Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on January 23, 2009


typewriter6          I suppose that if I were forced to break down my approach to Dr. Wizard’s Advice, or to life – for that matter, the chips would generally fall somewhere along the line of the old maxim that “honesty is the best policy.”  Now, because I subscribe to this philosophy of forthrightness, I’ve tended to be perhaps more open in these lessons, and in interviews, about my personal strengths and weaknesses than might be prudent.  But I think, all in all, that’s probably more of a good thing than a bad – and has led to most of this project’s early success.  Like Popeye says in the cartoons, and like Eminem echoes on the Marshall Mathers LP, “I am what I am” – and I can’t really change it.

          This being the case, I’m not going to pull any punches in a misguided attempt to hide my character flaws.  For instance, it can be stated without hesitation that I am a horrible dancer, or at least I’ve been told.  On the dance floor, I’ve got essentially one move – and it’s like a really tall guy’s version of the Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance” – where I “limp to the side like my leg was broken.”  I’m also a pretty horrible correspondent – neither responding to facebook messages nor returning phone calls could truly be considered my forte – so if you call and I don’t call back, don’t feel bad.  It doesn’t mean we’re not still friends.

          At the same time, because this doesn’t do anybody any good either, I’m not going to hide my better attributes out of some sense of false modesty.  When it comes right down to it, I’m a pretty good teacher.  For me to claim that I wasn’t would be essentially the same as for Manute Bol to claim that he wasn’t tall, for Megan Fox to claim that she wasn’t hot, or for Bill Nye to claim that he wasn’t an awesome science guy.  Every semester, I check in near the top of the department in terms of teacher reviews, and I’m the highest rated GMAT teacher in the Midwest.  That’s why I’m qualified to give you advice.

          Now, because I’m a good teacher, and also because I’m young, my classes tend to fill up early in the registration period, and every semester I get contacted by lots of students who hope that, for one reason or another, I’ll let them in as an enrollment overload.  But obviously I can’t do that.  There’s a reason that English courses at Saint Louis University are capped at 30 students – and it has to do with my inability to grade 56 papers at a time for each class I teach without driving a spork through my eye.  So today’s lesson is all about how to be the one lucky student who gets into that otherwise closed class.  And if you want to be that special someone, then now’s the time to pay attention.

          First of all, know that your professor has heard, especially by the time he or she has been on campus for a couple of semesters, every possible reason in the book why you “need” to take the class you so desperately want to get into – and he or she also knows that almost none of them are valid.  For instance, we don’t really believe that you need this class to graduate – at least not immediately.  At every school in America, graduating seniors get to register first, and you’ll get your chance when the time is appropriate.  We also don’t care that you need this class for your major – every major in America has either multiple classes or multiple sections that fill each requirement.

          But at least, I suppose, when you come to us with one of these sad pleas, you’re making a slight effort to tell us what you think we need to hear – even if, in reality, what you really mean to say is that you don’t want to take the other class because it meets on Mondays and Fridays, or you don’t want to take the other class because you hear the professor is mean, or you don’t want to take the other class because it meets at 8:00 in the morning (sometimes, amazingly, students who believe in a similar policy of forthrightness to my own will just come right out and give one of these more honest excuses – and while I admire their ballsy-ness, my class remains closed).  You see, it’s not our problem that your night life or weekends are going to be inconvenienced.  It’s also not our problem that you’ll now have to spend a semester with that old crotchety mean professor.  In fact, it’s not your problem either, because taking a class with your university’s version of angry old Dr. Kleinsasser almost always turns out to be a good thing; it puts hair on your chest.

          If, however, your chest has enough hair already, here’s how you differentiate yourself from the crowd: SHOW LEGITIMATE INTEREST IN THE COURSE MATERIAL.  Last fall, for example, I taught a class on the History and Literature of Chicago.  The course closed on March 19, 2008 – and over the span of the next five months, I received somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty requests for special admittance.  Nineteen of these emails received a curt, “thanks, I’m flattered, but I’m sorry.”  One student, however, navigated successfully through the maze of excuses and found herself a seat in the closed course.  How did she do it?  Well, first, she sent me an email telling me how excited she was about the reading list – and telling me how important it was for her to learn more about her hometown.  Then, before classes started in the fall, she sent me another email telling me about her experience of reading the first two assigned books over the summer, and asking me very specific questions about the texts.  Clearly, this was a student who was going to contribute to class discussion, was going to be enthused about her research project, and was going to write papers that were fun to grade.  And that’s the kind of student I want in class.  In fact, it’s the only legitimate reason that I will ever stretch a course up to 31 students, or – I suppose, if I received enough of these awesome special requests – 56 students.  So, because of the excellent groundwork that she laid, when this particularly enthusiastic Chicagoan showed up on the first day of class, I went next door and stole her an extra desk.

          And that, ladies and gentleman, is the trick.  If you want a coveted, non-existent seat in a course where one shouldn’t exist for you, then all you have to do is make us believe that you’ll make the overall dynamic of the class better, and not make our lives a chore.  Personally, just working inside my normal “M.O.”, I’d prefer this enthusiasm to be legitimately honest – but if one of your character strengths is being an outstanding, if somewhat shady salesman, then just know that your job is make us believe that what we’re teaching is the one thing you find most interesting in the world.  If that’s within your capabilities, then you can tell old angry Dr. Kleinsasser to go to hell.


4 Responses

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  1. Avi said, on January 23, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Good advice! Though I’m not sure if that will work for a Spanish class, although I am legitimately interested in the material.

  2. Dr. Wizard's Mom said, on January 26, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Bravo! Great blog! Good advice delivered with PG language! (P.S. You don’t have to post this comment. Just thought I’d tell you what I thought.)

  3. drwizard said, on January 26, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    As has been previously noted, my Mom’s favorite posts are the ones that don’t include F-Bombs.

  4. Mary said, on January 27, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Great advice. Your student is exactly the kind I’ve made exceptions for in the past. The only kind I’ve made exceptions for.

    And thank you for the inspiration for my next blog post. This is important information for students to learn. Entitlement and excuses will not lead to success. At least not with professors!

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