Classroom Etiquette, or My Traumatizing Classroom Experience




As university students, we pay for our education: the lecture halls, the study space, the go-to food places, and especially the professors. Without the profs, we would have no education—there would be no experienced people in our fields of choice to teach us the ropes.

Let’s say you are an involved, attentive student. There is a lecture that you attend every week in a class where you receive better than average marks. You do your part to participate, pay attention, and take away any teachable points. What do you expect from this professor you are paying? Does he, too, take part in your learning experience?

In my opinion, professors are vital to our learning and growth while we complete our purchased degree. It makes a difference to me when I step inside a lecture hall or a tutorial room and feel comfortable—comfortable about sharing my opinions, nodding along, sitting in the front, and essentially furthering my learning experience. The professor is responsible for most of my comfort. And I have had some amazing professors who have led me to enjoy and absorb what I learn.

A good professor encourages the class to give their input on the subject matter where input is due. A good professor allows questions, and is helpful during office hours. A good professor is sincerely approachable. A good professor should not target one student and make them feel really, really stupid.

A student like me, last Friday! 🙂

Warning: this could happen to you.

As much as I love my sleep and believe Thursdays are the new Fridays, I make my 9 a.m. class every single Friday. Last Friday, I made my 9 a.m. I sipped my tea. I didn’t fall asleep. I had my notebook open and my pen in my hand.

The professor opened the floor to questions about upcoming assignments. Questions shot from all over the room. Students around me wondered aloud what the assignment due next week entailed, as it was not clearly explained while the previous assignments were. I whispered to these students, in case anybody had any idea of what we were supposed to do. Nada.

One girl from across the room spent a good five minutes asking questions to clarify a different assignment that the prof had just gone over. Although she interrupted the prof frequently, he still answered every single question patiently.

Great, I thought as I raised my hand, I’ll just shoot our question over from this end of the room. The prof called on me, “in the red.”

“Would you mind clarifying what to hand in for the first part of the term project and where we can find instructions?” I enquired.

The prof immediately placed his hands to his head, expressed what a stupid question that was, said he had gone over it a hundred times, and “some students” just did not listen. I have never been reacted to this way in my life; I was appalled. I don’t understand why it was such a big deal to take another 30 seconds to go over the instructions, since half of the class didn’t know what to do.

He angrily bustled back to the podium and displayed where the assignment instructions were located, complaining the whole time and trying to claim that he had told me to ask that question at the beginning of the class, assuming that covering up the trauma would make his actions okay.

His reaction to a simple question was not just extremely rude, but a hindrance to my learning experience. It was traumatic to see a prof respond to me like that, especially when I was asking on behalf of several students, myself included, just trying to advance a lecture. What if that traumatized me into never asking a question again?

I fumed for about half an hour, and then bought more tea and got over it temporarily.

A learning experience is easily ruined, and tuition is easily wasted, on one moment where a prof doesn’t think and makes a student feel terrible. I don’t know what would have happened if he had done this to a different student, but he did it to me.

My point is, there is such a thing as classroom etiquette. If a prof is not following classroom etiquette, think about what actions you should take, and how you should respond to his waste of your time and money. We do have a say in our institution.

For example, I am responding with outreach via this blog post. Another possible route is speaking to the head of department, or speaking to the professor him/herself.

Moments like these exist. I’m sure they have happened before, and will probably happen again. Just remember: trauma is not what we are paying for.