In the tradition of teaching what you most need to learn, the abyss staring back into you, &etc., I have become the teacher of freshman comp that my own freshman self hated.
This week: Attendance.
Throughout my own undergrad years, I resented attendance policies as an unnecessarily paternalistic waste of my time, put in place solely to satisfy an egomaniacal professor’s need for an audience. Why should I come to class, if I can accomplish the work just as well on my own?
Well, nineteen-year-old self, your professorial future can give you three reasons:
- The work in class is directly related to the work expected in the final paper(s), if your professor bothers to scaffold at all – and most do. In my own eight-years-and-counting postsecondary career, I have so far had only two professors who didn’t. Even in my second and third years of law school, when I could conceivably have passed every class simply by memorizing someone else’s outline the day before the exam, I still went to classes. Every professor has pet topics and pet peeves, and while you don’t always have to navigate your papers around them, you should at least drop hints.
- Professors who have attendance policies have ways of knowing whether or not you’re fulfilling them. Every semester, one or two of my students assumes that because I do not call the roll after the first week, I am not actually keeping track of their attendance. Wrong. In the first-year writing class I teach, attendance counts for a whopping 40 percent of a student’s final grade – so you can bet I know whether or not my students are in class.
- You won’t have to do the work twice. The director of our first-year writing program often says that she “only gets paid to teach this class once.” Students also only pay to take this class once – in an ideal world. Coming to class saves time otherwise spent chasing down assignments (at best) or retaking the class (at worst).
Perhaps the single best example in my own teaching of all three of the above points is my “final exam,” which accounts for 10 percent of the total class grade. The “final” is described in the syllabus only as a “reflection paper,” but it actually requires my students to respond to any one of four very specific writing prompts. I change these prompts every semester and do not hand them out until the day of the final.
Every semester, a student or two tries to write the paper ahead of time; every semester, a student or two has to rewrite it from scratch or hazard a zero. (Some of them, to my shock and awe, have actually hazarded the zero.) Simply showing up to class on the last day would solve this problem, but a surprising number of them don’t do it.
Dear 19-year-old self: go to class. I promise I’m not making you show up just so someone has to listen to me speak.