The fall is fast upon us, and it’s time once again – for back to school and the start of a new academic year.
For those of you making the leap to college, it can be a scary time. Many colleges are much larger than the campuses you’re used to. You’ll be surrounded by people you haven’t known for the last 4+ years and aren’t sure what will be expected of you in terms of homework. Or maybe you’ve been out of school for awhile and are nervous about going back.
Even if it isn’t your first semester, there are still many unknowns that can cause anxiety.
As someone who’s been teaching college classes for 15 years, I’d love to share some wisdom from a teacher’s perspective to help start you off on the right foot.
- It’s normal to be nervous. Many people are nervous at the start of something new, like starting at a new school or even just starting a new school year. Even your teachers probably feel a little nervous. It’s not always easy to stand up in front of a group of people and talk, even after years of practice.
- You might have a sinking feeling that you don’t belong there. This, too, is normal. It even has a name: Imposter Syndrome. This feeling happens a lot in students who are first generation college students, who are returning to school after years of being away, who had trouble completing high school, and more. It even happens to professors. I taught my first college class when I was 25. Do you think I asked myself who was I to be teaching a class called Rhetoric and Writing 100? Of course I did. I had to remind myself constantly that I’d studied and excelled at writing for most of my life and that while I may not know all the answers, I knew more than the students I was teaching, and we could continue learning from each other. As students, you are there to learn. It’s as simple and complicated as that.
- Don’t get hung up on what teachers have told you in the past. It’s not to say that there isn’t some value in working on areas you’ve been told could be strengthened, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had students tell me that they couldn’t write, that their teachers told them they couldn’t write, but who turned out to be lovely writers. There are many factors like environment, teaching style, and more than can affect how a person learns or performs. Don’t let negativity like that drag you down.
- If you can, sit toward the front. You are much more likely to be engaged in the class if you do. Your teacher will be more likely to connect with you, as well. These are both positives when it comes to learning and doing well in the class.
- When your teacher walks into the class and says, “Good Morning,” or “Hello,” respond by returning the greeting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve greeted my classes only to receive silence in return. Not only is it rude, but it takes a toll on the mood in the classroom all semester. A class that is more engaged and enthusiastic will be more fun, will get more out of their teacher, and will enhance student learning in many other ways.
- Put away your phone. I know, I know. It’s your lifeline to the outside world. But it’s also the biggest distraction, and it’s rude to your teachers. If you want to do well in your classes, save it for the break in between.
- Start strong. A semester usually gets busier and more difficult as it progresses. It will make things much easier and you’ll seem more favorable to your teachers later on if you start the semester strong by completing the work on time and to the best of your ability.
- Speak up. Speaking up in class can be nerve-wracking. Do it anyway. If you didn’t understand the work or homework, you can always ask a question. If it’s homework, you can prepare these questions before you get to class. You can even ask after class. Speaking up also means talking to your teacher if things go sideways during your semester. If you have to miss several classes due to unforeseen circumstances, keep your teacher in the loop, and they might be able to work with you. We all understand that you have responsibilities outside of class and that sometimes life doesn’t go smoothly. This is a time when having started strong is particularly helpful.
- Manage your absences. When you receive your syllabus in the first week of classes, it should tell you how many classes you’re allowed to miss. Keep this number in mind and let it guide you. I’m not a teacher who thinks perfect attendance is important (though others might). In fact, I firmly believe in the power of a “mental health day” from time to time to recharge and take care of yourself. Those allowed absences are there for sickness, emergencies, and mental health days, and I believe in using them if you need them. But be careful. This is usually only a week’s worth of classes (1-3 class periods depending on how often your class meets). You don’t want to use them all up in the first month of the semester and have nothing to fall back on in case of a real sickness or emergency.
- Cheating and Plagiarizing – Don’t Do It. Not only are you cheating yourself of your expensive education, but getting caught could also ruin your academic career, and then your real career by extension. As an English professor, I always tell my students I understand that life sometimes goes crazy, their car breaks down, their mom or child is sick, and they have to pick up an extra shift at work to make ends meet. Whatever it may be, I tell them I’d rather they come talk to me and see if we can adjust the deadline than for them to turn in a plagiarized essay.
I like to joke, between taking classes and teaching classes, that I haven’t been out of school since I was two, and I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way. I also love the excitement of walking across campus at the start of a new semester. I hope these tips will help inspire you to love and have the best semester start you can, too!