Thursday, September 18, 2014

Students Are Rude: Things You Should Teach Your Kids Before You Send Them to College

It’s the start of a new school year and I’ve already been reminded that students can be quite rude. As a developmental psychologist and professor, I feel like it’s my civic duty (I may even count this post as service on my CV) to let you know what you can do to make sure your kids’ professors don’t bitch about them behind their backs. 

Mrs. Stupica? Miss Stupica? Ms?... 

Who are you talking to? It can’t be me. Moreover, I don’t look anything like any of the Mrs. Stupicas that I know, so you can’t be mistaking me for any of them.

You are in college. Most of your teachers have doctorate degrees, which makes them Dr. So-and-so. Assume that your professor's appropriate title is Doctor until you are told otherwise. The offense can be pretty egregious too. So far in my career, about a dozen times students have stood in my doorway after looking at the name plate on the door that says, “Dr. Brandi Stupica” to make sure they have the correct office and then they will say, “Miss? Ms.? Mrs.?” like assuming I’m single or married is the thing that is going to offend me as I sit in my academic office.

You know what’s even more annoying? Students who email me, “Dear Mrs. Stupica”. You could have looked up my title on the Internet, but you chose to call your PROFESSOR Mrs. Stupica. My title is definitely on the college’s website. Let’s not mention that those emails are usually asking me for a favor. The thing that’s the most obnoxious…my male colleagues rarely get this disrespect. In fact, my husband who does not yet have his PhD but has taught a few college classes is more frequently extended the title of Dr. Stupica than I am. I’ve had my PhD for 2 years and it’s happened to me so much that I can’t even recall all the times and it’s so annoying I’m basically writing a blog post about it. It’s academics and we have probably have PhDs, even if we have vaginas. Parents, please teach your children to call their professors by their actual title.   

Are we doing anything important in class? 

This question assumes that I at least occasionally waste your time. This question is also telling me that you think there might be something more important than you coming to class, which you chose to take. If you’re not sure whether you should miss class, then you probably shouldn’t. You’ll know when your absence is more important than attending class. For example, if you are having non-elective surgery and it will require you to miss class, you would just tell me that. Thus, when you ask me this question, I now know that you think that your extracurricular activities or starting your Thanksgiving break early is more important to you than my class. Telling us that we waste your time and that you have other things that you’d rather be doing than coming to class is hurtful. Parents, please teach your children that hurting people’s feelings is rude and that hurting your professors’ feelings is a terrible idea. 

What did I miss when I was absent? 

That’s your job to figure out. Your absence is your problem, not mine. Moreover, you may now be drawing attention to the fact that you were absent. That is so dumb. That is really dumb. For real. Did it ever occur to you that I didn’t even notice your absence? You bringing it to my attention now only makes me fully aware of it. Also, you asking me if you missed anything doesn’t make me think you are a good student who is trying to catch up on what you missed. It makes me think you are an irresponsible student who wants me to wipe your nose for you. Um, also (I can’t believe that I even have to write this), I’m not going to give you your own personal lecture. If you missed lecture, you missed it. Part of this problem, I do believe, stems from the primary and secondary educational system having a protocol in which your mom calls the school to tell them you will be absent and someone gathers all of the work that you missed so that your mom can pick it up for you. At some point, kids need to learn that their absence is not a reason for other people to be inconvenienced. Parents, please teach your children that when they are absent, they need to read the syllabus, ask their classmates, and check the course’s webpage to figure out what they missed and catch up. 

When’s our paper due? 

IT’S IN THE GODDAMN SYLLABUS! It takes me between 20-40 hours to create a syllabus. Effing read it before you ask me questions. Parents, please teach your kids that it’s rude to waste people’s time by asking questions that were already answered. 

5 is more than 4. 

Your kid asks you for $5. You give them $4.99. This is not $5. In fact, it’s less than $5. You can guarantee that your kid is going to bitch and moan about being shorted. Now, imagine a professor assigns a 5-page paper. Your kid turns in a paper that spills over onto a 5th page. This is not a 5-page paper. We have asked for 5 whole pages of a paper. Don’t try to be cute and give us 4.99 pages. Also, don’t fiddle with the margins, font, or spacing. We’re not idiots and you doing so makes us think that your think we are idiots and that’s just rude. Parents, please start teaching your children about numbers in a way that they can use them in real life situations like turning in papers with the appropriate page-length. 

The Most Important Thing to Teach Your Kids Before Sending Them To College: Working Hard Gets Rewarded 

When kids get an A, they are often praised for being smart rather than how hard they worked to achieve the A. Do NOT do this. Praising your children for being smart is teaching them that they were born smart and that trait is something inherent to their being and that their smartness is static and unchangeable. You are also teaching them that smart people get As rather than people who work hard and study get As. First of all, this is simply not true either in academics or the “real world.” Students who turn in shitty work and don’t learn the material do not get As and workers who turn in shitty work don’t get raises and promotions. Moreover, getting an A doesn’t indicate that you are intelligent. It indicates that you learned the material or turned in a high quality assignment. If you don’t learn the material or you turn in shitty work, you don’t get As.

Second of all, this method of praise and reward sends kids the false idea that intelligence is static. It is, in fact, malleable to at least some degree such that studying and working hard at solving problems make you smarter. Don’t teach your kids things that are not true. Praising their smarts is also teaching them that their intelligence is omnibus and that they are smart and good at everything. Hint: They probably aren’t. They will likely excel in only some areas. If you make them think they their smarts are omnipotent, they will do silly things like major in pre-med for waaaaaay too long when they actually excel in poetry.

In addition, even if your kids are smart, you’re sending them to college where everyone else is smart too. Professors make tests and assignments that assess how hard your children worked on a particular problem or how hard they studied or whether they completed the assignments. They will not pass tests and get As in classes simply for being smart and being able to take multiple choice tests well. The difference in success in college and the real world will be about who works hard at solving problems and studying.

Lastly, even if your kid is smart, praising intelligence over perseverance, curiosity, willingness to explore new ideas, and the process of building knowledge is setting your kids up for a potential tragic blow to their sense of self-worth when they get to college and don’t earn an A, or even a B, or even a C in their classes. These students seem devastated that their smarts didn’t get them an A. They have a hard time adjusting to the idea that an A is based on turning in work that deserves As. They will also be traumatized when they finally do learn they aren’t good at everything. Every semester I have several students in my office who are dealing with the pain of having received a bad grade after not reading the textbook, not coming to class regularly, and waiting until the last minute to start an assignment. They will place the blame on everyone but themselves because they were taught that they are smart which means that grades that do not match this view are the result of an unfair system (too much other classwork, too many readings, lectures are difficult to understand, class is too early, test was unfair, teacher grades too harshly). I didn't just pull this out of my ass. This is based on well-respected and replicated research. Parents, teach your children that the way to succeed is to put in effort. 

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