Ready To Learn: What Makes A Great Student
We sat in the theater of the student center, six professors
representing English, math, sociology, education, media studies and
journalism. We sat awaiting the questions from a roomful of freshman
Across the country, young students - mostly 18- and 19-year-olds - are
going through this annual rite of college initiation before starting a
new phase of their life in earnest in a few weeks. It's called
Our presence as faculty members was just one component of freshman
orientation at Southern Connecticut State University, just one
manifestation of the university's desire for the experience of its
incoming freshmen to be a successful one.
In many schools throughout the nation, a significant number of
freshmen will not return for their sophomore year. So what better
group to meet and talk with them than those of us who will be their
There were questions about attendance and exams, about how to declare
your major, what happens if you miss class, whether you are expected
to know everything, what happens if you get sick and how much reading
Perhaps the most interesting question was this: What attributes would
we use to describe the ideal student? I provided my description based
on a student I had nearly 10 years ago and whom, interestingly enough,
I heard from several weeks ago by e-mail. She was a journalism major
but is now a teacher of English and journalism in northern California
and looking to begin advising a school newspaper.
She was one of my all-time best students, not just for the grades she
earned, but for the following ideal student attributes:
- Motivation. She was highly motivated and enthusiastic. She exuded
confidence that if she didn't know something, she was willing to learn
- Openness. She was receptive to new concepts and ideas. The mistake
new students make is to stick to what they learned from previous
teachers or life experiences. In college, it is important for students
to be open to views that run contrary to their comfort level or way of
- Punctuality. She was in class on time. Students should understand
that although each professor is different with regard to attendance
policies, there is a basic rule: You must attend. Skipping class or
coming late is never a good thing.
- Engagement. She was an active learner, meaning she asked questions,
initiated discussions in a way that raised the bar for others. It is
not enough to just be present; the mind and spirit must also be
- Preparedness. She always came with assignments completed. She was
ready to learn.
- Ability to overcome setbacks. There was an occasion when she
submitted a paper that missed the mark and her grade reflected it. She
did not sulk. She did not panic. We discussed it, she determined what
I was looking for, and the next time, the paper was on the mark.
- Giving more, not less. She did not just meet the average
requirements of the class; she did that added bit of research or
writing or interviewing to make her work stand out.
Teaching is a noble profession. It comes with its highs and lows, its
exultations and frustrations. We teachers try to reach our students
and help them take the first steps toward their dreams and goals. We
don't get rich doing it, but we do, overall, get a great deal of
satisfaction. Truth be told, we want all our students to succeed. The
reality is that some will fail, despite our efforts.
Still, we strive to do the best we can.
After that, it's in each student's hands.
Frank Harris III is chairman of the journalism department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. His column appears every Monday. He can be reached at .
This article was published in the Hartford Courant, August 10, 2007 and is posted here with the permission of the author.