I’ve been a college English instructor for just about 20 years, and I like to think that I’ve heard it all. But somehow, every year, my students manage to surprise me and come up with something new.
So if you’re going to college, or if you know someone who’s going to college, here’s a list of stuff that should never, EVER be said to an instructor. Will you get in trouble if you do? No. But asking one of these questions is a great way to grind your teacher’s gears, and you know what they say about first impressions. As you’re sizing up your instructors, they’re doing the same to you, even if they don’t know it or won’t admit it.
1. Can I go to the bathroom?
This one seems pretty innocent. Haven’t you just spent 12 years asking permission to excuse yourself from class to use the rest room? In order to leave class in high school, some of you even had to get a written pass, as valuable as the elusive and treasured letters of transit in Casablanca. But this is college. We’re grown-ups. If you need to step out, just do so quietly while disrupting the class as little as possible. It’s all good.
2. Who are the Beatles?
OK, let me explain. I actually teach a course about the Beatles and teen culture. And the students who go out of their way to tell me they’ve never heard of John Lennon or Paul McCartney aren’t the ones who are landing on Santa’s Nice List. This year a student asked, “Are they like Nickelback?” The lesson here: whatever your teacher is trying to teach you is important. Even if you know nothing about it, don’t show it. And don’t let on that you think it’s weird. (Bonus hint: when I make a reference to something like Casablanca, don’t look at me as if I have antlers. It’s a joke. Go ahead and laugh.)
3. My computer crashed.
Remember the packs of dogs that used to eat homework assignments and term papers? They’ve morphed into computers that always pick the worst possible moment to commit electronic hari-kari. You may say “my computer crashed,” but what we hear is “I didn’t bother to do whatever it was you told me to do.”
4. Is that your granddaughter?
I have to be honest with you here—I’ve only been asked that once, and the student who said it was referring to my 9-year-old daughter. I have no grandchildren and that question still irks me.
5. Is it OK to use Wikipedia as a source?
Sure it is. Let me make it even easier for you. Why don’t you go just outside and ask a group of random strangers to give you the information you’re looking for? (Academic sarcasm. No, it’s not OK to use Wikipedia as a source.)
6. Are you grading on the curve?
Again, in all honesty: I went through my 12 years of public school, then I earned both a bachelors and masters degree, and I’ve been teaching for decades. And I have no idea what “the curve” is supposed to be, except that in baseball, it’s hard to hit. I know that it’s meant to mean that I’m giving everyone a higher grade than they actually earned. So no, I’m not doing that. When I get paid on the curve, I’ll grade on the curve.
7. Does spelling count?
Let me answer that this way, while simultaneously banging my head against the wall: YEEEEAAARRRRGHH! (Did I spell that right?)
To make a good impression in college, check out these tips.