- Put away your smartphone during class. No matter what you think, the science is clear. You are not multitasking. You are simply taking your attention away from your professor. Don’t argue. Just hide your phone. You can make it for a class period. I promise.
- Introduce yourself to some classmates. You might meet your new best friend. But even if you don’t, it’s nice to have some buddies, people you can text about assignments.
- Whether it’s on your phone or old-fashioned paper, put all your assignments in one calendar.
- Don’t rely on the PowerPoints. Take notes. Once again, the science is clear. Taking notes increases retention.
- Know what support services are available. Most colleges have offices for veterans, disability services, tutoring, etc.
Today is the first day of classes. In the library, we’ve been looking forward to this day for a while. We use the breaks to get caught up on inventory and weeding, but there is simply no substitute for students being on campus. You can feel the change in atmosphere just walking on campus.
To be honest, the first week of class is not going to find students rushing in to do research. We see our mission those first few weeks to provide students with a friendly face and help them with what they do need. In most cases, it’s one of the following:
- They left their schedule at home and need a new one.
- They can’t find their classrooms.
- They’re not quite sure what a course shell is and was too embarrassed to admit they couldn’t find it in class.
- Rushing from work to class, they didn’t realize they didn’t bring a pen.
- They need to print.
These may not sound like big things, but I can tell you that they are. More than once during my college years, I was sure I knew the location of my classroom only to forget on my way to campus, and my schedule was left sitting on my desk at work. And while I met some kind faculty along the way, on that first day when I was lost and embarrassed, the people who helped me came from all over the university: the security guard who showed me where to park, the secretary who smiled and said that anyone could forget a schedule, or the guy in maintenance who helped me find a building.
So I’ve resolved to be that kind of person for students I encounter at my college. And I know most of my colleagues do the same.
In the library, we really only have two guidelines for the first week:
- Make every student feel welcome.
- Remember that, although it may be the 100th time we’ve heard a specific question on a given day, it’s that student’s first time to ask. So we treat the 100th time just like the first.
Whether it’s your first semester or your 100th, welcome! And let’s have a great year.
- Have enough cutlery to get through the semester. Our college doesn’t have a cafeteria, and students often remember their lunches but forget a fork or spoon. Where do they go for help? The Library.
- Stock up on hand sanitizer and tissues. Students (and staff) sneeze and sniffle. A lot. It’s best to have materials on hand.
- Be prepared for questions from faculty about any changes to electronic resources over the summer. (Faculty don’t like changes.)
- Remind staff that students will be returning next week, and that means a return to library voices (or at least no shouting from cubicles to front desk).
- Make one last effort to find the source of the funky smell that greets you each morning.
- Send out email announcements to campus. Field questions from staff who didn’t read the emails.
- Remember when you answer the same question for the 100th time on the first day of class, it’s the first time you’re answering it for that particular student. Act accordingly.
The other night I was watching the tennis channel. A storm had delayed the match, so there was a rerun of a famous U.S. Opens Final Match. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention until I heard one of the announcers say that Victoria Azarenka was playing each point, and not the legend across the net, Serena Williams.
I liked that idea and think it has applications outside the tennis world.
Maybe you are a freshman who didn’t have the best academic record in high school. You might start college with the idea that you are not a good student, and life is going to be hard. Let go of the legend of your past. Instead play the point in front of you. Make a new start.
Or maybe you were a high school star, and suddenly you’re in a class that is hard, really hard. And you’re having a hard time keeping up. You think that it isn’t fair; you’ve always done well in school and that’s what you expect to do now. Forget about the past, and play the point that’s in front of you.
And there’s no fairy tale ending. Azarenka didn’t win. But she put up a good fight by not being overwhelmed and taking each point as it came. And that’s all any of us can do.
This morning I did something unusual, for me, at least. I had one item on my to-do list that had to be done before I went to bed. I mean, really had to be done, or there would be consequences. It had been on the list on Friday. And Saturday. This morning, after eating breakfast, I sat down and got it done before I did anything else. I didn’t go to the gym first. I didn’t see who was playing on the Tennis Channel. I didn’t take a shower. I got that item off the list.
Throughout the day, I was amazed at how light I felt. I didn’t have a project hanging over my head as I worked out or went to the mall to take back some skirts or as I watched Grantchester. Halfway through the day, I thought:
This must be how productive people feel all the time.
In general, I am an awful procrastinator. Actually, that’s wrong. I am an excellent procrastinator. That excellence is not something to be proud of. Putting off things is such second nature to me that I had forgotten what it feels like to get things done and off my plate. I thought that the vague feeling of dread as the hours crept closer to my deadline was normal and nothing I could do anything about.
The title of today’s blog comes from a saying from Mark Twain (or at least attributed to him. Mark Twain gets credit for a lot of things on the Internet.) According to Twain, if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you have the satisfaction of knowing that is probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to you that day. Brain Tracy also used it for his book on time management and procrastination. The premise is simple. Do the big thing, or the worst thing, or the most worrisome thing immediately, and then you won’t have to procrastinate or fret about it for the rest of the day.
What is your frog? Identify and deal with it right away. You really will have a happier day, I promise you.
In his book Drive, Daniel Pink shares the experience of a preschool. There was a time each day when all the children should have been picked up. If a parent were tardy, a teacher would have to stay with the child until he or she arrived. The school decided that it would solve the problem by charging parents a fee if they picked their children up late. It seemed logical. After all, who wants to pay more money? And the number of parents who were late picking up their children did change. It went up.
What happened? Prior to the change, according to Pink, the parents thought of the teachers as partners. They were taking care of their precious children, and the parents didn’t want to make the teachers’ jobs harder by extending their workdays. Once the fine policy was put into place, the parents reevaluated those thoughts; they started seeing the relationship in purely economic terms. If they were late, they simply concluded that they were paying for the time. So perhaps it wasn’t such a big deal if a teacher had to stay late.
This experience can teach us some things:
- What seems to be a clear solution to a problem may not be.
- We should evaluate any decisions or policies that replace a human element with a mechanistic one.
- People don’t react well to policies that seem like punishment.
Now even educational institutions have to obey basic rules of business. At my college, we need to make sure that our students are prepared to go to the next level or to jobs. We need to make sure we handle the budgets so that people get paid and the lights stay on.
But we must never forget that we are dealing with people and treat them with the utmost respect.