Jan 192010
Authors: Johnathan Kastner

The first few days of a new semester always start out the same. There’s the obligatory laughing at confused people who don’t seem to know where to go, the subsequent fully-justified anger at how confusing building names can be and, finally, sitting and listening to a syllabus.

Every teacher is obligated to share their syllabus with the class. Years ago, it perhaps wasn’t necessary to explain that yes, plagiarism is still not allowed, but this is the generation that needs special labels on chainsaws warning against caressing their shiny, spinning metal bits.

Most people will tune out during these first few days. I urge you not to. You can learn a lot about the way the class will unfold by listening to the teacher. No, not by actually paying attention to their words. The same way you learn anything else: by skimming and making assumptions.

The syllabus contains clues as to the true nature of the impending semester, and since the drop date hasn’t yet passed, you’ll want to figure this out sooner rather than later. This way you can drop hard classes that might make you focus on studying rather than what college is all about: doing whatever you want with no consequences.

The first day can contain useful autobiographical information about the teacher that they give to connect with their students on a personal, human level. The natural instinct is to ignore this information, as you will never be tested on it and hence it is useless, but be aware, teachers are people too.

Little things like a former profession or pet hobby can make all the difference in the world with grading. Former architects may be interested in projects related to construction. Likewise, avoid stepping on any hobbies they may possess.

You should not, for example, mention how you think children are parasitic monsters who should be mining coal instead of causing a ruckus on airplanes. Teachers can be parents too and tend to have specific feelings about poor treatment of miners.

Scanning the syllabus can reveal a good deal about the coming semester. Lists of assignments and due dates are all well and good, but if your syllabus is nothing but a glorified homework calendar, it is possible that the teacher expects you to do an unreasonable amount of work.

Positive signs include any mention of extra credit, which is sort of like a second parachute. You don’t think you’ll need it, but later, if you didn’t have one, you’ll feel just a little silly. Negative signs include a zero tolerance late policy, which, to the average student, is like being told to “aim for a haycart and hope for the best.”

You can also get a feel for if a class is worthwhile by judging your classmates. Don’t be shy about it, they’re judging you, too. Sure, they look like they’re checking Facebook on their phones, sleeping and doing Sudoku, but they’re judging you silently.

We could pretend that you’ll look for studious academic men and women to study with and form long term friendships with, but really we both know you’re scanning for one thing –– cute people. Universities know that many students are just in class to flirt and will hire attractive actors to sit in classes until the day after the drop date.

This may seem dishonest, but it’s really no different than any other organization. Why did you buy your particular brand of clothing? Cute people. Why are you listening to music by a particular band? They’re cute. Why did you have burgers for lunch? Because everyone loves a clown.

Best of luck in the upcoming semester, and remember, the first day of school doesn’t just have to be boring. Sometimes it can be useful, too.

Johnathan Kastner is a senior undeclared major with a physical and mathematical sciences interest. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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