An Instructor’s Manifesto

As I head into finals week with my classes, I find myself thinking about what went well and what could have gone better this semester so that I can change things for my next round of classes. The following is a list of things I wish I’d taken more time to emphasize in the first weeks (and on the first day) of class. Maybe I’ll staple it to the back of my Spring 2014 syllabi.

  1. You must provide evidence of illness and family emergencies if you want your absences to be excused. I know this sounds callous, but students can and do abuse the system and, unless and until we develop a rapport, I will not be “taking your word for it.” Bring doctors notes, obituary notices, etc.
  2. Family Reunions and Holidays not excused by the University will not be excused by me. If you plan to be absent, you will have to turn in work ahead of time. You will also have to reconcile yourself to the unexcused absences. I understand–you want to spend time with your family. I have a family, too. But college requires priorities, discipline, and hard work. Sometimes that means missing a family occasion. Sometimes that means accepting the consequences when you need to choose family over school.
  3. The same goes for birthdays.
  4. You should address me as Ms. Floyd or Ms. F. “Ms.” is a professional title that can be used regardless of the addressee’s marital status. Until I get my doctorate, this is the appropriate way to address me. If you attempt to use just my first name or call me “Miss,” it is not only rude (and tells me that you can’t remember my name) but disrespectful.
  5. Read the syllabus. Due dates, assignment explanations, class policies, my office hours, office location, and email are ALL ON THE SYLLABUS. Tattoo it onto yourself if it helps, but READ it. (No, really, don’t tattoo it on. Sharpie at the most).
  6. If you didn’t bother reading, don’t expect me to take pity on you when you don’t understand the related assignment. Also, expect lots and lots of pop quizzes.
  7. Everyone has a life outside of my classroom, I get it. You have priorities. Ideally, my class is one of those priorities. If it isn’t, maybe you should rethink your registration status.
  8. My class is a safe space. Learning how to write can be messy. Heck, writing can be messy even when you’ve been doing it for all of your adult life. Feel free to ask questions, bring drafts by my office, make use of the Writing Center. And above all, experiment. If you don’t take chances with your argument, you make it harder for yourself to grow as a writer.
  9. That holds for writing topics, as well. There are some topics I ban because they’ve been overdone or they are too fraught with complications to really write well about at this level. Letting you write about those topics would set you up to fail. But if there is something you are passionate about, write about it.
  10. English classes are versatile, because everything can be “read.” That includes advertisements, music videos, academic papers, novels, short stories, films, television, songs, cereal boxes. Although you might not think that English is related to your specific discipline, my class will help you become a stronger researcher and a better communicator–things you need to do well in almost any course.
  11. All of the work I assign you is at least doubled for me. Think about it; I have to grade EVERYTHING I assign to you. So, yes, I might be “mean” and “tough,” but the brunt of that meanness and toughness falls squarely on me.
  12. I will write letters of recommendation for you, but consider this: how well do I know you? Do you visit my office hours regularly? Do you speak up in class every week, or even better, every day? If you’re quiet and have never taken other classes with me, I’m not the best choice as a letter writer.
  13. If you’re struggling, let me know ASAP. I want you to succeed, but I can’t help that happen if I don’t even know you’re having trouble.
  14. I have a life outside of the classroom, too. *GASP* That means I will not always respond to your emails immediately, especially on the weekends. It also means that I do not drop everything and grade as soon as you turn in your assignment. Be patient.Don’t panic.
  15. The fact that I have a life outside of the classroom also means that you will run into me in public places and across campus: grocery shopping, eating out, jogging, etc. Inevitably, such meetings will feel awkward. Feel free to dive behind the nearest bush to avoid me, but also feel free to say hello. Remember: it’s not a big deal. We’re all human beings. Probably.
  16. Keep in mind that I am teaching several other classes, which means I’m helping other students with their problems, too. If I don’t immediately remember what your issue is, what your essay topic is, what your name is, etc, it isn’t because I don’t care. It’s because I’ve got dozens of students per class, while you have one me.
  18. Write in full sentences, regardless of the assignment. As I noted above, this is an English class. These things matter.
  19. That MLA format example I gave you? Follow it to the most minute detail. Seriously. Use the handbook or the Purdue Owl website to figure out how to cite your sources. I’ve helped you with the most common ways, but it is up to you to  make sure that all of your sources are following the style guide requirements. Don’t be lazy.
  20. While I’m on that subject–don’t use automated works cited creators (especially not the one in your word processor). They may *say* they’ll give you MLA citations, but they never, ever do.
  21. Deadlines contain the word “dead” because they should be taken seriously. If you have a problem meeting them and/or extenuating circumstances, let me know BEFORE the deadline has passed, if possible. If not, let me know AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE.
  22. This class will be what you make of it, both individually and as a group. Let’s make it fun and awesome by being prepared to discuss readings, turning work in on time, and communicating about our struggles, okay?

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