Classroom etiquette

I don’t claim to know the right thing to do all the time, but at least I try. Most of the time. The times I go against the grain are the times that matter, at least to me.

In a classroom situation, what is the proper etiquette? Is it set by the teacher (professor), or by the students? We (at least in the US) are taught at a young age to raise our hands and wait politely to be called on, not to have side conversations while class is in session (interesting to think of class as either a court or congress, isn’t it?), and to look like we are paying attention. These are not bad standards to go by, at least in a formal lecture.

I think of “formal lectures” as those classes that are taught in large lecture halls and covering basic material. While having a great discussion of the topic is difficult under these conditions, I have seen it done in the past. The common denominator was that it was one of those rare semesters where a) the students all enjoy the subject (difficult at the intro level) or b) there was a very energetic teacher. In these cases, it is very possible for the rules of formality to be relaxed and those students who wish to be engaged in discussion allowed to speak without raising their hands, refer to topics outside the range of the course material, and occasionally curse at the professor. These exceptional courses aside, I think I will stick to general lower-level class etiquette.

The main drawback to having a large intro class is that the teacher has no feedback, generally, during lecture. In intro courses this is counter to the idea that you want to make sure everyone understands the material being presented–few underclass students feel comfortable asking what they feel are dumb questions in a crowded hall, so the professor has only his/her past experience to draw upon when deciding how quickly to move through material. Granted that this is outlined well before the class enters the room for the first time and printed in black and white on the syllabus, but going ahead (as long as everyone understands) is usually beneficial, as it accords more time for review between the end of a section and the next examination. As a student, I also have to say that those professors who stick to the syllabus tend to let class out early more frequently than those who do not.

So what is there to do? The professor, having no immediate direct feedback as to whether his/her teaching is effective, has to go slow enough (and repeat things enough) so that even the “slowest” learners in the class can at least have time to copy down what is written on the board (a pet peeve of mine, that very few people in my classes can take notes from pure lecture, but then again, I am a graduate student taking freshman courses, so I think I have little say in the matter).

What does this have to do with classroom etiquette? There is more than one way to skin a cat, as the old saying goes, but I, having never attempted to skin such feline, couldn’t tell you what the various methods are. The general feeling of each class is initiated by the instructor, and amplified by the students. I have had courses where we sat around for half the time and talked about life, before learning about stratigraphy. My current physics class is dry as a bone, since the professor tends to be very chalkboard oriented and sticks to his notes and his syllabus like glue. The point is, there are some classes in which you cna chat it up, and some in which you can’t. As a note to the girls who sit behind me in chemistry, it seems to me (and this is only my personal opinion) that you should stop talking once the professor has started, and not destroy my eardrums with your constant loud whining about how you can’t see the board to copy down exactly what he said only seconds ago.

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