What Most Instructors Expect Their Students To Do

Study Tip #13

Outline on instructor expectations.

  1. Instructors assume student freedom.
  2. Instructors expect that students will do a lot of work outside of class.
  3. Instructors expect that when students are puzzled they will ask questions in class.
  4. Instructors expect that students will visit them in their office.
  5. Instructors expect that students will take notes in class.
  6. Instructors expect that students will do homework and reading assignments on time.
  7. Instructors expect that students will be active learners.

If you know what your teachers expect, you can adjust how you act toward them and get more out of college. You don't have to do everything teachers expect, but it helps to know the behind-the-scenes "rules". This sheet will tell you what college instructors usually expect.

Instructors assume student freedom.
1. Most college instructors will judge you to be an adult. They usually will not think of themselves as having authority over people. This is not high school or the army. (But you may still meet a few instructors who are authoritarian.)

2. Most instructors know that you and most of the students chose freely to come to college and to take courses. They know that they cannot force or compel students to do things. They know that students have the right to quit whenever they want to. Most instructors accept the fact of student freedom.

3. If you make choices that are bad for your education, most instructors will not interfere. Therefore, you will have a lot of freedom to get into trouble. And you will have to get yourself out of it. For example, if you cut classes, stop doing assignments, and miss a test or two, most instructors will not try to change your behavior. (However, a few will check what's happening.) So decide to supply your own self-discipline.

Instructors expect that students will do a lot of work outside of class.
Most college teachers deliberately plan their courses so that you and the other students will do most of your reading and learning outside of class. Of course, teachers vary. You may take courses that do not require outside studying. But that is rare. Do not plan to try to get through most courses by simply going to classes and skipping the reading and the rest of the assignments, because you won't learn enough to get good grades.

You should plan on doing a few hours reading each week for each course that has reading assignments. And you should plan on needing extra time when teachers require written papers and homework. Finally, you should allow for a few hours of review to prepare for each test.
Many students who get poor grades simply do not realize how hard the students who get high grades are working. Some can study 10 to 15 hours a week outside of a difficult class. More for very hard classes! (Most classes are much easier.)

Instructors expect that when students are puzzled they will ask questions in class.
1. Most instructors expect that you will ask questions about the things you don't understand. If you are silent and shy, most instructors will misunderstand you. They will think that they made clear explanations or that you are bored and don't care enough to ask.

2. It is common for students to feel nervous about asking a question in class. They are afraid of asking a "stupid question". They are also afraid of interrupting the teacher's presentation and irritating both teacher and students. The oldest excuse is, "I thought I was the only one who didn't understand and I didn't want to slow down the class." Often several students wonder about the same thing. And generally teachers welcome students' questions.

3. You should ask your questions when they occur to you, unless your teacher says not to. Don't wait. Why? It helps you. It helps the other class members who have the same question. It helps the instructor know how clearly he or she is explaining the ideas.

4. The main thing that you should not do is to ask too many questions or talk about too many things. When you talk, stay on the subject. When students talk too much, they use up the teacher's time and prevent other students from talking, too. However, apart from these warnings, you should talk in class. After all, you are paying good money to buy this knowledge and these skills! So insist on getting your money's worth. If the teacher wants you to lessen the number of questions, let him or her tell you.

Instructors expect that students will visit them in their office.
Our college requires most instructors to be on campus a certain number of hours per week and to keep office hours so that students can visit.

So when you have trouble understanding certain ideas and when you have longer questions that you don't want to ask in class, you should visit the instructor. It is perfectly right and proper to visit an instructor's office.

Most instructors welcome students. They see visiting students as motivated to learn.

Instructors expect that students will take notes in class.
Students usually can learn more and learn it more effortlessly by going to class and taking notes. So attend classes. Take notes. Instructors usually give information in class that you will not find in your textbooks. They will expect you to learn things from class lectures and to answer questions on tests. So buy a notebook and take notes.

Some students misunderstand the way the memory works. They are fooled by the fact that they understand a teacher's ideas, so they think it means that they will remember the ideas without taking notes. But that is wrong. It takes a different kind of studying to remember information than it does to understand it. Students who don't take notes tend to forget details, lists of things, complex arguments, and material where it is important to remember the exact wording. So take notes! See the Study Tip on note-taking for suggestions on how to take good notes.

Instructors expect that students will do homework and reading assignments on time.
Teachers generally expect (and hope!) that you and other students will do your homework and reading assignments on time. A teacher's whole plan of teaching usually depends on the students being up-to-date with their reading. When the students all know a certain background, teaching works best, because the teacher can talk about more complicated material that depends on the students' knowing that background information.

1. Students who have not read the assignments have a difficult choice: Either they must sit quietly and not understand ideas or they must ask about simple facts that they should know already.

2. Many teachers give out an outline of the course with the assignments on it during the first class period. Often they will not talk about the assignments after that. Teachers will expect that you will read the outline and will do the assignments, and often they won't remind you about assignments. If your teacher acts this way, don't get fooled and fall behind. Check the outline and do your reading.

3. Most teachers expect students to do the homework and take tests on time. Teachers have many different tasks to do. If students do their work late, it takes longer for the teacher to grade it fairly because the teacher has to take time reviewing the key ideas and the standards for grading.

Naturally, most instructors will give you some flexibility, and they all recognize that students can face difficult situations which cause them to do work late. So set the goal of doing your work on time, but if occasionally you can't, be philosophical about it.

Instructors expect that students will be active learners.
Teachers expect their students to actively try to learn. They will not expect you to be passive.
What is an active learner? An active learner desires to learn a topic, asks questions and searches for information to answer the questions. Such a student tries to understand new ideas, practices new skills many times, and tries to see how new ideas are connected to each other and to familiar ideas. Active learners try to memorize important principles and information. And such a learner tries to use the new skills and knowledge in real life situations.

But a person who learns passively expects the teacher to pound in the new knowledge. He or she expects wrongly to be able relax and listen without thinking. For example, one of our teachers had a middle-aged man in class who had worked in a factory running a machine. At work he was able to let his mind wander. He could work automatically without paying attention to his work. In college he expected to do the same thing. So he sat back, detached his mind, did not try and did not think. Naturally, he began to get low grades. Fortunately the alert teacher noticed his behavior and explained to him why people cannot learn things unless they become mentally involved. He listened, changed his behavior, and learned rapidly after that.

You can find out how to become an active learner by using the techniques described in these study tips.