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My End-of-Term Speech

Current Officemates

When I was teaching, I would often give a speech at the end of each term to recap how far the students had come that semester. This was one of my favorite days (and not just because it was the last day). When you teach public speaking, most students come into the class with a lot of fear and doubt about their ability to do well. By the end of the semester, though, many of these same students are good (and some, even excellent) speakers despite their fear, and it’s important to make note of that.

In this speech, I also told them the key things I hoped they took away from the class. If I had earned their trust enough for it to be effective to do so, I would then end with a bit of advice for their future.

I don’t have a class full of students anymore, but I do still work in semesters. And if you’re reading this, I hope you trust me at least a little bit (if not – why are you reading? Just stop. Save yourself the misery.).

So I have some advice. Not for college students, though. For their parents or for people who one day will be parents of young adults.

Let them take care of their own business.

I know it’s hard. I’m not even a parent, but when one of my friends’ kids – doesn’t matter how old the kid is or even if they’re not technically a kid anymore – talks about a difficulty they’re having, my gut reaction is “Whom do I call?! Just give me a name, and I am on it. This shall not stand!” I can appreciate that if you multiply by about a million, this is probably how the parents of these young adults are feeling when everything doesn’t go 100% their way.

Ok. That is a valid emotion. Acknowledge that feeling…and then let them take care of their own business. By the time they are adults, it’s good for them to know how to be. And unfortunately, the only way they are going to learn this lesson is with practice.

I would recommend starting when they’re in high school. This is what my mom did, and to this day I still regard it as easily one of the top five life lessons I have ever learned.

When I was competing in UIL, my high school principal made a decision about my eligibility to go on a trip that I didn’t agree with. I was devastated in the way that only a 17-year-old who is used to being every teacher’s pet and golden child can be devastated. I ranted to my mom, who was friends with him, begging her to call him and get him to change his mind. But she didn’t.

What she did instead was look into my melodramatic, tear-stained face and say, “I understand your point of view, but this is your conflict, and you need to handle it.” She then asked more questions and gave me some advice about points I should consider making.

I talked to the principal the next day on my own. I initiated the meeting and presented my case, and he listened. I realize that not everyone in that position would have paid attention to a teenager with no real power, and while I would hope it would have gone the same for another student, I can’t be certain of that. But he did listen, and I thanked him for his time and left feeling confident and proud that I had made my opinion known.

The best part? I got all the credit. The next time he saw my mom he told her, “I’m really impressed with her. She is mature beyond her years.” And Mom just said, “That’s so good to hear. Thank you for telling me,” like it was the first time she was hearing anything about it. And while I didn’t get what I wanted in that situation – I really wasn’t eligible to go on that trip; it was the right decision to make – I did get a pretty kickass reference from him later for something more important.

Please let your young or almost adults have these experiences. They’re so valuable.

Now, I know that if the principal had ignored or disrespected me, my mama bear absolutely would have called him – at home, intentionally during supper time – and he would have rued the day he made that bad choice. She is…formidable. So I’m not suggesting that you completely give up advocating for your kid. But there are also those – like the people in my office – who look for ways to say yes whenever it fair to do so and offer other support when it is not. It is our delight to help this adulting lesson go as smoothly as possible.

At some point, your habit of stepping in from the beginning or even at the first sign of disagreement needs to stop being the default reaction. If you could see the proud faces of the students who come to our office on their own or the sheer volume of excited exclamation points in replies from those who email us when they succeed in what they contacted us to accomplish, I’m confident you would want that for your kid, too.

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Ah, the syllabus. Friend to all.

I’ve worked with college students in some capacity for the last 18 years. Friends, having been regaled with stories vague enough to protect privacy but clear enough to entertain, love to send me treasures from the Internet about the many ways to get along with your professors. It’s not really that hard, but lots of advice is out there. Some day, I might actually write a book about it myself, as I have the benefit of working with students not only in an academic capacity but also in a variety of advising and service capacities.

Oh, the knowledge I could impart.

First, please understand the fundamental viewpoint of people who work in academia or student affairs (or insert your student-related field of choice here). We are not in it for the money. We have to work 10,000 years just to get to a position where we’re making anything resembling a respectable income. No one whose primary motivation is cash flow would put up with this sort of nonsense. So why do we do what we do? Because on some level, we care. We want to help. We either remember our college experience fondly and want to recreate that experience for others, or we had bad college experiences and have a clear view of how we can make it better. The rose-colored corridor you pass into when you enter academia from what many call the “real world?” That’s idealism. That’s a focus on what the world could be rather than just settling for what it is, and it abounds at universities, particularly in the underpaid staff that cling to it when times are hard (and by “times are hard,” I do mean “students are exhausting”), which is approximately 92.3%*of us.

Translation:  you don’t have to convince us to want to help you. We’re already there.

Recently, someone sent me this gem on how to send non-annoying email to your professors, which is mostly just good sense on how to email anyone ever. Overall, I agree, but there are elements of the piece that give me considerable pause. This makes sense, as it was compiled from feedback from students. Students, however, do not have the benefit of knowing what we ignore in order to get to the point where we help them anyway. You know, because we want to. So I’m going to give you my professorly point of view. I mean, I’m taking a break from teaching right now, but I’m going to go back in time and address the issue as if I’m still teaching.

Regarding Small Talk

Or “meaningless nicety” as the writer of the piece puts it. Key word there? MEANINGLESS. Maybe there are some people out there who like this sort of useless input. I’m just going to say it – their taste is wrong and they are doing their students a disservice by giving the impression that this will help them at all ever with anyone else. Overwhelmingly, the people I’ve known, worked with, and flat out asked before writing this post agree – do not do this. This is terrible advice. No “How do you like the weather?” No “How are you today?” Because you know how I am today? I am busy. I have eleventy dozen emails from my literally hundreds of students, and here’s some fool wasting their time (and frankly – mine) trying to small talk at me. Save this for when you write a letter to your grandma (also, write letters to your grandma – it will make her day). Save this for when we are standing awkwardly outside the classroom waiting for the class before ours to finish and vacate (although really, I prefer silence or talking about something that’s actually interesting even then. Tell me about your favorite band. Tell me the fun new restaurant you tried last weekend. Tell me what you want to talk about in your next speech. But don’t you talk about how hot it is in Texas in August. Don’t you dare.). In an email to your professors – skip it. Get to the point.

Regarding Identifying Yourself

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Who are you? Where do I know you from (see above re: literally hundreds of students)? Name, class, day, time. Help me help you.

Regarding Style

This is not the time to get verbose and flowery. State your business clearly and succinctly. We do not need your life story.

Regarding Showing Me How (Not at all) Awesome You Are By Junking Up My Inbox

You know who is awesome? People who send short, clear emails with actual purpose. If you can answer your own question, why the hell are you – again – wasting your time and mine by emailing me? It’s not impressive to me that you read the syllabus – it’s expected. You don’t get special “I’m a wonderful person” cookies for doing what is minimally required of you, so don’t ask for them by sending pointless email. The time it takes for you to write and for me to read your email that you had no need to send is five minutes of both of our lives that we will never get back. One third of the reason we spend so much time creating a syllabus (the other two thirds are because the law/university requires one and because we want you to succeed so we are happy to spell out how to do so in minute detail for you) is so that we can answer frequently asked questions one time instead of hundreds of times, thus freeing us up to work on making our class as good as it can possibly be.

Do not phrase a request like this –  “I know the syllabus says ___, but ___.” Let me save your relationship with all your present and future professors. That first blank? That’s your answer. That second blank? That’s your problem that you need to be a grown up and solve on your own. No need to email me. I am your professor, not your mommy, life coach, or therapist.

[Aside – I will, however, teach you how to use a planner and manage your time more effectively so that you don’t feel compelled to make excuses or ask for unfair exceptions, because this will make you get along with everyone in your life better and just be a better human all around. Stop by my office during office hours, or make an appointment, and I’ll work you in. I will get excited and nerdy about this, so be prepared for that.]

I know you think I have superpowers, but I actually only have the same 24 hours in a day that you do. And every minute I spend responding to email that had no business being sent because I have already handed that answer to you in writing is a minute I’m not reading the latest research on the topic we’re discussing next week or finding ways to make my presentation more engaging or grading your paper that I presume you would like back some time this month.

I generally respond to these emails with “Read syllabus.” I know professors who refuse to respond to these emails at all. Their students get all bent out of shape about it, but here’s the reality check – you’re not their only student or their only responsibility. If a professor seems to be ignoring you, try to put your hurt feelings aside, re-read your email objectively, and put yourself in their place. Yes, some professors are disorganized, avoidant assholes, but if you’re honest with yourself, most of the time, I think you’ll see that it’s not them – it’s you.

Regarding Politeness and Frivolous Repetition

You know what’s actually super polite? Not treating your professors like idiots who have forgotten what you said in the last (clear, succinct) paragraph or trying to dictate their schedule by imploring them to answer as soon as they can. This oversteps a boundary and is the exact opposite of polite. If there is an actual deadline for when you need a response (e.g., you are asking them to write a reference letter for a scholarship application), tell them the deadline, because that is information they will need to determine whether or not they have time to say yes to your request.

Another way to be polite is to remember that extra things you are asking of your professors are requests, not demands. They may have to say no or may not get to it before you need it, and contrary to popular belief, it’s probably not personal. Trust that they know their schedule better than you do, and prepare for this possibility.

Also, don’t ask your professors to compensate for when you fail to manage your time well. Sadly, Time Lord is not part of my repertoire. Don’t email me at 2:00 in the morning about a project that was assigned a week ago and is due tomorrow. First, you will not get an answer in time to finish. I may still be up at 2:00 a.m., but I’m reading or watching the Netflix or socializing, not working. Second, at 8:00 a.m. when I do get the email, I will know that you procrastinated and will thus begin my day dreading the near future moment when I have to find something constructive to say about the piece of shit you will surely be handing in to me. This is a rude thing to do to me that early in the day before I have had a proper amount of caffeine. You’re the worst. At the end of the semester, if your grade is an 89.4 and I could give you the 6/10 of a point it would take to make it an A, I’m going to reflect on your responsibility that semester to see if your performance merits the small bump to take you to the next grade. Emails that threw a funk into my day do not bode well for you in this particular situation.

[Unless, of course, I got that email, dreaded your presentation, and it pleasantly surprised me by being the best in the class. You get the A then. Well done. Maybe, for future encounters, work on your personal discretion issues, but well done in my class.]

Regarding Flattery

Do not suck up to me. I know I’m awesome. I don’t need you to tell me. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but most professors do not suffer from low self-esteem. We don’t need you to puff us up. Also, I tend to keep an appropriate social distance from my students. Therefore, you don’t really know me well enough to be a good judge of my awesomeness. You don’t have enough information to make that assessment. Just stop.

If you really need to compliment me, there is a time to do it. At the end of the semester, in your evaluation of the class, thank me and tell me what you learned. Gratitude that is not attached to a request is rewarding. Gratitude that is attached to a request (i.e., in an email) seems false and shady.


You want to know how to email your professors? It’s really quite simple:

Before emailing, check the website, syllabus, class notes, friend from class, etc. Your answer might be there, and then we can just all be proud of how good a listener you are. No need for email at all. You don’t have to spell it out for me. I automatically know that students who do well and hand things in on time without ever emailing me listened well, because that’s exactly the way I designed the course to work.  Thank you, and here’s the A you earned.

If you do all these things, and you still don’t see the answer, email thusly:

  1. Subject line – 4-5 words to summarize
  2. First line of body of email – Tell them who you are and how they know you (name, class, day, time).
  3. Ask your question or tell them what you want. Be direct and succinct.
  4. End with your (electronic) signature (or just your name).

And for the love of beer, proofread! You are in college. Write like it.


*Statistic totally made up for the purpose of humor

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