The etiquette of education

By ALYSSA FOLAND, staff reporter

As students wait for class to start, the sound of chatter, pen tapping, phone ringing and keyboard clicking bounce off the corners of the classroom.

According to students at Central Washington University, these are a few of the most common distractions. Courses vary in structure depending on the professor, but many students and professors agree that respect should be given the minute class begins.

“I feel like if you treat your professors right then they will treat you right,” Cyndy Sandoval, a sophomore accounting major, said.

According to an article on, there are five common rules for college classroom etiquette. These include: being quiet, keeping cell phone use to a minimum, being polite to professors, staying until the end of class and handling problems after class.

Many students and professors at Central agree these rules are a good balance.

Cynthia Coe, a women’s and gender studies professor, said the focus of classroom etiquette is to support a comfortable learning environment.

Coe said creating that comfortable environment is the whole point of the rules that professors put on their syllabi.

“I tell students if I see them with their cell phones out that I’m going to count them as absent for the day, because it means they’re intellectually not present,” Coe said.

Bonnie Hager, senior secondary English education major, said the most common rules she hears in her classes are to respect yourself, respect your peers and respect property. Another common rule is to leave all problems at the door.

“At some point, college is about professionalism, as well as etiquette,” Hager said.

There are many types of professors on campus. They can be strict, lenient, fun, tough, and sometimes a mixture of them all. Laila Abdalla, an English literature professor at Central, explained how she has a reputation for being tough, but once students realize she is a friendly professor with high expectations, she earns the students’ respect.

“I respect my students when they come in the classroom before I even know them, and I expect them to have that respect for me,” Abdalla said.

Race Newkirk, junior film and video studies major, said it doesn’t matter which professor he has because he gives them all the same amount of respect. He explained that, depending on the class, he may interact differently but he won’t treat the professors any different.

“Some people should really get out of the habit of thinking this is high school,” Newkirk said. “I think people take this too lightly and people will even argue that this isn’t the real world yet, and I just want to say that’s bogus.”

Elise May, a psychology professor, said she treats her students as adults. From day one, she sets ground rules for how the class should go.

“Usually on the first day I will put up a sign that says agree on one side and disagree on the other,” May said.

She explained that, through this activity, she will ask about 12 questions and then have the class sit and talk about what took place. She wants her students to challenge ideas without attacking the people expressing them. She doesn’t often deal with disrespectful students, but when she does, she expresses what she expects of them.

“I kind of put the ball back in their court, ‘well how would you feel if this happened to you,’ and typically I’ve had that only happen a couple times,” May said. “And typically, those students are very apologetic and they get that focus back to where it needs to be.”

Hager said the rules they hear at the beginning of every new class are pretty standard, and are the same rules taught since kindergarten. She hasn’t experienced any extreme behavior from students, but she does see people text often. Many students agree this is the most common crime against the five rules.

“It’s their choice if they want to pay attention,” Newkirk said.

This behavior could be due to a lack of communication. Abdalla said sometimes students think the relaxed mode in the classroom means a relaxed class load and are surprised when that’s not the case. She expects her students to pay attention in the classroom. That means no texting, sleeping, daydreaming, or writing letters home while the professor is speaking.

“In my book, if a student puts out effort, that’s my favorite kind of student,” Abdalla said.

Abdalla believes most professors work hard to build a relationship with their students. Coe agrees and said she learns with the students. She said in her first year of teaching, she used a student who came late to class as an example in her philosophy of education lecture. The student felt awful and so did Coe.

“We talked for a long time and she was okay, but it was a lesson to me about, you know, you really have to respect where students are coming from,” Coe said.

Behavior in the classroom is not just reserved for the students. Professors and students believe it is a give and take effort.

“I think of the classroom along a kind of democratic model, where it’s a shared project, and if I’m the only one contributing to it then it’s going to go flat,” Coe said.