The Expectations Spiel

One of the things they tell you to do on the first day of class is to make your expectations very clear. Begin by telling the students exactly what you want from them and what they can expect from you. So this year I decided to have a little fun with my usual spiel. I laid out my expectations and what they could expect from me, but I also decided to let them in on my three biggest pet peeves about student behavior. To make these more graphic, I helpfully projected them on the whiteboard with an LCD in one foot-high printing. My greatest pet peeves are

1. Not bringing the text to class.
2. Not bringing the text to class.
3. Not bringing the text to class.

We all had a laugh, but I was able to stress a deeper point that the text is the "great thing" that we are gathered around. Whenever I make this point, I melodramatically quote Genesis 32:26 in my best Old Testament voice: And the angel of the Lord said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me."

The text is our angel," I say while thumping it with authority. "It is the teacher, not me. We will wrestle with it together, but do not let it go until it blesses you." I know this is really, really hokey and a lot of students just snort or roll their eyes, but the more religious of them sit up a bit straighter whenever you quote scripture in class. It probably just puzzles the ones unfamiliar with Genesis or for that matter Jacob.

Anyway, this year I wanted to make the expectations spiel more fun, so I had the students write down their pet peeves about professors on a 3" x 5" index card (anonymously of course). Then we did a scramble. This is a good first day ice breaker. You have everyone stand and trade cards as many times as they can in 45 seconds. This assures anonymity, but it also gets the students out of their seats and the blood pumping. Then they take turns reading the pet peeves and I try to address how I will approach these areas.

For the record, the top student pet peeve was a professsor who fails to return work in a timely manner. There were others, but that was number one. While I'm no pedagogical saint, I always promise to get everything back within one week. I'm very proud to say that I've only failed to do so once in the past three years.

I was generally pleased with the way the expectations spiel went this year, but perhaps I was premature and a bit too self-congratulatory. This morning, seven of the 18 students in my senior capstone course showed up without the text. I'm half-tempted not to stay late grading their first papers this afternoon.



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