A New School Year Begins. The 8 Things I Want to Tell My Students

September 11, 2018

A New School Year Begins. The 8 Things I Want to Tell My Students

September is here and another school year is upon us. I will be heading back into the classroom soon with a new crop of students eager to dive into another semester of studies.

I’ve taught at Heritage College and Seminary since 1996, and I’ve seen my share of students. The post-secondary experience can be a daunting one. As a new school year begins, here are 8 tips I would love my students to know. Though I’m writing from my experience teaching at a Bible College and Seminary, I believe the suggestions below are applicable to most post-secondary institutions.

1.  Don't fret about the end game

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve been invited out for coffee by a student and asked whether or not school was God’s plan for their life. If that question wasn’t daunting enough, the follow-up is worse. What is God going to do with them at the end of their degree? I can certainly understand the need for answers. Many of the students I’ve sat with have quit stable jobs, have young families to care for, or left other career paths to follow what they feel is God’s call.

    I’ve never had a good answer and frankly, never will. What I do know is this; God honours a life that’s committed to him. I’ve watched students who have sacrificed much going into school but live a life of incredible blessing after graduating. No one has ever come back to me and said they regretted their time in school. Here’s the rub, when they look back on their life, they could have never predicted the way it all came together for them. So, don’t fret about the end, but trust that God has something good in store for you.

    2.  Don't be motivated by GPA alone

      I’ve known students who are motivated primarily by getting the highest marks. As honourable as that may sound, they tend to miss the lessons of a lower mark. Sounds weird, I know, but its true. The other flaw is writing papers geared to pacify a particular bent of a professor while never finding their own voice. In fact, I just read recently that a number of professors from many of the highest rated schools are encouraging students with three simple words, think for yourself.

      Education is not about becoming a parrot that mimics, but about expanding your horizons and your thinking. There is only one 30 second moment when a GPA is announced and that's at graduation. It's cool to be acknowledged but it should not be the primary focus of your entire degree. Frankly, I've never had an employer ask me for my GPA. In certain professions it may be an issue, but for the vast majority, it will never come up.

      3.  Enjoy the ride, even when its bumpy

        Higher education is a unique experience if you really think about it. Few seasons in life match it. Unfortunately, it can also be incredibly stressful. But it doesn’t mean it has to be a painful experience. The opportunities to learn, interact with others, grow in dynamic ways, and stretch yourself to new horizons are experiences to be celebrated for the moments and the memories they create.

        I've noticed a general increase in stress and drama among young people. Don't know if it's a new cultural norm but stress and drama have a way of dulling joy and limiting perspective. In fact, if school is really going to prepare you for life in the real world, what better place to begin managing your stress?

        4.  Whatever the question, make sure you answer it

          It's odd to admit but I’ve read tons of papers that really didn’t say much. It’s amazing to me how someone can reiterate the obvious and do so for multiple pages. As a professor, I don’t need you to simply give me a commentary of what a particular text says. I can read that on my own. What I do need to read is your thoughtful probing and analysis of the problem. A demonstration to me that you’ve gone through the process, assessed the problem and are earnestly seeking a resolution to it.

          A secondary issue is formatting. At the start of every class, I stress the need for students to adhere to the institutions formatting rules. To a student, they assure me that formatting is well understood. Without fail, year after tiring year, I’m marking papers that aren’t remotely close to the standards that have been clearly stated.

          That’s just a waste of marks for a student, as well as a frustrating time for me. And if there’s another secret I can pass on, don’t frustrate your prof! If you make your paper difficult to mark, guess what, you will be the one who pays for it. Oh, one last thing. My printer wouldn't work is today's equivalent of, My dog ate my homework. Do better!

          5.  Be an active participant, not a spectator

            I know this is probably my issue, but there are so many students who sit in class week after week and never say a word. Never a question, never adding to a conversation, never a peep! Now, I've heard students say they are paying good money and want to soak in all they can, but to never ask for clarification, or ask a related question that expands upon a concept, is to me, just a waste of a good opportunity.

            I know in some institutions the lecture halls are massive so questions are frowned upon because of sheer size, but for the most part, a healthy dialogue parallel to good teaching makes a great learning experience. Yes, too many questions and side issues can derail a classroom, but an effective prof will catch that quickly and get things back on track. Most professors are a wealth of knowledge and experience, and to treat them purely as a talking head, instead of a valuable resource, is a shame.

            6.  Academics can be hazardous

              I am being a little cheeky here, but the truth is bible college can be harmful to your faith. Like any educational institution, the academics are weighty. Many students have confided in me that their faith has struggled during their time at college and seminary. It's not that they lost their faith, but due to the weight of the academics, they didn't have time to invest in their spiritual health.

              We can get so tuned to analyzing and parsing a text that we can forget that its ultimately meant to feed our souls. Self-care is one of the first disciplines to be jettisoned when a schedule is hectic and full. Second is family. Sacrifices are sometimes necessary, we've all had to make them, but make sure you get back on track when it comes to nourishing and feeding your soul.

              7.  The right tools for the job

                In my particular educational world, students write papers, lots of them. As strange as it may sound, I’m surprised how many students opt for programs like Word, or free programs like Open Office. Those are fine, but if you’re writing papers that are mini-theses with numerous footnotes, bibliographies, and multiple pages you need a program that is going to work for you, not against you.

                Spend the money and get a program like Scrivener, which last time I checked was $40-45. It’s a program that is designed for writing. From research papers, to multi-volume books, it manages the dynamics of writing in ways Word can’t even begin to touch. The amount of tools and apps at a student’s disposal today is unprecedented in the history of education. Make sure you don’t make it harder by not availing yourself of some handy time-saving resources.

                8.  Make sure you get some rest

                  Few things that can irk a professor than a student who’s dozing off in class. For the love of everything that’s holy, get some sleep. Yeah, late nights can be part of the experience due to paper deadlines and exams, but more often than not, its due to a student’s procrastination that they end up burning the all-night oil. Lack of sleep doesn’t help memory retention or cognitive skills.

                  You are only hurting yourself. Find a routine, daily eat away at those papers, but make sure you are awake and well-rested for classes. Your professor may even notice!

                  1 Response

                  Jeff Ste. Marie
                  Jeff Ste. Marie

                  September 20, 2018

                  Hi Jon, Thank you for some seasoned and very practical advice. I’m going through similar thoughts with my own students. The challenge of technology in the classroom, specifically cell phones, continues to be a major distraction to both students and the teacher trying to teach. I pray God’s blessing on you as another school year begins!

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