A. John Mallinckrodt   Professor of Physics, Cal Poly Pomona
To My
Some thoughts about issues related to being a student at Cal Poly Pomona




Interactive Physics




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On paying attention and following instructions

Getting you to follow instructions is decidedly not the goal of this course. Not following instructions, however, is a common cause of failure.

I try to be explicit about my expectations. I write detailed syllabi; I hand out sample laboratory reports and homework writeups; I spend time in class going over these items and pointing to those characteristics that I am particularly interested in seeing you pay attention to; I spend lots of time reading and marking reports with extended (and, occasionally, even legible) written responses in expectation that I will not have to call your attention to simple problems more than once; I implore you to ask if you are ever confused about what you should be doing.

Of course, I have no effective way of "requiring" you to pay attention or to follow instructions; you really are "free" to do as you please. Furthermore, I don't see any reason to have a fit if you choose not to do as I ask; it really is your choice. Nevertheless, you should be aware of the fact that I will notice and that it does matter. If you don't think you are sending me a message, think again, because I sure get one and it is loud and clear. And if you think it shouldn't matter, try it at work and see what happens.

On attending class

Q1: "Do I need to attend class?" Of course you do; if that weren't the case, I wouldn't be doing my job.

Q2: "Do you take attendance?" Of course, not; you're in college now and there is far too little class time for me to waste it on such a silly procedure.

Q3: "Will attendance affect my grade?" I certainly hope so. If that weren't the case you wouldn't need to attend. See Q1.

Look. All I really care about is how well you master the course material as demonstrated by your performance on exams and/or reports. In my experience, students who don't attend class are overwhelmingly likely not to master the course material. Very occasionally—two or three times in the twenty-five years that I have been teaching—a student does demonstrate his or her mastery of the course material without regularly attending class. When that happens, I am perfectly happy to assign a course grade that reflects that mastery. Who knows, maybe you will be the next one. Wanna bet?

On having other things to do besides this class

I am fully aware of the hardships most of you face: You commute to school and have to maintain your car; you have family responsibilities; you are working 20, 30, and even 40 hours a week outside of school. It's really no way to attend college which should be an idyllic period of introspection and a distraction-free few years to devote yourself entirely to your studies. But you do what you have to do. Frankly, one of the things I like best about teaching at Cal Poly Pomona is the fact that students here are very much "in" the real world and know what it means to struggle for what they want.

You work really hard and have lots of things you have to do besides this class.

So do I.

I have found that I cannot do the job I am supposed to do in the manner that it requires in under 60 hours a week. I typically teach two or three "lecture" courses and two or three laboratory courses each quarter—i.e., about the same course load (12 hours) as the average Cal Poly Pomona student. Like you, I spend at least three additional hours for every hour in the classroom. In my case, that time is used for meeting with students during office hours and at other times; preparing class presentations; writing computer simulations for use in class; arranging for demonstrations; writing quizzes, exams, homework problems, and solutions; marking quizzes, exams, and lab reports; and attending to important details like updating records, posting solutions outside my office and at the library, and maintaining my web materials. Also like you, I have many other responsibilities including departmental, college, and university committee work; producing reports for and generally participating in regular reviews of myself and my department; professional writing within my discipline; reviewing articles for journals in my discipline; service obligations as a member and an officer of various professional societies; and, of course, my own family.

Hey, I am not complaining; I love physics and I love teaching. But trust me; I know what it means to have other things to do. Furthermore, after twenty five years of teaching physics at a number of colleges and universities, I am well calibrated in terms of what is both reasonable and necessary to expect in college level physics courses.

So if you think I am asking a lot of you, you are correct; that's what happens in college. But if you think I am asking too much, rest assured; you are quite mistaken. And while I am completely sympathetic with the complications and hardships in your life, please understand that having lots of other things to do may be a perfectly legitimate reason for not being able to do your coursework, but it is not an excuse from the work that college level courses demand.

©2001 by A. John Mallinckrodt
ajm at csupomona.edu

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The space for this page is provided by Cal Poly Pomona and is subject to its policies. Nevertheless, the opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent official policy of the University. I take full responsibility for the information presented and will appreciate being informed of errors or inaccuracies.

Last modified on 5 February, 2004