What college students want to tell their high school teachers: Be tougher on us. Force us to be responsible.

A reader says a good college provides more than a good education. It upgrades your life and your social circle. (Dean Rohrer art)This is one for the bulletin board in the teacher’s lounge — what college students want their high school teachers to know. I think folks may be surprised that the main suggestion is “hold us more responsible for our learning.”

Drew Appleby was the director of undergraduate Studies in the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Psychology Department. Now retired and living in Sandy Springs, he sent me this fascinating essay on what college students would like to tell their high school teachers.

By Drew Appleby

I read Epstein School head Stan Beiner’s guest column on what kids really need to know for college with great interest because one of the main goals of my 40-years as a college professor was to help my students make a successful transition from high school to college.

I taught thousands of freshmen in Introductory Psychology classes and Freshman Learning Communities, and I was constantly amazed by how many of them suffered from a severe case of “culture shock” when they moved from high school to college.

I used one of my assignments to identify these cultural differences by asking my students to create suggestions they would like to give their former high school teachers to help them better prepare their students for college. A content analysis of the results produced the following six suggestion summaries.

The underlying theme in all these suggestions is that my students firmly believed they would have been better prepared for college if their high school teachers had provided them with more opportunities to behave in the responsible ways that are required for success in higher education

1. Give us a syllabus on the first day of class that has the schedule for the class planned out for the whole semester (e.g., tests dates, deadlines for papers, and grading scales), and then stick to that syllabus the way college professors do.

2. Don’t tell us at the end of each class what we will be during the next class period. That allows us to be irresponsible because we don’t have to read the syllabus to know what we are expected to do. Please help us to become as responsible as possible when we leave high school and go to college.

3. Don’t accept lame or undocumented excuses about why we don’t have assignments done, and don’t allow us to sweet talk you into letting us make up tests that we are unprepared to take. College professors seldom accept these types of excuses because they try to be fair by making sure all their students have the same amount of time to study for tests.

4.  Be sure to teach us how to be academically honest by requiring that we cite all the sources we use to support what we write in our papers. Most importantly, don’t ignore situations in which you suspect we may be plagiarizing. We need to know exactly what plagiarism is so we can avoid it when we get to college. College students who are caught plagiarizing flunk classes and are sometimes kicked out of school or are not allowed to graduate.

5.  Don’t let us pass classes just because we earned a lot of homework points or extra credit. In college, we will be graded on our ability to demonstrate that we have actually learned the material we have been assigned by passing tests. In college we are graded on our performance, not our effort.

6. Don’t teach us the answers to all the questions on your tests. Be sure to ask us some questions that come from the reading assignments you haven’t covered in class. In college, we must learn to be independent learners by reading and comprehending the information in our textbooks without having to rely on our professors to explain everything to us. Our professors are more than willing to help us with difficult-to-understand information in our textbooks when we ask them questions in class, but they are unwilling to “spoon-feed” us all the information we are supposed to learn from our reading assignments.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

82 comments Add your comment

Private Citizen

February 7th, 2013
5:15 am

Be sure to teach us how to be academically honest by requiring that we cite all the sources we use to support what we write in our papers. Most importantly, don’t ignore situations in which you suspect we may be plagiarizing.

What Georgia public school teachers want their college students to know: teachers who treat students seriously and prepare them for college are treated as second-class citizens by government education management, and are told to reduce their criteria and activities required of students, or otherwise are treated as “alien” by education management.


February 7th, 2013
5:45 am

Students, this is exactly what your teachers would like to do, but are not ALLOWED to do by the very folks in charge of the schools. It is a serious problem and one of the main reasons I no longer teach. We know coddling you is not good for you.


February 7th, 2013
5:57 am

This is a great article. Next, we need a student who is in a career to tell us what he needed in high school.


February 7th, 2013
6:07 am

Linda: Agreed.

I have tried to hold students accountable, give them an assignment with a due date and expect it turned in. When I gave them failing grades, I was told my teaching was flawed and needed professional development. The idea that the students were the problem is/was anathema to the administration.


February 7th, 2013
6:09 am

“What college students want to tell their high school teachers: Be tougher on us. Force us to be responsible.”

Translation: Save us from ourselves. LOL

HS Math Teacher

February 7th, 2013
6:12 am

HA! I need to show this to my senior group. A portion of them frequently complain of the rigor, and that their only grades come from unit tests.

drew (former teacher)

February 7th, 2013
6:24 am

Interesting that college students seem to have a better grasp of what they need than those in charge of running public schools do.

Unfortunately, public schools are more concerned with those who don’t give a crap about their education than those who do care. Force us to be responsible! Just imagine the failure rate of the unmotivated students if teachers actually held them responsible. Got to keep that ugly achievement gap in check, you know.


February 7th, 2013
6:35 am

hahahaha!! Hold the kids responsible and you will get into trouble! I worked at one school where we had to submit a written “game plan” of what WE were going to do to help failing students. Most teachers just passed them…it was easier. See what SGA teacher wrote earlier….that is the reality of most high school teachers.


February 7th, 2013
6:40 am

I was once worried about who would teach in the future, as knowledge of what actual teaching is will be lost in a generation, but it seems the kids know what they missed. Perhaps they can bring back rigor, and not the fake kind we have now.


February 7th, 2013
6:56 am

Funny to read this as a graduate student who teaches at Georgia State. Reading my student evaluations, they felt they didn’t understand how individual lessons related to the course as a whole. My graduate director advised me to close each class with what we’d be doing in the next class, and that seems to have taken care of the problem… but that’s exactly what this article suggests college profs don’t do.

Also, if I have a student who works very hard and hovers around the pass/fail mark for tests, other grades will usually notch them up into a C. They have to write papers, do homework, show up for class… and all of that is factored into the grades.

I give study sheets for my exams, and I know most of my peers do, too. I tell the students that if it’s not on the study sheet, it won’t be on the test–but it’s a pretty long study sheet!


February 7th, 2013
7:08 am

I was once in a faculty meeting where the principal (since promoted) said: “our job is not to prepare them for college, our job is to get them IN to college”.

Mountain Man

February 7th, 2013
7:24 am

“What college students want to tell their high school teachers: Be tougher on us. Force us to be responsible.”

Can’t do that! Might make their parents mad (when you give them that grade they actually deserve).

Inman Parker

February 7th, 2013
7:35 am

Pressure on taechers from parents and administrators to “cut the kid a break” is intense! Go along to get along. That’s the philosophy of public education in Georgia.

nothing new

February 7th, 2013
7:38 am

It was the same when I was in college during the 80’s. Hindsight makes you wished you would have pushed yourself harder. Students and parents need to look at themselves for making excuses while in high school. One thing you forget. College is a choice, high school is not. the College mindset is do what is asked or find yourself another career path. High school, do it or not, there is a seat in the class for you tomorrow. It is harder to commit to anything, student or adult, if the rewards or consequences are superficial. Making you attend school has it advantages for society and it disadvantages.

Mountain Man

February 7th, 2013
7:43 am

“Pressure on taechers from parents and administrators to “cut the kid a break” is intense! ”

That is what has destroyed our education system. That is why a high school diploma is pretty much worthless for higher paying jobs (our company requires at least a bachelor’s degree for ANY management position).


February 7th, 2013
7:52 am

I “complained” to my HS Calculus teacher that he was unfair to those like me when he graded on a curve to “ensure students would receive a passing grade” in his class. My non-scaled test scores were often in the mid-90s (scaled to a 98/99; teacher stated he would never scale to a 100) while many classmates did the bare minimum and had their scores scaled to the high 70s/80s – a swing of 20 to 30 points.

My teacher told me it was not his job to “weed students out” but is was the job of college professors. I took my “complaint” to the Asst Principal & them to the Principal but was told to “quit complaining.” I seriously doubt teachers today are “tougher” than they were back then.

Atlanta Mom

February 7th, 2013
8:02 am

That curve thing happened to my children, and they were told not to worry about it. It was “fair”. We couldn’t figure out the “fairness” of it.
And they surely haven’t seen that in college either.

Mountain Man

February 7th, 2013
8:03 am

“What college students want to tell their high school teachers: Be tougher on us. Force us to be responsible.”

Let me change that headline –
What college students want to tell their PARENTS: Be tougher on us. Force us to be responsible. Let us get the grades we deserve (like we will in college).


February 7th, 2013
8:04 am

The secret to good grades is….the secret to good teaching is…….the secret to good parenting is……the secret to good administration is……….(yes, it’s going to be on the test).


February 7th, 2013
8:15 am

Yes indeed there seems to be a dichotomy here. We have parents and admin jump all over those of us who require thinking, learning and doing. I have even been accused of being a “bad” teacher by parents because the student’s grades weren’t what they were accustomed to being given. I teach higher level science and critical thinking has to be learned and manifest itself if students are to succeed. At some point the beat downs get the best of you and you dumb it down to the point of silliness. Look at what has been done to the high school math curriculum for the past 3 or so years.


February 7th, 2013
8:16 am

Yet if teachers did just that the parents scream holy heck and the administration demands that you give in. So shortsighted.

There was a really funny Doonesbury years ago. The scene was a college classroom. The prof was instructing, the students were trying to write down everything. The prof noticed they were not actually listening, so he spouted off all kinds of nonsense, and one student turned to another and said, “Wow, I never knew this stuff!”

Both my daughters, honor graduates, found out when they went to college that they did not really know how to STUDY.

John Konop

February 7th, 2013
8:16 am

The problem is 30 years ago we only had about 10 percent of kids going to a 4 year university. Now we have over 30 percent going to a 4 year university. The bell curve tells us that we are sending to many kids to a 4 year university on a macro. This is why in a public school districts the teachers want to teach AP classes because they do not deal with the above issue. If we instead did proper tracking based on aptitude over the one size fit all approach we would see massive improvement on this issue.

The problem is 3 fold:

1) The parents many times do not want to hear the truth, and they add to the problem ie pushing kids into classes they are not prepared for via aptitude and or matuirty…..

2) The school scared to tell the parents the truth via the confrontation with parents, which only makes the problem worse in long run ie kick the can down the road approach…….

3) No Child Left Behind design only reinforces the problems above via testing….., all kids can go to 4 year college bs….., one size fit all over proper tracks…..

When you combine this with a high divorce rate, unweded mothers, poverty…..you have toxic formula left on the door step of the schools. And instead of dealing with the core problem in public schools, politicians on a macro, come up with the silver bullet gimmick of the day ie math123, new standards, new testing, new guidelines, race to the top………

You cannot fix a problem unless you are honest about the situation.

Hey Teacher

February 7th, 2013
8:23 am

Great article. I think we’re become so focused on graduation rates that we have lost sight of the big picture — some of these kids NEED more than four years to graduate because they don’t/can’t/won’t get it the first time. The biggest problem I have in my class is students wanting to turn in late work. With “standards based instruction” I’m supposed to give them multiple opportunities to “meet the standard” and so the issue of deadlines becomes fuzzy with administrators (who won’t back up the teachers on the deadline issue). Add in the IEP/504 plans that get extended time anyway, and the word “deadline” has absolutely no meaning.

(the other) Rodney

February 7th, 2013
8:26 am

There’s fault all around (this idea of grading on a curve is really troubling) but I guess I would file this in the ever growing “not my fault” category that so many people throw around nowadays. I went from a high school in a very small, very isolated town to a large college in a much larger city and while I had MANY things to learn and overcome and adjust to, I made it.

Of course, that was nearly 30 years ago and back when personal responsibility was still important to people.


February 7th, 2013
8:29 am

I had a student plagiarize an essay last year. One of those cases where the kid doesn’t even change the font after copying and pasting the plagiarized portion. I write him up. The parents retain a lawyer. The school suggests that I let it go. Don’t blame teachers. Blame parents for their kids not having a sense of responsibility or intellectual integrity.

oldschool doc

February 7th, 2013
8:37 am

APS administrators


APS parents…

Do you hear this? Common sense, out of the mouths of babes, no less!!

NH Resident

February 7th, 2013
9:06 am

The parents would fight this. Most can’t allow their children to struggle- they step in and complain enough that the administration makes the teacher back down or lose his job.

Johnny Too Good

February 7th, 2013
9:07 am

Hindsight is 20/20 huh?
most high school seniors and juniors are usually complaining about the workload, assignments, and more focused on whats in their cell phones

bootney farnsworth

February 7th, 2013
9:11 am

I used to see this all the time at GPC. students who were at the top of their classes in HS getting shell shocked by the rigors of college. a constant refrain was “it only….or I wish”

Maureen Downey

February 7th, 2013
9:12 am

@NH, How often do parents complain? I get a lot of emails from parents on the opposite side — they want more rigor and advanced offerings.
Now, that is not to say that those same parents would not complain if their kids earned Cs in said classes.
I asked a high school principal how often she hears from parents about grades, and she said not that often. She hears more from parents about content and project deadlines.
Also, one teacher mentioned parents threatening to sue over plagiarism. If teachers found that a student plagiarized, on what grounds could the parents sue? Most school policies seem pretty straightforward on this issue. You copy. You fail.


February 7th, 2013
9:43 am

I just read where our dedicated State Superintendent was caught skimming $$$ for a car allowance from taxpayers. This is the kind of thing that we have come to expect from our “leaders” and a fine example to set for ourselves and our kids. This is only a podunk state bureaucrat, imagine how much skimming goes on at the federal level?!


February 7th, 2013
9:44 am


No disagreement from me on the plagiarism topic. And in the end, I probably would have been vindicated. But, the school just made it clear that they did not want to go to court and that it would reflect poorly on me if they had to spend time and resources on the incident. Their argument was that there was no written documentation that the student was informed that they were not allowed to plagiarize on that specific assignment. Absurd? yes.

[...] HS Students Message to Teachers, Misdirected? This article was in the AJC today. I wonder if the teachers are the proper recipients for this message. it seems to me it should be sent to parents and administrators. My sons all had a fairly easy transition to college, and I know several of these suggestions were in place at their high schools: What college students want to tell their high school teachers: Be tougher on us. Force us to be resp… [...]


February 7th, 2013
9:53 am

As a teacher, I would love to hold my students responsible. Unfortunately, when I try, I am met with resistance from doting, enabling, hovering parents.

Don’t like how you were treated in high school? Blame your parental units! Teachers would love to do these things, unfortunately there are more than a few parents who don’t feel their children should be held accountable.

bootney farnsworth

February 7th, 2013
9:55 am

students should be asking this of their parents. we get them 5 hours a week, maybe a bit more.
the rest of the time…..

William Casey

February 7th, 2013
9:57 am

@Maureen: In my experience, it wasn’t how OFTEN parents complained, it was the INTENSITY of the complaints. One parent complaint out of 30 can make a teacher’s life miserable. I, too, experienced more complaints about hard and fast deadlines than I did about grades. I solved this problem (for the most part) by using a sliding scale for turning work in (i.e.- Monday = 100% credit, Tuesday = 90%, etc.) However, I had one semester project upon which students worked in teams with a “do or die” deadline. Some parents ALWAYS complained about both these concepts.


February 7th, 2013
9:58 am

“How often do parents complain?”

All of the time! Last semester, a kid had to do a poster project on a famous figure from history. He brought in a beautifully completed board, yet had no idea what was on it (I asked him a few basic facts about his historical figure, facts that were MENTIONED ON HIS POSTER). He had no idea how to answer. I asked him if he did the poster or if one of his parents did. He admitted that his mom “helped.”

The next day, I get an angry call from the parent telling me she didn’t think it was appropriate of me to ask such a question of her son.

So you see, when dealing with people like that, it’s far easier just to pass kids and never expect anything of them.

i agree

February 7th, 2013
10:17 am

We need to raise the bar but we are held captive by no child left behind, race to the top, the new teacher evaluation system, school administrators who force us to pass all……..

Google "NEA" and "union"

February 7th, 2013
10:19 am

Teaching clearly isn’t for everyone—despite what militants among us seem to think. Some accomplish it much better than others and should be financially rewarded for doing so.

Maureen Downey

February 7th, 2013
10:25 am

@Pluto, I debated putting up that story. I was surprised that Dr. Barge did not move closer when he was elected as he has a heck of a commute. I do think that he ought to get mileage when he goes to events on weekends or evenings. That would seem standard practice.

Terri Jones

February 7th, 2013
10:32 am

This is true, teachers need to get tougher on academics in high school. My nephew, a honor student, had a culture shock when he entered college last fall. The teacher gave them a 200 study questions guide for an exam (no answer) only 50 questions would be on the exam. He complained. He thought she should have given them the answer. In some high schools, the teachers give a study guide which is the same as the exam, and just rearrange the questions…..WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!


February 7th, 2013
10:37 am

Again Terri….I give out a study guide that is EXACTLY THE SAME as the test. I don’t change anything. I still have students to fail. Why do I do that? Prodding by the parents and administration.

Blame the parents. Teachers try to instill a sense of self reliance and get smacked down.

Old Physics Teacher

February 7th, 2013
10:42 am

Bwahahahahaha. I’m sorry, what? Bwahahahaha, sorry… Let me catch my breath. The kids who whined and complained about how tough the grades were, and how much other homework they had to do, and all the dirty looks from the parents in the community, and how they hated the course and told all their friends to NEVER take these upper-level hard courses… those kids? NOW they say that the teachers they intimidated , yes intimidated, into lowing their standards and grading procedures (just like the state has on the EOCT) should have been harder on them? REALLY?!

Bwahahahahahahaha. The Israeli’s have a word called chutzpah. It fits as a descriptive term here.


February 7th, 2013
10:43 am

Now kids are telling us what the hell to do RIGHT


February 7th, 2013
10:49 am

Sorry, Nutmeg at February 7, 6:56 am, but I agree with all that Dr. Appleby has written above about college expectations; and do not myself follow what you suggest as a graduate student instructor (who thus must be teaching primarily Freshmen). I’m a Full Professor at an equivalent school who’s taught for several decades.

My students’ final grade is the product of their examination grades and their paper grades, period. I think it should reflect what they know, not whether they dragged themselves to class. Their “homework,” aside from assigned readings, would be graded and thus part of the overall grade.

I too follow the syllabus scrupulously; and if they ask what’s covered the next day, tell them to “look at the syllabus.” However, I begin the entire course by going over the syllabus closely and explaining how the assignments fit into “the course as a whole.” Do not be bamboozled by student complaints on the evaluations that wish you to make things easier, as in high school.

And I never, ever give out study sheets for exams! That is spoon-feeding. Also, such study guides rule out what they won’t be expected to know for the test; whereas they should study and learn everything covered or assigned in class.

College Freshmen very often expect college to be an extension of high school. They really need to learn otherwise if they wish to survive into their sophomore year. It’s up to you to begin this sometimes unpleasant process.


February 7th, 2013
10:50 am

Can’t students take some responsibility for themselves and hold themselves accountable? If they recognize the necessity of these issues, they should address the issues themselves to the extent possible.

SGA Teacher

February 7th, 2013
10:51 am

This is another reason why I *love* the graduation tests. They skim through school because the teachers cannot hold them accountable and then they hit the wall of the GHSGT.

The state does not have accountability.

root issues

February 7th, 2013
10:52 am

I do not think students have a solid academic foundation when they come to high school. They know no basic facts, no grammar rules, no simple math facts, no map skills, no research skills, you name it.
As a result of all of these deficits, high school teachers are forced to lower the bar to get results.
Teachers never get to teach to the level they are supposed to and the problem is passed on again- this time to colleges or technical schools.
If you want to find the root cause- go visit elementary schools where everyday is a fun festival and very little memory work and foundation-building happens.
Or ask people about homework and how it is not a fun thing for kids so they do not give it.


February 7th, 2013
10:55 am

P.S.@ Nutmeg. I should add that, like nearly all of my colleagues, I do have a Class Attendance Policy that allows me to lower student overall grades or even withdraw them from class if they miss more than a certain number of classes. Lateness counts as an absence. So I guess you could say that I do factor in their class attendance, though in a rather drastic way.


February 7th, 2013
10:57 am

I appreciate Appleby’s words.

However….I have to wonder how he would manage in my classroom.

Does he have a college class that consists of gifted students sitting next to special education students? Does he adjust his teaching methods to meet the needs of each achievement group in his classroom?

Does he have a Superintendent who looks at his EOCT scores with a magnifying lens? Is he held accountable for the number of students who do not pass his course, his final exam, or who fail due to absences?

Does he find his classes being interrupted constantly? Does he make accommodations for students who miss up to 10 days with the flu, mono, court dates, etc.?

Is everyone alert in his 7:45 AM class? What about the class during the lunch block? Does he find it hard to keep the attention of teenagers who have gone 6 hours without any food in their belly and all they do is watch the clock in an attempt to hurry up lunch?

Walk in my shoes for a semester. In any given class, I have around 25% who are struggling to graduate on time, 25% who are pushing themselves to attend the college of their choice, and around 50% who really don’t know what they want to do after graduation but opt to take the easiest path possible.

Somehow, someway, I have to meet all their needs. I can’t drop them from my class due to lack of effort, poor behavior, and/or attendance.

And guess what? I actually do a pretty d@mn good job considering all the variables I have to deal with.

I’m tired of being told I don’t do enough….