Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Know this Subject... Do I Still Have to go to Class?

I recently had a wonderful visit to Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (in Green Bay) where I did a Chatty Professor presentation. The students there were incredibly welcoming and engaged!

I shared some general communication tools, giving students the right words to say to deal with pesky, but common class issues, such as lateness, absences, and grade goals. Then we talked about how to handle sensitive issues that frustrate students: When an entire class fails an exam/assignment and when a class is boring.

Once my presentation concluded, I opened the floor for questions. A student inquired about a topic that isn't as common, but definitely occurs in college:

"I'm in an Intermediate Calculus class and am acing it. I feel like going to class isn't worth it. I could just go on test days and be fine. I talked to the instructor and he sort of said that would be okay. My mom does not think it's okay. What do I do to make my mom happy, but not have to sit through a class where I already know what's going on?" 

Now, I get that many students only wish that they could be in this position, right?

I empathize with this student. It is frustrating to feel like you are wasting time in a class when you are solid about what you're learning.

Here is my response:

-The student did the absolute right thing going straight to the instructor and telling that person what was going on. You can say, "This information is really easy to me. I'm getting through the assignments and tests with no trouble and getting all A's." (Goes without saying that you should have proof of this in the instructor's gradebook).

You can also ask, "Does the college offer a test-out option or would your department consider creating one?" (My college does not offer a test-out option in speech, but our department has discussed developing one for our public speaking course, so it is reasonable to at least ask, even if the possibility doesn't exist at that moment).

-I do not think bailing on the class time is the best move, particularly when a student can use his/her command of the subject to a serious advantage. How? By becoming a teaching assistant--and boosting experience and resume content!

Say to the instructor, "Maybe I can be of help to you. I could work with a group of students who are struggling."

The instructor may even ask you to help with other class-related activities or assignments. The possibilities are wide open!

-Let's say the instructor doesn't need your help or won't take it. That doesn't mean you can't start your own underground movement to assist others in your class. You can chat with your fellow students or send an e-mail through a course management system letting others know you are available.

-Then, you can ask the instructor, "Is there a tutoring or resource center where I can help students who are taking other classes?" This broadens your base of help and you could even earn some money for your tutoring services!

I had a student, Spencer Wright, who took several of my courses and was a masterful writer/speech outliner. He got a job working in my college's Writing Center and, lucky me, Spencer was assigned as the first student to help with both English and Communication classes! This meant that my students could make an appointment with Spencer and gain his help with their outlines. Spencer was crazy-busy that term; my students flocked to him before sending their outlines to me for review. The students who saw Spencer had some of the best speech content. I felt so lucky to have a student working behind the scenes to help my class. I valued his input more than I can adequately express!

Could you be getting some extra sleep rather than going to this class that you could ace in your sleep?


Could you be hanging out on campus and making new friends?

Of course.

Could you be spending your time working on another class that you are struggling with?


But think about this: Knowing and being able to apply what you know--and seeing proof of that via rock-star grades--is excellent. Explaining what you know to others, helping them process information and apply it, will cement your knowledge and expand your communication ability in ways that will make you that much more excellent... and increasingly employable!

It's work experience while you're in college!

(Have I previously reported in this blog how important communication ability is in the workplace? Oh, wait... Yes, I have!).

Two quick end-notes to these tips:
-First, make sure that in the midst of helping others that you don't fall behind in your own work. Reel in your time if you suddenly find that you are struggling to maintain those A's or are suffering in another class.
-Next, a few weeks before the class ends, ask your instructor for a letter of recommendation. I wrote suggestions for starting this conversation for MyCollegeGuide.org not long ago. This should be an easy write for the instructor since you've not only done great work, but you've helped others improve, too! This is one letter that can speak directly to both your academic and professional talent, so grab it before you leave that class!

So how did my advice go over with the student? Really well, actually! The student's entire face sort of lit up after I made the suggestion that he stay in the class and become the teacher's right hand man. He said he hadn't considered such an idea before and he was going to check out the possibility.

I bet his mom was proud!

Students, I've said it before, but I'll say it again... I love answering your questions, so please send them on! How have you handled a class where you knew the material really well? How did you help others? Did you stop attending or continue?


  1. As cliche as it may sound, going to a class that you know you don't have to attend to do well is a character building exercise. It's sad that students have these classes, but they do. In life there are many things we don't want to do, but we're obligated to do anyway. Also, perhaps the student can focus on gaining just one new thing each class. Think about learning for the sake of learning, not for the grade. Best of luck in keeping that motivation going!

  2. I love that idea, Kenna: Gaining just one new thing each class. I hope that he was able to either become a resource to others or find that learning for learning's sake ideal. I should follow up on that :-). As always, so appreciative that you wrote! Ellen

  3. Wow, great answer to a difficult question. I would've never thought of student-teaching as an alternative to cutting class. What an opportunity that would be for a student in that situation, both professionally and simply for growing as a person. Helping someone come to a better understanding of something is a powerful thing. Too often we look out for only how much or how little we can benefit from information. Maybe we should be thinking about the part we can play in helping others benefit from such information.

  4. Hi, Doug,

    I totally agree with you. Sticking with that class is character-building, as Kenna (@profkrg) said in her response, and that student is going to gain some serious life experience. Some others on Twitter said this idea applies to adults who have to do training (because haven't we all groaned at that one a time or two?) or students who are in tutoring and think they don't need it.

    I'm so glad that student asked this question! I had no idea of the multifaceted applications. I'm also so appreciative that you commented.