The traditions for the first week of classes, commonly known as “syllabus week,” looked a little different from the usual protocol of everyone introducing themselves, our professors telling us about themselves and taking a syllabus quiz. To start off the spring semester, the first week of classes were online only due to COVID-19 safety requirements made by the university for students possibly coming back after a break.
In five out of my six classes, professors shared Google forms or questionnaires asking us students about ourselves. The questions ranged from what my preferred name was, my pronouns, a fun fact and why I did or didn’t want to take the class.
Through this, it felt as though my professors actually cared about me, and wanted to get to know me further than the typical introduction of name, year and major. One of my professors also had me email her my response to why I was taking the class so that I could have her email, as well as so she could respond to my answer.
The response from my professor made me feel less like another random student, but an individual in a class where I was valued as a person. An “About Me” form should be something all professors institute as a way to get to know their students. Even if the class is a large lecture with 100 students, the form can be as simple as asking what is your preferred name and pronouns.
For smaller classes, professors can ask more questions and make them specific to their course, but the basics should be included first. In my poetry class, my professor asked if there were any disabilities or health concerns she should know about.
Although the Educational Access Center on campus usually notifies students’ professors of a disability, the professor does not receive specific information about what the disability is. If students are given an option in a form to let their professors know what their disability is, it could make for a better learning environment.
Further, for students who use a different name than the one on their birth certificate, whether it is a preferred name or nickname, it could mean a lot to a student when professors don’t assume their name on the roster is correct.
Specifically for transgender students, it can be upsetting when professors use their deadname, the name that was given to someone at birth that they don’t use anymore while doing role call with the rosters that don’t have updated names. A person’s pronouns should always be asked for, whether they are transgender or not, and it can be a good reminder for professors if they have a list from a form given to students to fill out.
According to an article written by KC Clements for Healthline, “when you refer to a person who is transgender by their non-affirmed name, it can feel invalidating. It can cause them to feel like you don’t respect their identity, you don’t support their transition, or that you don’t wish to put forth the effort to make this necessary change.”
Having students fill out an “About Me” survey before the first class can alleviate some of the stress and anxiety trans students may feel surrounding their deadname and pronouns.
Not only can it help with first-week stress, but student-teacher relationships are also proven to be effective in improving students’ learning abilities and retention. According to an article by Sarah Sparks for Education Week, “a Review of Educational Research analysis of 46 studies found that strong teacher-student relationships were associated in both the short- and long-term with improvements on practically every measure schools care about…”
When professors in the past have taken the time to get to know me, or given me personal feedback on an assignment, I have always felt more inclined to participate and pay attention. The student-professor relationship seems to always benefit both individuals and can develop stronger mentoring relationships.
There are a few professors I have that took the time to get to know me on a personal level, or have given constant receptive feedback to my work. Those professors are the ones I check in with periodically and who I go to for letters of recommendation or simply help in general.
Taking the time to start the semester by getting to know students can make the world of a difference, and I believe every professor should adopt the first-week “About Me” forms and questionnaires.