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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Professional doesn’t mean cold

Daniela Barajas
A student sits irritably in class as an instructor points at a chalkboard with a cold face. It’s important to maintain a friendly environment in the classroom as faculty and students return for the spring semester. (Daniela Barajas | Northern Star)

Syllabus week is here: the first impression professors and students will get of each other before work begins. This semester, professors, please keep classrooms friendly. Students, let’s make that possible for them.

Reviewing the many rules of the classroom, quickly approaching exams and ways you could fail a course can feel intimidating, but NIU can’t skip syllabus week.

What professors can do is make the first week bearable. Even in a warning speech, it’s not necessary to be cold to be professional. 

Amanda Durik, professor and chair of NIU’s psychology department, said without honesty at the beginning, students may not understand a course’s expectations until too late.

“I think clarity is important because a syllabus is a contract,” Durik said. “It says: ‘This is how you’re going to learn, and this is how we’re going to do it.’ And having specificity is really quite important. Now, I think you can have that specificity along with a fairly warm tone.”

Especially moving into the rest of the year, Durik encourages professors to maintain a warm atmosphere in their classrooms. As a student, it’s hard to be excited about learning if you don’t feel welcome. Moreover, it’s hard to respect an unnecessarily cold person — no matter their expertise.

“They (faculty) bring a certain level of expertise from their discipline into that learning space,” Durik said. “On the other hand, we’re all human. We generally respond well to warmth, shared conversation, you know, two-way conversations where there is a listening as well as a talking on all sides. And importantly, part of a faculty member’s job is to convince a student of the shared learning goals, right? To invite them into the learning space.”

Professors, convince us you want to be here teaching us, and students are more likely to want to be in class. 

Expecting hard work while emphasizing a personal care for and belief in students being a warm demander is a method of teaching long recognized as highly effective, according to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

But students, we have to hold ourselves accountable too. 

Don’t allow a cold professor to crush your confidence. Understand your worth and the respect you deserve.

Then, understand how you can benefit from your professors’ expertise. Since you’ve already trusted the university enough to pay it thousands of dollars — trust that its faculty can help you succeed. 

Saraswi Vollala, a recent computer science graduate, understands it’s important professors balance the iron fist with the olive branch. College classrooms are professional settings, but friendly communication remains important.

“Being in any kind of college level classes, you do a lot of team projects,” Vollala said. “So having that sense of, you know: ‘We’re (professors) there for you (students). If you want to talk about anything – not only just class, you know, we’re there for you. Rather than just standing around saying: ‘Hey, this is your work.’”

Preserving warmth may be more important now than any other time during the school year: 67% of Americans experience behavioral change during winter, according to a 2023 poll by the American Psychiatric Association

Humans are creatures of light. We need the sunshine to feel good, so we should strive to create our own sunshine — or at least avoid sucking sunshine away from others — when we can’t get it from the sky. 

Professors, be a warm demander. Empathize and treat students like adults — which they are. Students, don’t bring unnecessary negativity, and don’t blame professors for giving you work. In any exchange, no one should want to be the closest resemblance to a TSA agent.

Staff or student, we’re all just humans: emotional, tired and probably hungry. We all need a warm welcome back to campus.

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