Class etiquette

A guide to proper classroom behavior

Welcome back to school. What you are holding in your hands, and perhaps even reading, is a basic guide to proper student behavior in the classroom.

It’s aimed more at the college student than the elementary, junior-high or high-school student. They, after all, are still kids, while you are somewhere between blossoming and totally ripened adult.

I’ve been teaching at the community college level for more than decade, and in that time I’ve observed, tolerated and in some cases lashed out at inappropriate behaviors by students. Thus this guide.

Listen: Different venues call for different behaviors. You don’t act the same at a Luciano Pavarotti opera as you would at an Insane Clown Posse concert—less slam-dancing at the Pavarotti gig, or so I would imagine. (I don’t know; I’ve never been to either.) Anyway, with that said, let’s get to the business at hand, which is helping you smoothly navigate through the semester, pass the class and maybe even learn something for your efforts (and tuition).

1. Show up for class. I know, pretty basic and seemingly obvious. But you’d be surprised at how many times, halfway through a semester, I’ve thought to myself: “I wonder whatever happened to James? He seemed like a pretty good student.” And then James would reappear at the next scheduled class and say something to the effect: “Ah, sorry man. What I miss?”

2. Don’t be late to class. If you are, enter quietly and make eye contact with the instructor to show your remorse. During a break or after class, tell the instructor why you were late: “Uh, my cat, you know? Um, like turned off my clock-radio alarm. Again.”

3. Turn off your cell phone or, if the best you can do is silence the ring, at least don’t text during lectures. And don’t break out the laptop without permission or instruction to do so.

4. Stifle yawns. At least hide them, especially in the middle of an instructor’s lecture. Taking this a step further, never put your head down on your desk and sleep; but if you do, don’t snore.

5. Pay attention to lectures. Feign interest if you have to by forming facial expressions that suggest curiosity, surprise and/or amusement. Nod your head in agreement or shake your head in disgust, when appropriate.

6. Take part in class discussions, even if your only contribution is: “Oh, that is like so stupid.” This at the very least shows you’re paying attention, which tends to impress the instructor.

7. If you don’t understand a lesson, assignment or critique the instructor has just delivered, raise your hand and say so. Don’t let your ego get in the way of asking questions. This applies to life outside the classroom, as well.

8. Do the assignments. The important thing for many instructors is noting an educational progression, that the student has learned something during the course of the semester. Assignments measure progress.

9. Set up visits with the instructor before or after class or, even better, during his or her office hours. This, too, suggests that you have a healthy interest in the subject matter and the instructor as well. Such visits can reveal some background information about the instructor, often based on the photos, diplomas and artwork hanging on the office walls.

10. And, finally, what may well be the most important suggestion on this list: Show respect to the instructor, even if deep down you think he or she is an incompetent idiot. Even if you’re right, he or she is in charge of your grade.