Classroom etiquette: avoid conflict, build respectful relationships

TEMP ORARY January 26, 2012 0

As a college student, one of the most challenging parts of academic life can be interacting with your professors. For some, this can be an intimidating scenario, especially if a conflict arises, such as an error in the syllabus or difficulty understanding an assignment. Although challenging, understanding expectations and following proper classroom etiquette can help to ensure a student’s success in stressful classroom situations.

According to the student handbook of Elizabethtown College, “Students are encouraged to engage in respectful dialogue as a first step in resolving minor interpersonal disputes as opposed to seeking resolution through the formal student conduct process.” Although this may seem vague, most students may agree that preparation, honesty, hard work and integrity are key aspects of such etiquette.

Assistant Dean of Students Stephanie Rankin said that common sense and understanding are keys to successful student-professor interactions.“We’re a relationship institution, so [classroom etiquette] really matters,” Rankin said. “There’s a place for manners and treating others with dignity.” Rankin also said that students have an obligation to invest in these standards. “A student should request to speak with a faculty adviser if they experience any conflicts,” she said. “It can be a struggle for a student to bridge that gap and start communicating.”

Along with civil conversation between you and your professor, there are several ways college students can stay on great terms with their professors. Dr. Sharon Trachte of the foreign languages department said that active discussion and preparation are tools for student achievement and can contribute to proper classroom etiquette. “A student who asks questions should be successful,” Trachte said. “[However] it takes two to tango…the professor shares the responsibility to empower the student to achieve success.”

Furthermore, Trachte said that classroom behaviors can impact the student-professor relationship either positively or negatively. “Sleeping, yawning, you have to be discreet about these types of behaviors,” Trachte said. “Etiquette means staying on task.”

In her opinion, addressing problems head-on with a professor makes for a better learning environment. “Students should always schedule an appointment with their professor,” Trachte said. “They should make a list of issues [they may be having]. If this is unsuccessful, they should meet with their faculty adviser, or the faculty adviser of the department [of the professor to resolve any outstanding issues].”

Not texting in class, being on time and having a positive attitude are also vital elements of proper classroom etiquette. “If you have an attitude, just leave it at the door,” Trachte said.

In addition to giving respect and understanding, receiving such is just as important to classroom and campus integrity. If a student feels threatened, bullied or otherwise mistreated by another student or professor, it’s important for that student to follow the necessary procedures.

Every student who attends Etown is quickly familiarized with the Standards of Academic Integrity, located in the Student Handbook. The Pledge of Integrity states: “Elizabethtown College is a community engaged in a living and learning experience, the foundation of which is mutual trust and respect. Therefore, we will strive to behave toward one another with civility and with respect for the rights of others.” Although this statement applies to anti-plagiarism and anti-cheating sentiments, it also refers to mutual respect and understanding that we, as students, should have campus-wide.

Due to the nature of the small-campus setting, fostering lifelong relationships and building student-professor relationships are not only important, but essential for the future. Students should strive for strong interpersonal relationships with faculty and fellow students and also for mutual understanding, even when conflicts present themselves.

According to Rankin, students who need help dealing with conflict can seek help from faculty members, as well as from other resources, like books. Rankin personally recommended “Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct” by P.M. Forni. “I teach this book to my first-year seminar,” she said. “My hope is that this air of civility sustains across campus.”

Lastly, both Rankin and Trachte agreed upon the syllabus as the contract between student and professor, and this is one that should not be broken or misconstrued in the classroom. “Same as a legal contract, if you see something wrong, bring it to the professor’s attention,” Trachte said.

Above all, civility starts with asking questions, being interactive and understanding the importance of a safe, secure and honest learning environment. Rather than being afraid, students should be active in asking questions, assuming responsibility and, above all, not being afraid to be truthful, as Trachte recommended. “If a student needs an intermediary, they should talk to [their superior] via email in a non-threatening environment.”

Classroom etiquette may seem difficult to navigate at times, but at Etown there are many options, both inside and outside the classroom, for students when addressing issues or attempting to foster respect.

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