August 25, 2017 11:32 am

Norman Eng


What ONE THING do college students wish professors would just understand?

I ask students this question the first day. Want to know their psychology? What they REALLY care about? What frustrates the s#&t out of them? What they wished they could say to you but never could?

My teaching system is all about knowing your target audience and understanding the learner experience. How can you teach them if you don’t know what they’re going through?

Here are 15 of their most insightful comments. And yes, they are 100% real.


I wish all professors knew how much students dislike when they go over class time.

Some of us have other classes to get to and responsibilities, so they can’t just always believe that we can stay longer than what we’re there for. I’ve had this problem with one of my classes… and [the professor] would always keep us past our class time and she would threaten to take off points if we got up and left. So in case there are other professors like that I would like them to know that.


Do not be afraid to talk to us about things we will actually use in real life.

(For example: treating your enemies with respect, working hard at something you care about, being kind to the planet, being on time). I understand that what we’re learning in class is important, but I feel like my most effective teachers taught us things that weren’t in the curriculum, and have now been embedded in my heart and brain for years. Do not be afraid to be real with us. Teach us patience, discipline, and that there are no shortcuts in life, because by doing so, you are pouring into us and these are the skills will need to use as we grow. 

I wish all professors knew how difficult it is for students to balance all the different classes.

I suggest that professors should give enough time to complete assignments so that students could balance their own work and school schedule. Instead of giving the assignment a few days before the deadline, they should give it well in advance so that students have more time to work on it. They should also maintain a friendly altitude so that students feel comfortable asking for help and support. 


When a student doesn’t participate, [it] is for a reason.

 Some students are extremely shy and don’t feel comfortable participating/sharing even if they know the answer. Everything depends on the student. Every situation is different, I personally like to me left alone, when they try to force me to speak up it doesn’t work. Small classrooms help me feel more comfortable, less people. 

One thing that I would like the professor to know is how hard it is for me to ask a question.

 I don’t want to ask the wrong question or even a dumb question. I know lots of professor say there is no such thing as a dumb question but sometime i really don’t understand it. And it’s really discouraging to see the professors face when my question seems like an easy one.


I wish all professors were a little more lenient with assignments and the amount of work that’s due.

Everyone has things and obligations outside of school so I wish they understood that. There are lots of students that are parents and have jobs and while taking care of an older child isn’t a big issue having a small child while going to school and working is very hard. I’d suggest at the beginning of the semester professors do a survey just to get some background on their students lives outside of school to better address certain issues, like handing in late assignments. I know some people might say that wouldn’t be fair to those students that hand things in on time, but it’s also not fair to students like me, who are single mothers, living alone, working and going to school full time while taking care of a 4-year-old, that try really hard to do well and hand things in on time. 


I wish all professors knew how to teach and organize their material in a way that made it interesting and easy to remember.


The one big thing that I wish professors knew [is] that encouragement on students’ progression is necessary.

Because when students have their moment of giving up, I believe it would be helpful to have professors to cheer us up and keep us going. The one big thing that I wish I was better at is continuously learn about new things that challenge me and not be afraid of speaking up even it means I could sound stupid.

 I wish professors knew in order to help students be enthusiastic about the class, they have to be too. A lot professors enter the classrooms expecting students to cram work into their brains, reading off their slides. If professors aren’t passionate/willing to actively teach, students would be discouraged.


I wish professors understood that there are only 24 hours in a day. Although we sign up for school as adults we do have other priorities.

It is a challenge to have a full time job and be a full time student. When you are assigned long readings for every single class sometimes it becomes stressful trying to get everything done on time and actually understand and retain some of the information that was studied.  Keeping homework readings to a minimum of what is important for understanding the class and being able to take away helpful knowledge for our career should be the focus. Some professors believe that we have the full 48 hours between the classes to only concentrate on their work and that is false.


I would like professors to know that our time is as valuable as theirs and should be respected as such.

Some professors give strict, non-flexible deadlines for assignments and always shut down students when they claim that they have many classes as well as a job and it is difficult.

Professors then, state that if we are responsible for the work for every class and at times are even told that we need better time management.

All this is fine and well however, when students hand in assignments, most professors ask that we be patient and to take into consideration that they have many classes and papers to grade.

So I feel that if we must be responsible to submit our work by the set up on deadline, then professors should do a better job in grading and returning assignments back to students.


I wish professors knew how hard it is for a wife, mother of four to take care of the family, and try to get a good grade in college. 

Things I do everyday:

  1. Take kids to 2 different schools [by taking public] transportation
  2. Buy groceries
  3. Iron husband’s shirt, breakfast for husband
  4. Go to college
  5. Cook
  6. Pick up kids from [school]
  7. I read my reading assignments (articles) on the train to save time
  8. Help kids with their homework
  9. Pick up kid from [school]
  10. Go back to college
  11. Get kids ready for the next day
  12. Do my homework (if I need to write a paper need to do it overnight + not being able to sleep when kids are sick. My younger child was admitted to [the local hospital] for 3 days for pneumonia after I spent the previous night writing my final paper for a class.


One thing I wish all professors knew about is how overbearing it is for students at the end of the semester.

I never understood nor liked it when professor wait until the end of the semester to give students the biggest projects and assignments. On top of that we have to study for finals. I wish professors were more considerate when it came to the end of the semester.  Yes, I understand that many college kids procrastinate, but that doesn’t mean that you wait until the last month to give students big projects that is extremely time consuming. I wish professors realized how stressful it is for students at the end of the semester and it is very inconsiderate to pile everything up on us at once.


One thing I wish all professors knew was about the fundamentals of each religion.

This may be asking for too much but I always feel weird or uncomfortable asking professors if I can leave the room for a few minutes to pray. I just wish they knew about that certain prayer times fall in between class times. Some strict professors may think I am lying which really insults me. Thankfully, there are professors who are very understanding, however, I wish all professors were like that. 


Firstly, time. I wish all professors know that college students have too many things at once.

Many of us make sacrifices. I understand that professors have a lot of work to do as well. The difference is that professors have their teaching as a job and the homework they get is from their job. However for college students they have job outside college, they make time to come to class and then some of them get too much homework. Secondly, some classes are not engaging. College is supposed to be engaging and hands on.

The fact that some professors put up an invisible wall in front of them is disturbing. Many professors need to learn that it takes courage to raise a hand and give an opinion. The fact that some professors discourage participation in their class unless we are 100% sure about our answer. These professors only give lecture and don’t like their students to give opinion.

Trust me I have taken classes where professors are like this. in addition, I loved the fact that you [Prof. Eng] had an [overarching course] question (“How do we develop children into successful adults?”). This type of question gives purpose to the class. The fact that the question was short, concise and connected to real life experience was helpful and motivating. Professors should do that instead of [illegible] us with lots of question.


One thing I wish all professors knew was that just because we go to the same school, doesn’t mean we live close to each other for group projects that have short deadlines.

I completely I understand the benefits of group projects but I wish professors would give the assignment as early as they can in the semester because I live so far from the school and most students that meeting up becomes a hassle when I already have prior arrangements like work.


Love their comments, hate ‘em, just don’t dismiss them. Thoughts?


  • This post is pure gold. Especially the one about students who don’t participate because they are shy. What are we supposed to do then? Also the one about how hard it is to ask questions. Something to keep in mind next time we think students are asking “dumb” questions. Keep sending more stuff like this!

    • With the shy student, I encouraged her to keep a running dialogue with me via email. Hoping to do this more but via discussion boards. Would love to hear other alternatives from others!

  • I believe that we have to remember that, just because these people are adults, they are still students. These students are handling their own responsibilities (not their parents). As such, we need to keep that in mind and remember they have responsibilities (and other classes) outside of ours. We need to be as welcoming as if we were teaching K-12 and we need to make equity a priority in college classes just as much.

    • I love what you say about welcoming students as if we were teaching K-12 (and about making equity a priority). I think it’s too easy to say “they’re in college and need to grow up!” While true to an extent, there is so much they go through that we need to be aware of. And for many of them, it is the first time they are thrust into the grown-up role. We can’t just expect them to be adults the day they turn 18. It’s a process we have to steward them through.

    • I have taught both high school and college students. If you teach college freshmen, what you should remember is that these students are just two months beyond their high school years. The transition from high school to college is huge for them. As teachers of college freshmen, we have to be open, understanding, and flexible to give our students time to grow into college students. For some, the process is easy and quick; for others, it takes a much longer time!

      • Great point DP reminding us that the gap from high school to college is small yet the expectations can be huge. Open, understanding and flexible. Love that.

  • If I were faced with a student who was ironing shirts and making breakfast for her husband, I would tell her to stop doing that, point blank. Grown men need to take care of themselves! During my college success workshops, I tell my students that their families’ expectations have to change.


    If they are going to succeed, they have to have that discussion with their families. If not, they are going to fail.

    Many of them are the first in their families to attend college, and few of their families understand what is expected of college students. This is especially true for women students. It’s important for professors to know that they don’t only have that student in their class. We have their whole family.

    • Good point, Liz. Esp. the part about telling students their family’s expectations have to change. At the same time, cultures aren’t easy to change…

    • Yeah, no. You don’t get to quarterback or hand your little two cents to how their family is run. The college experience needs to be more flexible.

  • Thanks Norman for this insightful blog. I usually ask for a one-paragraph of the students’ expectations of me as a lecturer which helps me in my delivery of the content and feedback. I also give a 2-liner expectation of them as students based on what they wrote and we promise to live up to each other’s expectations. If and when each if us fail then it is easy to get back on track. This exercise also helps me to get to know my students from day one. Reading your blog just convinced me to include this exercise in my training sessions as well as an ice breaker. Thanks again Norman, please keep them coming.

    • Katie, the idea for one-paragraph of students’ expectations of you sound like a great idea. I like that it really makes this a two-way conversation and holds us accountable to student success. Something I will try!

  • Norm, these are important insights into the harried lives of college students. For me it was only just 6 years ago that I completed my master’s degree/thesis while working a demanding full-time job. My daughter was academically expelled when she lost interest due to depression and the demands of college life. After watching her peers move on, graduate, marry, buy houses and have kids (while she lived at home) the light bulb went on and she became one of the 12% of students who goes back and graduates. I now know the cues for my students and will speak to them at the appropriate time. Because of this, most of the “I wish professors…” I am sensitive to those needs.

    • I agree, Terri. Ever since I started asking students this, I’ve become extra sensitive to the way I present myself–my demeanor, my delivery, and my content. While there are so many students, helping even one more due to our awareness of their situation makes all this worth it. Definitely not easy when we have so many other responsibilities (research, etc.).

  • Very good read here. I am a college prof., and a good thing to do on Day 1 would be to provide students with a brief online survey that invites students to share how they feel they would enjoy learning best. I also leave room on the survey for them to make comments on what they’ve already heard about the course and what interests them most. Even though many don’t know the best way I should deliver the info, it DOES begin a rapport. Where I teach, there are avenues to send students who become AWOL, but by the time things get resolved, that time could have been avoided for some who may have chosen to go right to their instructors when things first happened.

    • John, always good to hear your insights! Love the idea of survey. Like I mentioned in another comment, this really makes the conversation or interaction a two-way street, something that is easy to forget as the “experts.” It does definitely start with rapport.

  • Norman, these student insights are priceless! I try to remember to school my facial expressions when students ask a question that I just answered, or seem to be more engaged with their mobile device than with the class.
    I’ve been quite fortunate thus far in establishing some level trust with my shy students. They know I won’t put them on the spot in class, but after class I’ll walk with them to this next class and engage them in conversation to see whether they ‘got it’ or not. (Not every student, not everyday).

    But now I think I’ll try to connect with them through email, so they have time to digest what we discussed in class and form an opinion.

    With your permission, I’ll share these insights with my colleagues!

  • Norman,

    Many, many thanks.

    I have taught 30+ years, and began teaching while working my way through law school. So I was a very busy student when first teaching other students–and that taught me so many of these lessons.

    Because of this I always employed empathy to best understand every individual students. That’s 9,000+ students from 84 nations so far! I have always “done” each assignment myself before assigning it, to best measure student time needs and anticipate assignment questions, and learn and share its ‘lessons.’ This helps me best sell the assignment and its significance and learning rewards. The results are always stellar.

    Key is to see every student as a very special individual. And get to truly know them. By listening to them. Being open to them. And pledging sincere helpfulness. My goal is to help every one of them succeed. And they know it.

    I also plan the course in such a way that there is never any Traditional/Baby Boomer vicious competition. Instead, I touch the core values of Millennials and Gen Zs by sharing the great quote “All for one and one for all.” And explain that it is their DUTY–in class, in their daily life, at work, and in society to ‘lift all ships’ and inspire both themselves and all others to excellence. And that all grading will be criteria-based–they master every requirement and avoid every pitfall. And will never, ever be graded on a “curve.” Thus all can earn As–and all can earn Fs. It is their choice.

    One of my consulting specialties is time management. So I help students master it from the start. And teach them focus, pace–and the joy of life and taking breaks to refresh.

    Could go on and on. Retired early and missed teaching and young minds so much I am back in the saddle. Visiting prof at the U. of Richmond teaching truly wonderful students.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful and essential list. I hope every professor and teacher in the nation–and the world–reads it. And appreciates it.

    Fred Talbott
    Robins School of Business
    University of Richmond

  • Do they really credit us with so little intelligence or empathy? While we should (and I believe most of us do) pay attention to different learning styles and circumstances, we design our courses to promote learning. The shy student, for example, should work on challenging herself because the reluctance to participate detracts from learning. Also, their employers are not going to ask what they wish them to know. Not all by any means, but some of the student responses are alibies–it’s the professor’s fault if I don’t do well.

    • Naomi, I see their comments more as background information, rather than directives. In the end, it’s a balancing act every instructor has to figure out. I know that students are juggling a lot, but I wouldn’t necessarily take away assignments just because they said so. However, that info might help me, for instance, craft a clearer lecture that resonates and cuts through the clutter. As for getting the shy to talk, I’ve always found that to be challenging. Expecting them to speak up (or forcing them) may work for some, and for others, it just turns them off. Still finding that balance. I guess it’s all in how we approach it.

  • I love these comments and they are very reflective on the state of being a student. One of the practices I have been trying to make sure I include is how to utilize the material we cover in real life. It is often easy to fall in the trap of explaining a theory or concept, but not putting a practical focus on it. This year I have been working hard to let students know why I set up things the way I do and ask them what I can do to help them learn. Sometimes it is simple things like changing due dates or having them only read what is really necessary- i.e. only the relevant chapters, passages, or shorter material that covers the concepts and then use class to tease out the bigger picture.

    Having just gone from being a student to a faculty, I can still relate to much of what the students said, mow being on the other side, I can see the perspective of the faculty. I think that it would be really nice for students to see a list of one thing faculty would like their students to know. Many of the issues would be parallel, especially around the themes of time and family. This could be a good activity for students and faculty to get to know each other better.

    • Julie, the idea of telling students one tbing faculty would like their students to know is great and something I do AFTER I hear from students! It’s a great excuse to really emphasize certain issues that you may have been having trouble with. For example, I had an issue with students the previous semesters not putting in enough effort, so I made a big deal about that–how effort makes a huge difference in our eyes–it can mean the difference between recommending someone or not. Or even giving the student the benefit of the doubt when their grades could go either way. Would love to hear your “one thing” for students!

      • Aside from some of the comments that would parallel what the students say, I would love to tell them to just read the syllabus and the online content or ask your classmates before sending me questions that can easily be answered in those two ways. Because I am just going to tell you to do that anyway. I am not trying to say that in a snarky way, but I wish they new how much time we put into class prep so that due dates, assignment descriptions, attendance policies, and other information were quickly at their disposal!

        • I hear you, Julie. I have an “ask three, then me” rule, borrowed from my days as a K-12 teacher: Always ask three classmates before asking me. It definitely helps cut down on the questions. What do you do to get them to “appreciate” the time and effort we put into our class prep?

  • Hi Norman,

    Thank you for this post! I will actually share this with my students! I have a quick question…

    One thing I always wrestle with is calling on shy students. I really like how you and Lemov (By the way, thank you for turning me on to him in TC!) implement cold calling, and I see it as a real opportunity for students to develop their soft skills. I tell them that we all need to develop these skills, as these are essential to being an excellent student, an excellent employee, as well as an excellent human being. What’s more, I tell them that none of us have arrived; we all can grow in all of these skills.

    Thus, I’ve been cold calling more and more in class these days–not in a “gotcha” way–but as a way for them to practice some of these skills, such as communication skills, critical and creative thinking, courage, etc.

    So the question I wrestle with is this: Do you think it would be okay to not offer the email-running-dialogue option to shy students? That is, do you think it’s wise to encourage shy students to practice participating in discussion, here, in class, where it’s okay to make mistakes (“culture of error”) instead of offering them the nonverbal communication option? I see much wisdom in the Tom Landry philosophy of coaching: “Coaching is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.” I believe that encouraging them to engage in class discussion, as uncomfortable (and frightening) it might be, will help them to become the kind of person they want to be.

    However, as you know, it’s not always easy to know when to encourage students to reach beyond their comfort zones, and when to not push them too much.

    Thanks again, Norman, for all of your help and insights!


    Peter Kanetis

    • Peter, in short, my answer is YES. You can definitely encourage shy students to participate in class and not offer an email alternative. You know your students better than anyone. I’ve done both. I’ve had extremely shy students who can resent if pushed too hard. The email dialogue is an alternative. I agree that encouraging them to participate in class is important, (if not for the sole reason that they will need this skill).

      BTW, cold-calling is a great technique, but it has to be done very carefully. Students must see that you have their best interest at heart, otherwise they can resent your cold-calling attempts as “picking on them.” So I advise always previewing to students why you randomly ask students questions.

  • Dr. Eng,
    I want to sincerely thank you! I just finished teaching my first in-person class. Your recommended approaches worked beautifully! The students were thrilled. They learned! I just received their comments and they were very happy. Thank you so much for your valuable book. I couldn’t have done it without it!

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