How to Score an A

yumsI teach sports journalism at Purchase College in New York. Clearly, I’m a writer first, an instructor second. I’m quite certain there are m-a-n-y better at this teaching thing. Folks who are more organized; more detailed; more adept at reaching young minds.

That said, I’ve been around long enough (3 1/2 years of teaching) to figure out some quick, easy-to-follow tips on how to land a strong grade:

1. Ask questions. Ask 10 questions. Ask 100 questions. There’s nothing more off-putting for a teacher than the students who sit in the back, minding their own business. You probably don’t think we notice. Believe me, we do. Almost always.

2. Put away your mobile device. Seriously, put it away. Don’t slyly glance at it (you’re not so sly), don’t palm it, don’t pretend it’s off—while keeping it on. Just. Put. It. Away. Far. Away. Far. Far. Away. I won’t speak for other teachers, but it pisses me off when students gaze toward the glowing screen. I have a rule in my class: DON’T. But, still, some do.

3. Respond to e-mails. An easy one. Teacher e-mails you about a paper—write him/her back. Even if a reply isn’t required. Just to show you’re concerned and engaged—even if you’re not concerned and engaged.

4. Hand your work in on time. You know what a late paper says to me? It says, “I was too busy to do your crap.” Which also says, “I really want a C-.”

5. Proof read. Spell check. Proof read. Spell check. Some shocking tidbits for young writers. “U” is not a suitable substitute for “you.” When you’re referring to yourself, “I” needs to be capitalized. Names of sports are not capitalized. Names of people are. This whole texting thing is wonderful for communication between pals, awful for proper papers. Just awful.

6. Mentioned this in passing earlier, but sit in the front. Front and center. Again, show the teacher you care. He/she will remember your name, and appreciate your interest.

7. I’ve had a ton of guest speakers this semester. ASK. THEM. QUESTIONS. This isn’t the same as asking the teacher questions—it’s even more important. When a teacher books a speaker, and the speaker says, “Any questions?” and no hands rise, well, it’s humiliating. For the speaker and for the teacher. Ask something. Anything. It might result in an interesting dialogue—and it’ll make you appear smart and stuff.

8. Repeated yawning—awful, awful, awful idea. Suppress at all costs.

9. Little crap. Put your name atop the paper. Staple papers together. It matters, because it shows you care. Really.

10. Don’t come without homework, then explain to me how busy you’ve been. Son, I’ve got two kids, five stories due, a book coming out shortly, a shower that’s not working, a mortgage, a dog, bills atop bills atop bills—and I found time to plan today’s lesson. So cut the crap.

If all else fails, give the teacher an apple. It can’t hurt.

4 thoughts on “How to Score an A”

  1. I’ve dealt with a lot of teachers, specifically in English writing classes, who are willing to forgive late work due to being busy with other work, provided you contact the teacher early and communicate with them.

  2. Well, I almost stopped reading when I saw that your ‘wisdom’ came from 3 1/2 years of teaching. Gosh, how have you managed to last that long? On the other hand, your first point grabbed me and I found all ten exactly on the target. I’ll never forget the day I was reading to a class of wiggling and distracted kindergarten-first grade students and one particularly unappealing little boy raised his hand at a telling point in the story. Excited that he was finally interested in something other than poking girls or his nose, I said “Yes, George?” “Teacher, I can see your bra!”
    Yes, my blouse gapped a little. Oh well, at least he was paying attention to something!
    Not the high point in my teaching career but many of those were to come. It is a wonderful profession. Too bad all children don’t instinctively know those rules of yours. The ones with curiosity about the world do. Others can be encouraged to exercise them. But it takes real effort, parents who get excited about ideas and learning, and a teacher who is also learning!

Leave a Reply