed into a “those (…) students” session. You know the kind, where everyone shared behaviors that stepped on our last nerve. But then I asked, to myself as much as to the others at the table, “Have you shared with students what bothers you?” And none of us really had, in an honest and straightforward way, me included. Something changed in me that day.

Every syllabus from that day forward had a section where I wrote about these behaviors and briefly explained why they were concerning to me. We talked about it during the first week of class and I posted a brief reminder in the directions of every assignment. And what happened? Every one of these rules were broken, but much less often. More than that, many students commented in student evaluations about how they appreciated knowing what behaviors bothered me (and why), so that they could do their best to avoid them.

So my students taught me that they understood that I was human too; that I could admit that to them, and ask for them to help me to be in the best possible frame of mind to grade their work. So readers, what would be on your list of irksome behaviors? I encourage you to share them with students.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

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