An Open Letter to LIS Professors

Dear LIS Professors,

Your jobs are extremely demanding, especially now. You have to deal with the pressures of publication, teaching, serving on committees, and hopefully retaining a semblance of work-life balance. I do not envy your position, and I doubt you get the recognition and appreciation that you merit. 

There are times when your commitment to teaching and attention to detail wow me. You are flexible with your office hours, reasonable about our work and school schedules, engaged in our learning process, and clearly passionate about the content you teach – all these things just make learning better. Then there are other times when I’m left asking, was that really your best effort?

Think of this as a friendly reminder of what it’s like being on the other side of the classroom. As someone who was a teacher just recently, I guarantee it’s a lot harder than you recall. 

Do: Release course materials as early as you can

Professors who release their stuff early are the bomb, and I’ll tell you why. There’s actually a ton of unrecognized labor when it comes to preparing and executing your assigned course work. It’s not just the lectures, readings, or homework. We have to plan and time manage A LOT. When the semester begins, I take a deep look at the syllabus to answer a lot of questions. What’s the pace of the class? How much work is there each week? When are the big projects due? Does this class have assignments that overlap with personal life events? There are a lot of other things to think about but you get the point. Not to mention that every professor structures their class just a wee bit differently. We need to figure out your special groove. 

When the professor releases the course materials early, we can do this preparation work in advance and are ready to start the semester with a clear plan that works best for us (which also ensures that we get our work done on time!). Not only this, but we’re going to be significantly less stressed because we know what to expect and when. If we don’t see course materials until the semester is already underway, then we’re beginning with the double task of doing our regular coursework plus mastering the structure of the class. It’s not the honeymoon week you think it is, folks!

Don’t: Give us confusing, inconsistent due dates

Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned dates? For example, “your final project is due on Monday, May 9th at 11:55pm.” Hell, you don’t even have to give me a time of day! This may be a problem specific to my program, but dates don’t exist at my school. Nope! We’re on a week system. Meaning, the first day of school is Week 1, Day 1, and so on and so forth. Here’s the catch though, classes start on different weeks. I’m on Week 6 in one class and Week 7 in another. Not only that, but in one class my week starts on Monday, in the other, it starts on Tuesday! I’m annoyed just typing this.

And it doesn’t end here. I’ve been in classes where professors won’t even have assignments due on consistent days. What do I mean? Oh, let me explain. I have four major assignments due in one of my classes. You’d think they’d all be due on Day 7 of their respective weeks, or whatever. You wish, feckless student! One is due on Day 7, another Day 1, another Day 5, and the last one two days before Day 1, which I think is just a convoluted way of saying Day 6. 

C’mon, you’re begging us to screw this up. 

Do: Interact with us in the discussion boards

I’m going to say something controversial, yet brave: I like when professors get involved in the discussion threads. Yeah, I can understand how it stresses other students out, but the professors are reading everything anyway, so why not let them talk there too? I think there are a lot of upsides to engaging with us in our discussions – it feels like you know us, it makes us like you more, plus we definitely take more pride in our work if we know you might respond to it. 

There’s something else too – it’s pedagogically a great move. The discussion posts are where we refine our ideas about the content and continue to ask questions. You being there is so great because it helps clarify, enrich, and review. Come on in (the discussion boards), the water’s fine!

Don’t: Have bad lecture etiquette 

I am once again asking you not to read off the slides. I know you know better. 

On top of this, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, could you like…explain things? And when you do that, could you not do it in a circular, confusing way? Let me present to you something a professor actually uttered in an online lecture:

“Merriam Webster’s Dictionary says ‘A need is something that is necessary or useful for the fulfillment of a defensible purpose.’ Now this term called ‘defensible purpose’ is very interesting.” 

This professor is so close to teaching me something. When I read this slide, I thought, “Huh, what’s a defensible purpose?” And for a glimmering moment I thought they were going to clarify. I was brimming with intellectual optimism! Here’s how that explanation ended:

“So this means the purpose of which you have a need is defensible. So that’s very interesting.”

All I can say is I have no idea what a defensible purpose is. And perhaps I never will. 

Do: Allow us to work with the same group of partners

Yeah, I get what you’re trying to do by constantly rotating around our partners for projects, discussion groups, etc. You want us to meet more people. Fair enough, but that strategy…does not work. We work together for a hot second to get our project done and we move on. Bye, partner, nice knowing ya! None of us have time to ~build connections~ like you hope we do. 

And yet, if you let us work with the same people over the course of the semester for several assignments, we actually have the chance to get to know them. Plus, we figure out each other’s strengths and optimize our work accordingly. Allowing us to work with the same people is also genius because it’s comparable to an actual work environment anyway. 

I hope you don’t mind me being so candid about my experiences with you as professors. You should know that I absolutely trust that you are an expert in your field and that you want me to get something out of your class. I’m assuming the best out of you. Try to think of this letter as a teeny, tiny reminder of your audience. That real, three-dimensional people are consuming the teaching content that you create. Remember us and our little lives as you’re rushing to meet all the responsibilities that you’re tasked to complete. We sympathize because we’re doing something similar.

Yours sincerely,

A LIS student

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Melissa Grasso lives in Boston and began at Simmons University last fall. She works as a library assistant where she specializes in course reserves, copy cataloging, and social media management. You can find her on Twitter @grassbro or LinkedIn.

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