Kydd U. Naught: Advice That Doesn’t Suck

Q: My students will not show up for class! What can I do to get them here?

A: Dear Professor Lonely,

College students struggle with a constant battle between their desire to engage in as much untimely, self-destructive “fun” as possible and their quaking fear of doing poorly in school. The fear is self-explanatory, but the “fun” can range anywhere from partaking of certain mind-altering beverages on a Monday at noon to watching “just one more episode” of “Glee” before cracking that book at 2:00 in the morning. In light of this, the obvious answer to your question is to exploit the daylights out of this internal struggle to entice your students to come to class.

Depending on what kind of persona you adopt as a professor, you may choose to cater to one side of the struggle or the other. If you’re particularly agreeable, or self-conscious about your students’ approval (I hope not), then you might try to disguise some of your classes as “fun.” I don’t know a single student that would miss a day of watching a TV show, playing games or what have you. But when the fun activity is over – BAM – slap them in the face with some hard-core learning that can be taken from it. They’ll never know what hit them.

Students, however, will often habituate to these “fun” activities and start using it as an excuse to skip class rather than as a reason to show up. When that alarm begins to blare, they’ll think, “Oh, we’re just watching an episode of ‘The Office’ today. No big deal,” and promptly hit the snooze button.

Sometimes, then, it’s necessary to be a bit sadistic and exploit their fear of failure. Slap a 50 percent participation grade on your class – yes, even if it’s a lecture course. Students will have to stop just short of beating each other up to get a word in for their participation grade, which of course is contingent on their showing up in the first place. Naturally, though, making participation a higher percentage of their grade will decrease the importance of other aspects of the class, which could result in literally the worst papers you’ve ever read and miserable test scores.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Students are always going to miss class, and anything you do will only work temporarily before they fall right back into doing everything in their power to make their college career as hard on themselves as humanly possible. Good luck.

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