Wednesday, December 08, 2010

[Tips on Succeeding in Niki's Classroom]

Or... Acknowledging Your Adulthood

1. It is not my responsibility to let you know I've received your email or submission.  Whether you use the school webmail or Outlook, you have the option to request an automatic read receipt; if you do so, my computer will automatically send you a notification that I've opened the message.

2. Save or print your read receipts. E-mail gets lost, accidentally deleted, or misfiled from time to time (because I'm human), but if you can provide a receipt or forward the original sent item, I can fix the error.  If you cannot, it will be difficult to take your word for it.

3. Set aside a time, early in the week, for posting blog entries and comments.  Do not wait until the last minute or you may forget or your internet may be down or your hard drive will crash..........

4. Do not hesitate to utilize the writing center if you get stuck at any stage of the writing process, even at the point of coming up with a topic.  That's what it's there for: to help you.  Also, do not wait until conferencing periods to come to me to clarify how to do the assignment or reshape your argument.  I have office hours for that reason. Bring your notes and/or drafts with you so we can look at what you've got so far.  A lot of these issues can be fixed early on, and then we can focus on simply improving your writing.

5. Do not neglect the reading assignments.  I assign them to help clear up confusion on certain assignments or techniques, especially when the author is able to explain it more clearly than I can.  I do not assign reading to keep you busy.  I really do understand how hectic college can be (I did it for seven years straight, and I haven't been out for all that long), but I'm also preparing you for more advanced classes. A little harder work now makes the really hard work later come easier.

6. Do not take my class if you are expecting to do little or no writing. This is a writing course, and I will push you to aim higher than you think you can, and 99 times out of a hundred, my students achieve that level if they trust me and try. Also, do not take my class if you have no intention of showing up almost every day or being on time.  There's a level of spontaneity in my teaching style, due to my background as both a scholar and teacher, so you never know what you might miss.

7. Do not panic.  Seriously, do not panic.  Sometimes I get behind in tallying up blog points.  You only receive half of the rough draft points when you email me your drafts; you do not get the other half until you come to the conference.  Your grade at midterm is based on approximately 15-20% of your final grade, and rough drafts count for most of that grade, though later on, they will only count for a few percent.  The critical analysis is a difficult concept that many people struggle with until they try it out and conference over the rough draft; at that point, a light bulb will likely turn on in your head and it will all make sense. I may not have announced a due date yet. So, do not panic.

8. You are adults. If you decide not to participate, that's your choice and your grade.  It is your responsibility to come to me if you are confused. It is your responsibility to email me if your absence is due to an excusable reason.  It is your responsibility to contact your classmates (particularly your accountability partners chosen the first week of school) if you miss class to find out what you missed, and only contact me if they were all absent as well with no knowledge of what transpired in class. I'm happy to help you, but I do expect you to use common sense and explore your options.

9. Always, before emailing me or coming to talk to me and asking a question, double check to make sure the syllabus or assignment sheet does not already answer that question.  Then, ask a classmate.  If those fail to provide answers (i.e. due dates, page limits, etc.), then by all means come chat with me or drop me a line; just do the responsible thing and make sure it's a question that can't be answered by rereading the assignment sheet or checking the book.

10. You may disagree with my suggestions for your papers--you have every right to do so.  However, please remember that I've been focusing on this subject for years now, and I am the teacher and therefore the executor of your grade.  If nothing else, humor me and try it out.  Whatever you do, however, please don't start a debate with me over it.  You'll find, in time, that almost any advice I give you on your papers will be also given to you by upper level instructors and professors with even more drastic consequences. Often, I have found this out the hard way and am trying to save you grief later on.

11. Always come to class with a writing utensil, paper, any drafts you're working on, and your Prentice Hall Reference Guide.  At times, we will do activities that, with no prior announcement, will need all these items and that will benefit you greatly. 

12. Have trouble waking up for class?  Try one of the following options: sign up for a later period, get a louder alarm clock, set your alarm clock across the room, or even set multiple alarm clocks.  Oversleeping once or twice in a semester is understandable.  Oversleeping once or twice most weeks is not being proactive in ensuring your own success.

13. Reread the syllabus at least three times thoughout the semester.  Reread assignment sheets once or twice a week.  Double check the schedule as it's updated throughout the semester.  Check Blackboard daily for announcements.  Unless you've been gifted with a rare and true photographic memory, you WILL forget things from time to time.  Don't wait to find out what you've forgotten or overlooked after you've gotten a grade.  The claim, "But I didn't know it had to be that long [or that topic]!" gains no sympathy from me when it's a fact clearly stated on a distributed document.

14. You're not too cool or old to do a silly activity in class.  Most of the time, there's a method to the madness, and if you just relax, make the most of the break from routine, and keep your sense of humor intact, you'll get a lot out of it.

15. Class is boring?  Brace yourself for this: it may be you.  While from time to time activities may lose their luster, and my lectures, as I'm not exactly a champion speaker, may be less than Pulitzer Prize-worthy, more often boredom stems from a lack of student involvement and interaction.  Come to class with a good attitude, an eagerness to learn a topic that may or may not come naturally to you, and get to know your classmates, and I think you'll find that writing class becomes somewhat less painful than water torture.

16. The rules and assignments apply to everyone.  As such, please do not come to me asking if I can change the rules or assignment requirements just for you because you're finding it a challenge or you've over-committed yourself to a very complex topic.  Too many sources to explain in your annotated bibliography?  Consider whether or not you're using the best sources or if you're doing any of the speaking.  You may need to rethink your topic or use of sources (only one line from a source, without discussing context, is not the most in-depth use of a resource).  You don't like the assignment?  Well, and I mean this in the nicest way possible: tough. Stick it out, do your best, and you might actually *gasp* learn something beneficial from doing it the way I assigned it.

17. In the words of my favorite teacher in high school, Mr. Mike Collins: "Do not mistake kindness for weakness."  I am a nice person, and I understand that life happens, and I'm not beyond making adjustments when disaster strikes.  However, that being said, do not take advantage of my sweet or easy-going nature, or you may lose that side of me for good.  90% of the rules I have now are due to students in the past taking advantage of me.  I'm a creative writer both by profession and by nature, so it's not instinct for me to be strict; however, with each passing semester, I've had to adapt.  Please do not push me further down that path, for your own sakes.

18. I shouldn't have to say this, but apparently I have to: Do your own work. Write your own papers, create your own media projects, do your own share of group work, and do not EVER try to pass off something someone else did as your own. It's not just an ethical issue; it's also a legal issue. Cite all references both in the text and on your works cited page.  Not doing so is misleading and even plagiarizing, and it will lead to an automatic zero.

19. I said it earlier, but I'll say it again: use the writing center!

20. Treat class like you would a job that you want to keep: be on time, fulfill your responsibilities, and show respect to your teacher, your classmates, and yourself.

21. When asked to try something new, unfamiliar, or outside of your comfort zone, rather than panicking, take the risk and try it.  The first try may flop, but that's okay. That's how you learn to be a better writer (and a braver individual).  Revision is part of the writing process, and so is experimenting.  You should feel comfortable trying new things in my class.  Yes, you will eventually receive a grade, but you'll get feedback and plenty of chances for revision before that comes to pass, and you will probably find I'm not as mean of a grader as you may have anticipated.

22. Above all, remember, whether you're 18 or 81, you're in a college classroom and therefore an adult.  Act accordingly with common sense and responsibility, and you should be fine.

Have a great semester, everyone!

This is a list of Dos and Don'ts (with potential for revision and addendums) that will be going in my syllabi from now on, largely due to some maddening moments over the past year.