My classes for this coming semester will start one week from today. One of my classes will be an introductory course with 24 freshmen. I want to make sure those students are clear about what I want from them. So, I sent them an email today and I tried to explain things as best I could. I want to inspire them without seeming silly. I want to challenge them without scaring them.
Here (in part) is what I wrote to these 24 freshmen:
“Over the past few weeks, you should have received quite a bit of stuff from me by email. Read it all. Think about it. I want the coming semester to be absolutely great for you. I want this to be the best educational experience you’ve ever had. I want you to learn more than you ever thought possible.
“I like to make things crystal clear. Things simply go better if you understand what I expect from you and why. As I mentioned in one of my emails, I will do half the work in this class but you must do the other half. It is your education. You have to be willing to do half of the work. That’s only fair. Someone is spending $60,000 for this education (either through tuition or scholarship aid) and they deserve a $60,000 education. Heck, it is likely the only shot at a college education that you will ever have. You should demand a $60,000 education. This will be a better university when students go to the administration and their faculty and demand a $60,000 education.
“I have also said this before but I’ll say it again. I do not want boring students. I want students who have energy, curiosity, and interest. If all you want to do is copy and memorize what I say, you probably should have stayed in high school. I think that is a bad habit that some college students have. If you drag into class looking like a corpse, don’t expect me to be too impressed. If you can’t manage your time well enough to prepare for class, don’t expect to learn or get good grades. This just seems like common sense. I want students who have a burning desire to know more by the end of the semester than they do at the beginning. I want students who don’t mind working a bit if they believe there are real benefits to be gained. I want students who want to be challenged, students who pray that they will get called on. I want students who want to be pushed out of their comfort zones. I want curious students—curious is much better than smart. “How does this work?” “Why is the number 27 here instead of 9 1/2?” “Why did this company report this information?” If you have no curiosity about how the world works, college may well be a wasted experience for you. My very favorite students are those students who read the textbook/watch the videos/read the newspaper and have more questions than answers.
I will start every class by giving you a handout like this one. It contains the questions that we will talk about in the next class. I never lecture. 100 percent of class time is a conversation. If a student struggles in my class, it is virtually always because they are not adequately prepared for the class discussion. Preparation really is the key to success in 201. If I ask you “do some thinking about the first three presidents of the US?” and you pencil in “their names were Washington, Adams, and Jefferson” and nothing more than I know you have not done any true thinking (you are back in the sixth grade). I am looking for something like “I think Adams was a better president than Jefferson because …” or “Washington is an over-rated president because …” I want college-level thinking.”