One would think that at the college level a list such as this wouldn't be necessary, but
apparently some students are unaware of some of the basics of classroom etiquette.
There will certainly be variations as to what is considered "proper" for a class
based on the nature of the course. There will even be differences in a particular
course depending on what is occurring at any given time (lecture, discussion, group work,
test, etc.). Thus, the list below should serve as a guide rather than a strict set
- Be on time for class. This seems fairly obvious, but I've had
some students that seemed to make a habit of coming in late. If this
only happens once or twice it's probably not a big deal. If it happens more often
then some explanation should be given to the instructor. The UI only allows 10
minutes between classes, so sometimes lateness is due to scheduling problems and an
instructor should be understanding about it. Even so, keep in mind that late
arrivals can be distracting to the instructor and disruptive to the class. If you do
arrive late, take the first seat available rather than hunting around for a
"good" seat. In the big lecture rooms in Schaeffer Hall I've had folks
come in one set of doors and walk right in front of me while I was lecturing so they could
get to a seat on the other side of the room. If you want a good seat, get to class
- Talking in class. There are two aspects to this. First,
conversations need to stop when the instructor is ready to begin class. This
certainly doesn't mean that there has to be dead silence the second the instructor enters
the room. Like me, I'm sure most instructors take a few moments to arrange books and
notes, check or prepare computer or other equipment, or have brief conversations with
teaching assistants or students. Even so, when the instructor makes it clear that
class is starting other conversations should be quickly finished. Second, there
may be times when one needs to ask a question of a person sitting nearby. Brief, and
quiet, comments along the lines of "What was that point?," or "Was that
argument correct?" are certainly understandable. You should not, however, carry
on conversations in class. This is true even if they happen to be related to the
topic. Even if such conversations are relatively quiet and do not seem to disturb
anyone nearby, they can be distracting to the instructor, not to mention rude.
- Dress code. This hasn't been a particular problem
in my classes, and I am about the last
person to be able to make any comments on fashion, so I will just advise folks to not
sacrifice comfort for the sake of fashion. Also keep in mind that air conditioned
rooms can become chilly when one is dressed for hot weather. (Of course, when the
administration decides to turn off the air conditioning when it gets really hot,
as it sometimes does in the summers and early fall, well, then you are on your own.) Aside from that I would
just add the following: 1) no black socks with shorts (though this tends to be more of a
professor/grad student problem), 2) minimize the wearing of apparel from U Michigan or
Ohio State U, 3) maximize the wearing of apparel from Michigan State U.
- Cell phones and beepers. My understanding is that most beepers
and cell phones can be set to vibrate rather than produce a sound, so they should be less
of a problem. These devices should be turned off if they cannot be set to a
silent mode. (Some phones are pretty noisy even on vibrate.) Of course, you should not answer your cell phone during class. If
you are expecting a really important call (e.g., wife going into labor, picked for the
next Survivor series), then it might be a good idea to inform the
instructor before class so it's less of a distraction if you leave the
classroom to take the call (and sit near a door so you can make an
- Computers. More
students seem to be using laptops for class. I have mixed feelings about this. Unfortunately, because
wireless access is available in Schaeffer Hall's classrooms I have found
more students are surfing the web or performing tasks other than taking
class notes with their laptops. Again, such activities are likely
distracting to those around the student (e.g., those sitting behind who see
something unrelated to the course on the computer screen) as well as the
instructor. As a side note, during my two years working in
the Department of Justice I found that it would have been impractical in
most cases to use a computer to take meeting notes (and, related to the next item, recording meetings would not have been allowed). Thus, learning to take good
notes is an important skill to have even outside the classroom.
- Recording equipment. I've had a few students who have
asked permission to record lectures or discussions on a laptop or other device. On the whole I do not allow such recordings to be made, although it may depend on the circumstances. At the very least, you should ask the
instructor in advance about recording class activities.
- Reading in class. Aside from the recent
proliferation of laptops, on a few occasions I've had students in the
back of class pull out a newspaper and start reading. It might not have been so bad
had the students been discrete about it, but two in particular I recall just held the paper right
out in front of them. It's one thing to not be all that interested in the lecture or
discussion, but flaunting one's boredom in this way is very rude behavior. At a
minimum try to be more discrete about it. Along similar lines, avoid other behavior
that clearly indicates to the instructor that you are not paying attention. I should
mention that staring out the window or occasionally falling asleep usually doesn't count.
It happens. Just be sure you have an agreement with the person sitting next
to you to give you a nudge if you start to snore.
- Mr., Dr., or Prof.: This isn't exclusively a class question, but
some folks aren't sure of the correct way to address their instructors.
"Mister" will always be technically correct (for male professors,
of course), but should mainly be used for
those without a PhD or other doctorate. This will mostly apply to TAs
or new faculty who may not have finished their degree. "Doctor" will
be correct for anyone with a doctorate. (JD is an exception. Although
it's a doctorate, no one refers to lawyers as "Doctor.") "Professor"
is correct for anyone with a doctorate on the faculty. That will
include all ranks of professor (assistant, associate, full, and visiting).
The choice between "Doctor" and "Professor" is mainly a matter of personal
choice. I prefer "Professor" given, as I tell my grad students, lots
of folks get PhDs but don't get an academic job. Your best clue will
likely be how the person lists his or her name on the syllabus or during an
initial introduction. Also, many TAs will invite you to refer to them
by their first names. (Professors might as well.) That's fine, but
until you are invited to do so be a bit more formal. Better to be
invited to be less formal than to be corrected for being overly familiar.
- End of class. Students sometimes try to hurry the end of class by
beginning to gather books and rustling about a few minutes before the end of class.
Again, this can be rude, particularly when others are trying to hear what the instructor
is saying at the end of class. I realize that some instructors may have a habit of
going over a few minutes, which can be a problem if you have another class scheduled right
after. I, however, rarely have to do this and will often quit a few minutes early,
so please don't try to hurry things along.
- Leaving early. Like arriving late, sometimes one has to leave
class early. Most students let me know in advance and will try to sit near the door
to make less of a disturbance when leaving. If it's going to be a regular
occurrence, you should certainly inform the instructor.
- Paper day. The day the paper assignments are due seems to bring
out the worst behavior in folks. I usually require that papers for my courses be
turned in at the beginning of class. Although most students get to class and turn in
the paper on time, a fair number seem to arrive late, usually after I've begun the day's
lecture, wander around looking for where they should turn in the paper, and then just
leave. Aside from the disturbance this creates, it's more than a little rude to just
march in, drop off a paper, and march out after class has begun.