First Day of Class

salyards-(1)Tomorrow, in about eleven hours, I will walk into an economics classroom at Winona State University. Seated will be 40 students, most of them freshmen and sophomores. They have signed up for a course in Principles of Microeconomics. For the freshmen it will be their first collegiate class because my 8:00 am class is the first hour of the first day of classes for the fall 2013 term.

Some of the sophomores will expect me to introduce myself, go through the syllabus, crack a couple of jokes and dismiss the class after 10 minutes. They’ve gained that expectation from past experience in collegiate classrooms. They will be disappointed. Tomorrow’s class will take the full 50 minutes; perhaps 52 minutes. By the end of the week they will be expected to read two chapters in the text and turn in three homework assignments. The fun and games of freshman orientation week are over.

There are no grading “curves” in my classes. 90% or above gets you an A. Less than 70% gets you a D. Less than 60% gets you an F. By the time the semester is over roughly 50% of my students will either drop the class or take an F. Of all the departments at WSU the economics department grades the toughest, with the lowest GPA. I’m proud to be joined by such good company.

I once heard a professor say that “Education is the only commodity where people want the least then can get for their money.” There is some truth to that. If I was paying a psychiatrist $200 an hour for therapy and he ended the session after a half hour I would expect to get $100 back. If a university professor emails his classes and tells 40 students that there will be no class tomorrow, everyone celebrates!

When I was a child I would ask my Father what was expected of me. His answer was always the same, “All I expect from you is that you to do your best.” That would send me reeling….after all, only I knew what was my best…and giving my best was no simple task.

I love my students, but I’m not doing them any favors by demanding less than they can give. Tomorrow I’m going to say to them, “Every day that I come to class I am going to give you 100% of what I’ve got; I expect no less from you.”

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2 Responses to First Day of Class

  1. Nathaniel Schmelzer says:

    Dr. Salyards,
    Reading this letter brought back some fond memories of sitting in your class room. I remember that every day was an opportunity to gain knowledge and grow into a well-rounded adult ready to head out into the world. One particular day stands out in my mind though, more than others. On this day you were giving a lecture on marginal cost vs. marginal value and you stated that “…when you were hired at WSU your marginal value to the school was much higher than their marginal cost, but now their marginal cost was much more than the marginal value that they were getting from you as a teacher”. I would like to say Dr. Salyards that the education that I received in your class room was well worth every cent spent. Never under-estimate your value nor the impact that you have on those around you and keep on “doing your best” because, whether they realize it now or later this generation will appreciate you for it.
    Nathaniel Schmelzer
    Cost Accountant
    Badger Foundry

  2. Ian says:

    I remember that class. First class I ever had at WSU. I got a C and I still got a better grasp of Macro than 99% of the population. Heck sometimes I feel like I got a better grasp of macro than most of the republican party. The rest of the time I’m certain i have a better grasp of macro than the republican party. Then every once in awhile I’m reminded that Michelle Bachmann graduated from WSU and I’m instantly immersed with the inclination that grades can’t possibly matter.
    I remember these two friends that graduated from the nursing program. About a week after their big phys and anat final I asked them what side of the body the appendix was on. They just stared at each other blankly with no idea. They both went on to graduate the nursing program with immaculate GPA’s and saved approximately zero lives as a result of it. As much as I enjoyed that macro class, my favorite class I ever had at WSU was a philosophy class called Moral Problems. I got a C in that class too. My professor told us the first day that we were all likely going to get a C or worse. He even made it a point to tell any nursing majors to drop the class or take it pass/fail, because they had roughly a zero % chance of getting B or higher. My tendency is to think this is part of the reason republicans just hate those gosh darn elitists in the world of education. Students just always seem to come out of college a little too educated and not so much republican. They blame the institution for proselytizing because they didn’t draw the same ridiculous conclusion republicans did, but I think most students just listened to Bruce Lee.

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