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Tomorrow’s Professor Blog: 844. The Rules of Engagement: Socializing College Students for the New Century

One of the few listservs that I still subscribe to is the Tomorrows-Professor Mailing List, The TP Mailing List seeks to “foster a diverse, world-wide teaching and learning ecology” and goes out to over 25,000 subscribers at over 600 institutions and organizations in over 108 countries around the world. To date there have been over 750 postings by author and engineering professor Rick Ries.

The pieces posted are often thought provoking, like the one entitled Death to the Syllabus. I taught my last course without a syllabus–using a prospectus instead that I think avoided some of the baggage that has become intertwined with the syllabus in far too many courses:

It is time to declare war on the traditional course syllabus. If there is one single artifact that pinpoints the degradation of liberal education, it is the rule-infested, punitive, controlling syllabus that is handed out to students on the first day of class.

The most recent post to capture my attention probably won’t find its way into my practice anytime soon. Extracted from the subscription only National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, the thrust of the article is that students are becoming ruder and more inappropriate in their behavior and that many arrive at college with no understanding of the basic standards of classroom civility, etiquette, and socialization that make a class run smoothly. Professor Neil Williams from East Connecticut State has developed an elaborate set of classroom Rules of Engagement to ensure that students live up to those standards. The rules include greeting the professor by name when arriving and leaving class, taking personal responsibility for errors in personal and academic judgement and my personal favorite:

When you yawn, cover it completely with an entire hand. When the event has passed, mouth the words ‘Pardon me’ or ‘Excuse me.’ An open-mouthed or uncovered yawn is about as insensitive, rude, and inappropriate as it gets. There is almost no instance in which a yawn arrives without some sort of internal biological warning, and all that is being asked is for students to cover their mouths out of respect for the person who is forced to look at them and their dental history.

According to Williams, the rules work as long as everything is done with a smile. When the rules work, the students can become better people, better citizens, and eminently more employable or acceptable to graduate school. What more could a teacher ask for?