What follows is the first draft of an article I intend to direct students to. It’s not a manifesto, or in-depth teaching philosophy, or anything of that sort: it’s more a collection of observations. Other teachers — and students — are encouraged use the comments to react to these, argue against them or add to the document.
• Why are you here? You need to answer that. It’s not about us making you be here, it’s about why you chose to come here, what you came to learn, whether it’s specific or as general as I want to explore. (Although even at that, you still need to ask why.) What’s driving you, what excites you, where’s the sweet spot for your passion? Let me know; I’ll try to feed it.
• Here’s the deal: I’m responsible for the teaching; you’re responsible for the learning. If you’re not learning, it may be because I’m not holding up my end of the bargain in a way that works for you. You gotta tell me about that, though, so we can work it out.
• The recipe for success remains the same: show up, pay attention and engage, and do the work to the best of your ability at the time.
• Oh, and presume that everything will be on the test.
• They may matter to the scholarship folk and your parents, but once you go looking for work, no one will ask about your grades.
• Individual assignment grades assess how well you’ve done given your abilities, the time you’ve had available, the effort you’ve made. (I don’t grade on curves, by the way. I have no preset ideas about how many of you will excel, or how many will fail.) A low grade means you need to work harder. So does a high grade, because it means my expectations have been upped. A+ is reserved for excellence.
• We all have great days, good days and not-so-good days. Me, too. I expect you to extend the same consideration to my not-so-good days that you expect me to extend to yours.
• When you tell me you can’t come to my class because of an assignment you have to do for someone else’s class, you’re telling me that class is more important than mine. Think about that. If I ever assign something that can only be done during someone else’s class, tell me and I’ll change the assignment. If someone else assigns you something that can only be done during my class, tell them.
• It is considerably odd how many medical professionals only offer appointments for routine matters during the hours I teach.
• The number of things I don’t know would fill a (somewhat large) book, and that includes some aspects of what I’m trying to teach. That means, in some cases, we’ll be learning together, and in some cases that you’ll know more than I do. Feel free to share.
• Assume that some of the things you know are wrong. Be prepared to challenge not only the ideas of others, but your own as well.
• ”I always do my best when I do the work the night before an assignment is due.” Unless you have sincerely tried doing it any other way, how do you know that’s true?
• Journalism assignments can fall apart: Subjects won’t phone or e-mail you back on time, the original idea doesn’t fully pan out, the source you thought was gold turns out to be lead. Start your assignments early, so if they do fall apart, we can work together to salvage them before they’re due.
Update 1: Added at the suggestion of Tim Falconer (@timfalconer on Twitter, for those who indulge): When I criticize your work, I am criticizing your work, not you. Don’t take it personally.
Update 2: You should recognize that progress rarely happens in a smooth, straight line. It happens in fits and starts, greap leaps and stalls. Sometimes, frustratingly, the line seems to run backwards. Don’t fret too much; it’s that way for all of us.
Update 3: Regarding those missing classes. It happens. Life gets in the way. But if you miss a class, I don’t really have time to reteach it. And you’re responsible for knowing what, if any, assignments came out of that class. So find a study buddy you can tap.
Update 4: We all crave certainty, but sometimes the best answer I can come up with for your question is, “Possibly.” If you ask me, “What’s two plus two?” I’ll answer, “Four.” If you ask me, “Is it best to bring this fact into my story this early?”, I’ll answer “Possibly,” and we’ll talk about structure and intent and readers and all the rest and try to come to some sort of understanding. Possibly, that’s the best way because there are as many ways to tell stories as there are storytellers.