Unwritten Classroom Rules

By Amanda Tonoli

Many of us are prone to hating the know-it-all in class. I’ve even written about it, previously. But what about the active participant who isn’t exactly a know-it-all? Are we really able to tell the difference? And should we deal with them the same way we deal with the infamous know-it-all?

Often, we hate the active participant because who really wants to hear the same person answer all the questions, constantly one-upping you throughout the 50 minute span of your class three days a week?

If you are the active participant, do you feel the eyes of hatred burning into the back of your head, wishing you ill will and perhaps a muzzle? What are you really supposed to do in class? What are the unspoken rules of classroom etiquette in college?

First and foremost let’s make sure you realize why you are in college and, more importantly, in that class — you are there to learn. You should, theoretically, be there to get the most for your tuition dollars. And rather than impress your fellow students with your stony expression and unimpressed demeanor, maybe you should engage with the teacher. Lectures and class discussions are for your benefit, not theirs.

In “The Twenty-Three Unwritten Rules of College Etiquette,” published in July 2010 on Education.com, Robert Miller breaks down the rules of the syllabus students should follow to get the most out of their education.

“A large part of the learning experience in college is what students teach each other, both inside and outside of class,” Miller said. “Don’t assume that the people who are talking actually know more than you do. In all likelihood, they are just more confident.”

Beyond participating with the educator to get the most out of their education, those participating in the classroom are actually tools in your education as well. Sometimes I’ve found it’s even easier to learn from what a peer says rather than a professor because it is more broken down into language that I can understand.

Miller noted the importance of not monopolizing the discussion — for that would be a characteristic of the infamous and hated know-it-all that doesn’t actually know it all — but participating diligently, adding to the classroom learning environment.

Ending his article are helpful hints on how to maximize the potential of your classroom time. Miller said in addition to remaining an active discussion participant, it is also important to be a good listener so your comments and banter furthering your experience does not hinder another’s, hinder your own or hinder the teaching practices of your professor.

I admit that I have been prone to hate the outspoken guy sitting a few rows in front of me, bantering with the teacher about the subject in the reading that I neglected to do. I don’t think I hated him for his knowledge, but out of jealousy that he possessed this intellect and charisma that I lacked over the subject I neglected to study. So maybe it isn’t the best approach to sneer at the active participant for getting the most education for their money. Maybe you should even listen to them every now and again — you may learn something on the way.

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