I am pleased that you have chosen to take my course this term. I would like to communicate to you my expectations for our time spent together.
In articulating these expectations, it is not my intention to treat you like a child. I am trying to be upfront about how I hope you and I will proceed through this course of study and learn together. I’m attempting to make plain many things that are understood about university life and perhaps implied in the syllabus, but not always stated explicitly—things that I myself had to learn the hard way as a university student. If my statement comes off as condescending, please know that that is not my intention, and accept my preëmptive apology.
* I am aware of the trust that you are placing in me. You are asking me to guide you through a course of study that will improve your mind and your life; I have the ability to make your life miserable by giving out unfair grades or requiring unnecessary busywork. I don’t take this responsibility lightly; I endeavor earnestly to make the readings and assignments profitable and integrated with the classroom time–and to ensure (insofar as it depends on me) that these experiences achieve the stated goals of the course. I ask for your coöperation and trust, and I aspire to prove myself worthy of your trust.
* Having acknowledged this responsibility: I have been in your position, and I have worked hard to get into the position I am in now. I have earned advanced degrees in my field and have years of experience teaching, writing, doing church ministry, and working in the sort of professional (non-academic) setting in which most of you will someday work. I continue to study the art and science of teaching in order to continue to improve. The department and the administration have delegated this course (and the trust you have placed in this university) to me because they believe I’m worthy of that trust. That doesn’t mean I’m perfect or that I’m always right; but it means I deserve the benefit of the doubt from you until proven otherwise.
* You should expect to do about two hours of work outside class for every hour spent in the classroom. This is an average over the course of the semester. If you find yourself doing less work than that early on, you will probably be doing a lot more work later in the term. Start now on assignments and readings that you can do in advance. Even if you’re not required to do so, take notes as you read and sketch general outlines of the books and articles that are assigned.
* Studying is your primary calling right now. Grades are important. Extra-curricular activities are a great part of your university experience; I myself played intramural sports, participated in student government, was president of a student organization, played in rock bands (bassists were scarce), and worked a variety of on- and off-campus jobs. But none of these should be at the expense of your classroom studies. Plan in advance and know what you can handle. Remember that most courses have more work later in the term, so don’t make commitments based on the amount of free time you have at the beginning of the term.
* Build into your schedule the leeway you need so that if something goes wrong and you can’t get that paper done, it won’t ruin your semester. Assume that you will get a cold or the flu at least once, and require two or three days of rest without being able to work on your assignments.
* Come to class. Don’t use your unexcused absences early in the semester; if you get sick or something comes up, you will incur a grade penalty. If the only time you miss class is when you are quite sick, it will be much easier for me to be lenient with you (within the policies established by the university).
* Distinguish between the tasks that are urgent and important, urgent and unimportant, non-urgent and important, and non-urgent and unimportant.
* Grades are not that important. If you have a minor misstep and fail a small assignment, it’s not the end of the world. If you are doing well in the class and can afford to take the grade penalty, go ahead and take that long weekend trip with your friends and miss my class. I’m not egotistical enough to think that you will remember forever my lecture on that specific day, but I know you will remember that trip for many years to come. Just make sure that you’ve built into your schedule and your workload the leeway you need to take trips like that. You are not entitled to fun trips or an education; they are privileges.