January 20, 2013

Spring Semester Inspiration

This past week…the beginning of the spring semester for college students nationwide. Okay, maybe some started the week before while others will start this week, but soon enough most college campuses will be ripe with college students. They don their new clothes (likely gifts from Christmas), pack their bags with pens and pencils and paper, and open their laptops for the first time since early December. Wait, who am I kidding? They have likely been on Facebook, Twitter, and playing online video games all break. Well, at least they will open their laptops for school starting this week. Many will come with new devices and gadgets—everything from tablets to calculators—ready to try them out on their new classes.

It is a fun time of the semester, right now at the beginning. Students are not yet overwhelmed by the work they have to do. They are at least sort of excited about the opportunities ahead of them. They haven’t yet reached the point of being jaded and checked out of the semester. And professors and instructors feel the same thrill at a new beginning. New classes, new students, new potential all excite professors and students alike. We all have hope that this semester will be the best, and it likely will be.

So, to help students keep that enthusiasm and find themselves at a place of success at the end of the semester, I thought I would offer some advice. It wasn’t all that long ago that I, too, was a student, and now as a professor I have a new perspective on the college experience. I figured that maybe I should share that with the global world.

Let’s start with grades. First of all, students do not pass just because they (their parents, the government, or some other benefactor) are paying for it. Students pass classes because they turn in passing work. Really, as long as students go to class (and I do mean every class meeting), read the book, and turn in their work, they are most likely going to pass the class. If a student is in class, reading the work assigned, and turning in their assignments, she would be hard pressed not to pass. It’s sort of inevitable.

However, if a student wants to do more than just pass along, then she must be ready to put forth more than her best effort. For most classes, passing is a D. That means that a student completed the class and can move onto the next one. For instance, if a student receives a D in Composition I, then that student may move onto Composition II. If D for diploma isn’t good enough, then students need to do more than just the minimum. They need to seek help, get tutored, and work hard.

Grades are not a reflection of how professors feel about their students as individual humans. They do not represent what professors think about students’ personalities or opinions or life choices. Grades are simply a means of evaluating the work a student turns in. Thus if Joe turns in average work, he will receive a C, which is an average grade. If he turns in below average work, he will get a D or possibly an F (if it’s particularly bad). If Joe turns in above average work, he is likely to get a B, and if he turns in exemplary work with few flaws, then he will receive an A.

The grade of A is hard to obtain. It’s reserved for the best of the best. Sometimes, students can’t all be the best of the best in every subject. Sometimes life situations prevent this while other times students simply struggle with a particular discipline. Remember, though, the grade is based on the quality of work one turns in.

If a student wants to do more than just the pass the class, then he needs to be willing to work at it. He should go to his professors’ office hours for guidance and discussions. He should seek out tutoring on campus especially in his weaker subjects. He should also understand that above average grades require above average effort. Though it is hard, it is absolutely obtainable with a little bit of tenacity, dedication, and willingness.

Beyond that, students must, and I can’t emphasize must enough, manage their time. They will have several classes, which requires several hours of homework or study time. Many will also have jobs, family, athletics, and other extracurricular activities. If they want to do above average work, they must commit the time and effort to that. A time management schedule is key to all of this. Plus, a successful semester requires a balance of school, job, family, social, and personal time. Preparing for that by planning out the days and weeks is crucial.

College should be fun. It should be work and learning, but it should also be an incredible educational experience. I mean, students get to learn about subjects they want to as well as those that create a well-rounded education. They read and listen and talk about different ideas. Definitely, there are worst places one could spend her time than a college campus.

Image Credit: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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