A Memo to Students on Required Courses
To: My Students
From: Your Teacher
Subject: This Class You Don’t Want to Take
This is a required course. To many of you it looks (and may well be) unrelated to your major and your interests. If it weren’t required, you wouldn’t take it. Moreover, it may be a course in which you’ll do things you don’t like to do and don’t think you can do well; you will need to [write papers, solve problems, make presentations, work in groups, etc.—insert examples relevant to your course].
But you’re here in [insert course name], and I’m here to teach it. How can we make the best of it? I could tell you that I love this content, that I believe there are a hundred and one reasons why you should take the course and that in years to come, you’ll be glad you did. But I’m pretty darn sure that’s not going to change your mind or improve your attitude. I’ve taught this course before.
Even so, there are benefits that come with having to learn different kinds of stuff. Most of the time you don’t fall in love with it, although I teach it with passion and keep my fingers crossed because there’s a chance you may find it captivating. Most of the time, though, learning the content of a required course confirms that what you’re learning elsewhere in the curriculum is much more interesting. But after a course with different content, at least you’ve got some reasons why you think your major or program is better.
Learning new things stretches your mind, pulls it in different directions, and plops it down in places where it doesn’t want to go. Just as stretching your muscles can develop your flexibility, stretching your mind improves your awareness and ability to see how things look from different perspectives. For most professions those are skills worth having.
In the future and where you hope to find yourself, will you always be solving easy problems? If not, when you’re confronted with something you’ve never seen before, something without an answer that’s obvious to you, what’ll help is your having had lots of problem-solving experiences: your having tried to figure things out, been frustrated and stumped, and arrived at an answer only to find out it’s wrong. I don’t think the content in this course is all that daunting. Most students don’t have a huge amount of trouble mastering it, but it’s not the kind of material they’re used to dealing with either. It’s another educational experience through which you can develop skills useful in other courses and for the rest of your life.
How well do you know yourself as a learner? What makes it hard or easy for you to learn? How do you deal with mistakes, failure, and other learning frustrations? In any course you can learn more about yourself as a learner. In this course you can try out other approaches to learning and studying. In talking with students, it seems to me that many of you get stuck in ruts. You tackle every kind of subject matter using the same approaches even though the content of courses varies widely. Since this course doesn’t matter to you as much as others do, can you afford to take a few risks and try out some different approaches? I’d be happy to make some suggestions or direct you to resources.
Finally, I can be flexible about some of the assignments. If you happen upon anything in this course that you find interesting and would like to incorporate it into one of the assignments, let me know. I’d be delighted to explore some options with you. I’ve learned from students in previous sections that the material in this course connects with content in many different majors. Let’s talk or email about some options.
I’m happy to have you in the course even though you might not want to be here. I’m going to do my best to make it a good learning experience—if not a course you love, then at least one you won’t hate and consider a total waste of time. I know all courses are not equally interesting to students, but you can expect to hear some of those hundred and one reasons why I think this is a course worth taking. And I will cross my fingers that you find the material as captivating as I do.
Note to readers
Be welcome to make this memo your own. Use it as a template. Delete or revise what doesn’t fit, add more sections or examples, and change the voice so that it sounds like you and aligns with what you would like to see from your students.