How to Pass My Course, or How Not To Fail

I’ve taken flack for proselytizing too much on my syllabi. Over the decade-and-a-half or so of being in the classroom, I have taken to being more vocal about the problems I see in students attitudes toward their commitment towards their education. I want things to be congruent. If someone says “my grade is very important to me” then, by god, do something about it. Usually, the student who says “my grade is very important to me” isn’t making a very good attempt. Thus, I’ve taken to being very explicit about what I think are bad ideas and what I think are good ideas.

From what I can tell from my courses students arriving from high schools have no idea how to study, budget their time for studying, organize their study time, or apply themselves to college/university studies. Part of my courses is a sort of interview. I ask them to tell me how they study, how they learned to study, how they studied in high school, how they were encouraged to study in high school.

Results of my interviews are discouraging. Students don’t have homework to take home. Students are coached for taking tests. High school is a long, four-year game of regurgitating information on standardized tests so schools can have bragging rights about high great their test scores are. Who cares about whether or not any learning is actually going on. Some Magnet Schools are working well; some private schools, some public schools are doing OK because they have been afforded some leeway.

Not to besmirch the efforts of teachers; they are simply doing the job they were hired to do. And, babysit your spoiled brat who has a foul mouth, an attitude of expectation brought on by years of both parental and institutional coddling, and the misplaced belief the teacher has to earn their respect rather than vice-versa.

Below, you’ll find a section of my syllabus provided for your reading enjoyment. If you like, by all means, take and use. I also have a Statement of Educational Philosophy which I tuck at the back of the syllabus. One of my hobbies is collecting syllabi of faculty. I want to know what they teach, how they teach, what their activities are, how they grade, and what language they include in their syllabi. My section is not unique to me, nor is my Statement of Educational Philosophy. Those ideas I gleaned from other syllabi. I figure “if they can get away with it, so can I.”

“Has it made a difference?” you ask. I think so. Since including such statements, the emails from students have increased, and student personal accountability has increased. Students share emails with me about how I’ve have been the only one in their college career to act like I give a damn about their education. Students relate how they haven’t been held responsible for anything until now. I had one student last semester who told me they never had to process information like they had to in my course. I’m not relaying these anecdotes as a way of patting myself on the back. I honestly think this is a sad indictment of Education aimed at both K-12 and at my peers throughout Higher Education.

Cuts in Higher Education spending over the last 10 years (thanks, George Bush) have devastated Higher Education, the innovation & economic heart and soul of the U.S. economy. By funneling money to Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the TSA, and DHS, we have eroded the economic foundations of the U.S. Colleges and universities cannot fund research, replace computers, servers, hire graduate assistants, provide decent scholarships & assistantships, or even take care of basic capital assets. Like I’ve said before, soon we will be a Country of the Well-Defended Ignorant.

To combat Ignorance and to metaphorically slap my students in the face and tell them to “Wake UP!” I do soap-box throughout the semester both in the classroom and through online Announcements.

As always, comments are appreciated.

This is a class, a university course, not a workshop, nor a hobby.  Students who choose to fail any course do so because they refuse to read the syllabus, refuse to read Announcements, refuse to plan time to study, and do not keep track of grades, or simply do not engage any effort. If you plan on doing any combination of those activities, you are on your way to failing, wasting your time, wasting your financial aid, and disappointing yourself.

If you place your academic career way down the list of priorities, then do not be surprised by low grades, a low G.P.A., and problems with obtaining financial aid later.  Write down on a piece of paper the amount of time you do certain activities.  If academics is not near the top, you have no one to point a finger at other than yourself.  If you chose to play video games, drink, use drugs, party, go on your mid-semester cruises, etc., you will fail your classes, lose your scholarships, lose your financial aid, lose your insurance, and perhaps other important aspects of your life. After making poor choice after poor choice and as a consequence of your poor choices are forced to take a crappy job which you then lose to a person from Arizona, or China, or Viet Nam, blame yourself, not them. Prioritize your life so you can succeed.

If you want to be successful, not just academically, but in general, you have to work to the best of your ability, and minimize the distractions and negativity in your life.  Put yourself in positions to succeed.  On the surface, I may sound selfish.  When you act in your own self interest, you are working in positive ways to benefit your life.  If you are benefiting your life, there is a very good chance you are making the lives of the people around you better, too.  You are setting a good example for your friends, your children, your co-workers.  If people talk about you behind your back, or become negative towards you, remove them from your life, if possible. You are making progress and you are doing the right thing. You are choosing to be focused on your future, making a better life for yourself, for your family, kids, and that will carry over into society, as a whole.

Know the grade percent you have in each class. Keep track of all of your grades. A grade should never be a mystery. Neither should your GPA. Get online and figure out how to calculate both, if you need to. When I was in college, I knew every score from every assignment in every class. My grade in a course was never a mystery. My GPA was never a mystery. You should practice the same as much as your instructors will allow. Grading papers and assignments is time-consuming. You are not the only student in the class. The class you are in is not the only one being taught by that instructor. Thus, some grades will require patience. Once you know how to calculate your grade, you can always estimate a grade until a grade gets posted.

Attend class. Many instructors drop course grades a full letter grade for missing class. Ask yourself: Do I really want a ‘C’ in a class I should have a ‘B’ in? Then, ask yourself: If you were an employer, how many times would you allow an employee to be absent before you fired him? Finally, ask yourself: If you were the employer, how would you rate the work you submit?

Do the coursework. Many instructors will fail students for not submitting all coursework. For example, after completing 75% of the semester you decide to stop going to class and stop doing the work. You have decided, based on your calculations, you have enough points to achieve a ‘C.’ When you check your grades after the end of the semester you discover to your horror you failed. How did you fail? You did not do all coursework. I’m not exaggerating; I have had students fail my courses simply because they gave up near the end. They set the bar very low and didn’t even reach the low bar. Giving up is an especially egregious error when committed by a graduating senior.

Remove the B.S. notion of instant gratification from your academic career.  Education is about delayed gratification, patience, and persistence.  Anything that can be instantly attained can be instantly lost. The average amount of student loan debt currently held by U.S. students is $25,000. Why would anyone pay so much money and simply not commit to his/her investment?

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