Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Can’t you wait five minutes before packing up?

Basic classroom etiquette goes a long way in showing both professors and classmates their time is respected
Photo by Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash.

If you’ve attended a lecture at any point during college, you’re familiar with the “zipper symphony” that concludes each class.

But if you need a refresher, allow me to set the scene.

You’re in a 150-person lecture hall. The class ends in five minutes. The professor is in the middle of a sentence — and that’s when you hear the first backpack zipping up.

Within seconds, the zipping noise snowballs into the rustling of papers, the scraping of metal water bottles against the floor, the squeak of folding desks being tucked away and murmurs between classmates. The professor is still speaking, but their voice can no longer compete against the cacophony of a hundred shuffling backpacks. They frown, sigh and say something about finishing the slides next time.

It’s an awkward situation to watch unfold, but it’s happened in almost every lecture I’ve attended since freshman year. It’s common practice, and that’s a problem.

I understand that nobody can listen with rapt attention for the entire class. I, too, occasionally check my phone and daydream about what I want to eat for dinner. I also understand that students have other responsibilities after their lectures. I’ve had my fair share of back-to-back classes, but surely we all have the capacity to stay put for the last five minutes of our scheduled class time. At the very least, we should be able to do this out of basic courtesy and respect.

To the students packing up early: your short attention span shouldn’t take priority over everyone else’s time. Today’s generation of college students need a lesson in basic classroom etiquette. Common courtesy goes a long way in showing both professors and classmates that their time is respected. And this respect should not be conditional. It should be built into the culture of how we treat one another in academic spaces.

The zipper symphony is just one example of poor student etiquette in lectures, and the surface-level issues are pretty obvious.

The last few minutes of class are still important. Oftentimes, professors summarize the lesson or give announcements on upcoming assignments. The premature shuffling, if not disruptive to the content, is just plain annoying.

This type of behavior also reflects a troubling culture among some of today’s students; a disregard for the value of education.

When students act disrespectfully in the lecture hall, it sets a poor precedent within our campus culture for the type of behavior that’s acceptable and expected. When this culture is set, it’s ultimately us students who are taking the loss.

Most of us are paying thousands of dollars to be in these classes, but tuition costs aside, our education is devalued when we don’t treat our educational environments with the dignity they deserve. This loss could be something obvious, such as being unable to hear the professor’s lesson summary, or something more intrinsic, such as feeling demotivated or apathetic towards the course upon seeing other students aren’t taking it seriously. I’m not suggesting that we start functioning like a 19th century private school, but we could all stand to gain some educational value by extending a little more reverence to our own learning.

Additionally, professors deserve respect for their authority as intellectuals and educators. Especially in public institutions, educators in America are undervalued relative to those in other countries. A 2018 study conducted by the National Education Association constructed a teacher status index that measured how much different countries valued their teachers. On a scale of zero (least respected) to 100 (most respected), the U.S. scored a 39.

There’s a wholesome tradition in Germany where university students will knock on their desks at the end of a class session. This practice, called akademisches klopfen, is done to show appreciation for the professor and their lecture. It’s a casual alternative to clapping, as clapping is often too ceremonious a gesture for college lectures. Akademisches klopfen also clearly marks when the class ends. The students acknowledge the professor is done, they show their thanks and then they’re on their merry way. Is that really so hard?

I get it. Not all classes are edge-of-your-seat thrilling. But professors work hard to provide students with something substantial. Treating our professors and classmates with respect in the lecture hall contributes to a healthier campus culture, and above all, it’s just the right thing to do.

Next lecture, try staying present until the final minute. It’ll mean a lot to your professor and those around you. Your backpack can wait. Stick around and hear what your professor has to say. Who knows? You might learn something.

Kelly McMahan can be reached at [email protected].

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