Five things you shouldn’t ask your professor

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer in advertising

Last week an old friend sent me an online column she thought might be useful to students preparing to enter the job market: “Ten Things You Should Never Tell Your Boss.”

For college students, there is a similar list of “Things You Should Never Ask Your Professor.” We can assume that professors try to be as objective as possible when it comes to grading but, let’s face it, some things are just hard to forget when the red pen comes out.

Probably the most frequently offered Thing You Shouldn’t Ask (TYSA) is the one you usually ask when the prof runs into you on campus after you missed her 8:30 a.m. class. You are obviously not dead, there are no apparent injuries, and seriously ill students are not usually seen laughing like a hyena and telling jokes to a pair of Alpha Omicron Pis.

Wisely, you skip the excuse about a mysterious and violent illness that rendered you unable to walk the two blocks to class. Unwisely, you say, “Oh, hi, Doc. Did we, uh, like, do anything in class today?”

You will not get credit for showing a vague sort of interest in the class. Instead, the prof will assume you believe that, for each of the past 16 weeks, she has wasted 150 minutes of your time. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, she thinks she has been earning the Nobel Prize in undergraduate teaching. She will not appreciate the suggestion that “doing anything” is a remarkable change of plan.

The best thing to do is to look at your watch and exclaim, “Hey! He’s late again. Has anybody seen my worthless twin brother, (insert your name here)?” Then wander off, continuing to shout your own name as if calling yourself on your new iPhone 6.

A second TYSA has to do with turning in assignments. Submitting assigned work is a good thing, and the prof will usually tell you how to do that, and when. There are exceptions of course, but generally that’s when and how he wants it. When you failed to complete it on time and pull ye olde “broken printer” excuse out of its well-worn bag, try to avoid the casual question, “Can I just email that to you?” It’s another way of saying either “Let’s use up your toner bar; profs get them for free, don’t they,” or “I don’t know how to follow simple directions.” Pick one.

After a half-hour lecture on the causes of the Civil War, during which the instructor wept, paced about the room and exhorted your generation never to repeat the errors of the past, it is a bad time to pick up a pencil and pose the TYSA, “Will that be on the test?”

A fourth TYSA comes up at this happy time of year. Teachers want free time as much as you. Still, they are under contract to teach when the University lets them, and many of them believe that they are doing a good thing.

Referring to the Monday and Tuesday before our annual ritual of overeating (Turkey Day), it is very risky to ask, “Are we going to have class?” You might as well ask, “Aren’t you done yet?”

The final TYSA is the biannual favorite: “When is the final in this class?” It’s in the syllabus. The University maintains an expensive website wherein, after a 15 minute search, you might find the final exam schedule. Sometimes, The News prints it for you. You should be thinking about it right now — not the day before the last class. You still have the syllabus don’t you?

“Ask,” says the ancient teaching, “and it shall be answered.” Just be sure you know how the question will sound when you say it out loud. Here’s a good question: Are you ready for Thanksgiving break?

Column by Robert Valentine, Senior lecturer of advertising