One of the most appealing things about going to school at Goucher is the small class size. Small classes mean that every student gets more attention from the professor, and we all get to know each other really well. It’s a pretty sweet deal, right? Not all of the time. Small classes can create annoyances when students ignore important classroom etiquette skills. For that reason, I have compiled a list of the Dos and Don’ts of small-class etiquette to help all students (myself included) be a valuable part of the small-class environment rather than being that guy.
DO understand the relationship between pre-class preparation and in-class participation. If you are prepared for class (i.e. have done the assigned reading) feel free to participate! If you aren’t, you would be wise to sit back and listen actively. When students who are not prepared try to lead a discussion, the professor is forced to talk in circles, and everyone suffers. When students who are prepared participate, the discussion moves faster and addresses more topics, which helps all the students in the class – even the ones who aren’t prepared!
DON’T make comments that move the conversation laterally instead of forwards. A good rule of thumb is to avoid comments that only apply to your personal life or involve topics that most of the class probably does not understand. A comment that relates Machiavelli’s The Prince to Game of Thrones may be brilliant, but how many classmates (or professors) know enough about the Lannisters and their scheming to make that discussion useful in class? As much as it pains me to admit it, that kind of discussion is probably better left for late-night study sessions in the Ath.
DO ask questions, whether you understand the discussion or not. If you don’t understand something, chances are other students don’t understand it either and will be relieved that you asked. When you think you may have a profound insight and ask a critical question to confirm it, your professor will really respect you (and probably give you some coveted participation points to boost your grade), and it may even result in an AHA! moment for the whole class.
DON’T be an “over-sharer.” The over-sharer is the bane of a class because he or she takes too long to get to the point. Everyone gets frustrated when a discussion about Descartes becomes one student’s monologue about middle school. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to be the over-sharer – I know that I fall into that trap because I see the eye rolls after I make a long-winded comment. Limiting your share time to fewer than thirty seconds is usually the best way to stay out of the trap.
DO respond to what a professor says, but DON’T be a “random interjector.” A random interjector is the person in the class who throws out short comments while the professor is in the middle of a sentence. Some professors like it when students are engaged enough to react and get enthused when they get a little outburst. Others find it disorienting. If you aren’t sure whether your interjections are welcomed or dreaded, watch the professor’s facial expression after you’ve blurted out your comment. If the professor looks at you blankly and then struggles to get back on track, consider yourself a random interjector, and vow to change the error of your ways.
So what is the over-arching theme of these Dos and Don’ts? Really, it’s just being self-aware and learning to participate effectively in class. As long as you stay cognizant of your professors’ and classmates’ reactions to your class participation and adjust your behavior accordingly, you will be respected by your peers and all of our small classes will run smoother … but let’s be honest – part of the fun of having a class full of random interjectors and over-sharers is complaining about them in the Ath at two in the morning with friends who know that the Lannisters are all totally Machiavellian.