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Memo to Students: Make the most of it.

To: My Current and Future Students and Supervisees

From: Dr. Gaines

Re: A Better Learning Experience

I got an idea to write a memo to my future students about my hopes for the new semester from an article in Faculty Focus. I used the article as a template for what I decided to share here.

I want to write a note expressing my desire to make my courses and this semester a great one. I am committed to doing my part to make that happen however, I need you to also contribute. Therefore, I thought I would share a list of things that you can do to make this the best experience for all of us.

Be present. When you’re in class it’s important to be present. Let me tell you what that means. It’s not just being in class, in your seat. Being present is being an active listener, engaged in the material, taking notes, asking questions, making comments, and sharing your reactions to what is being said or presented. Presence is not sitting in class using your laptop or cell phone to shop, cruise the internet, or respond to e-mails. It’s not completing homework or research for other classes while sitting in mine. Even if you look up periodically, I know that you are not present. When you aren’t present, you cheat yourself and your peers of your valuable contribution to the course.

Participate. Some professors offer participation points for the course and I have done that as well. I know that many students participate simply to earn these points and that’s okay. However, participation doesn’t just involve saying something for the sake of saying something. I want to hear your voice. Oftentimes, I learn as much from you as you learn from me, so it’s important for me and your peers to hear what you have to say.

Sharing your thoughts about a reading, a comment made by another student or your personal experience contributes to a rich learning environment. I also know that some students have trouble speaking up in class and to those students I challenge you to push yourself outside of your comfort zone at least once during the course of a semester. Another way to participate can be to send me an e-mail with your question, comment or something you learned from class. I may share these questions or comments to help stimulate more discussion and participation in the classroom.

Without your participation, class becomes a one-sided lecture with me doing all the talking and providing all the information instead of a collaborative learning environment.

Let’s get to know each other. As a professor it is important to me to learn the names of students in my class. I want to be able to address you personally because I think it shows respect to you as an individual. If I forget your name, please don’t take it personally; there’s one of me and many of you. Always know that I am trying. You can help by letting me get to know you beyond your name. Share your interests with me; tell me about your favorite courses; tell me how you are relating to the course material; share your clinical experiences with me. I am a better teacher when I am able to get to know my students beyond the classroom and see them as real people. In turn, you get to see me as a professor invested in you as a person not just a student.

Care about learning. I am a much better professor when I have students who enjoy learning and are motivated to learn. Students who are committed to learning take their responsibilities seriously. These students complete their assignments on time, they seek help when needed, and they have a natural curiosity about the topics they encounter. They don’t make excuses about why they did not complete an assignment or turned in a late assignment; they accept ownership of their contribution to the learning environment, both the good and bad.

Come to office hours. I encourage students to come to office hours, even if you don’t have a specific question or need assistance. This is the perfect opportunity to interact with me and get to know me as a person not just your professor. It also provides an opportunity for me to get to know you as well. Doing this early on increases the likelihood that you will reach out when you are in need. If you already have had an opportunity to meet with me when you aren’t under duress or stress then you’ll feel more comfortable reaching out to me when you are experiencing difficulty, whether academically or personally.

Hopefully, this memo has given you a brief introduction to me as a professor while also communicating my wish that that we are both able to contribute to a stimulating, enriching, and collaborative classroom environment.

La-Toya Gaines, PsyD faculty
La-Toya Gaines, PsyD faculty

La-Toya Gaines, PsyD, LP is a Core Faculty member at The Michigan School.  She is also the founder of Family Matters Counseling and Psychological Services in Southfield where she specializes in working with adolescents and adults with anxiety and depression, as well as, families dealing with divorce or step-parenting issues (blended families).