It was one of those April mornings where exhaust billowed around my day care’s outdated vans like semi-solid smoke that I got my first impression of what college would be like. An older boy, Jake, exploited my 3rdgrade naiveté and said, “You know, when you get college – if you make a C – they eat you in the cafeteria for lunch!”

With this revelation, a nine year old scholar was shaken to her size two boots (I was quite gullible, I admit). And from then on, the message that college professors would be cruel, merciless, and inexorable was propounded by nearly every teacher I encountered. This grim figure served as a foil to my middle and high school’s en loco parentis benevolence, guidance, and leniency.

Yeah, they were wrong.

Some of these well-meaning harbingers went to university when the academic climate was much different (working together outside of class was considered cheating, for example), so I can excuse some of them. But as I sit here on an unusually cold October morning, squirming with excitement because U2 (otherwise known as the BEST BAND EVER) will be descending on Norman in exactly ONE week, I can tell you this has not been my experience.

First semester of last year I took Irish Triumphs and Troubles (Expository Writing 1213) with Dr. George Cusack. Expository writing is a brilliant way to earn English Comp II and/or Western Civilization credits; these are writing-intensive courses that center on a specific topic. Students write four long papers and a lot of short preliminary essays (prelims) to prepare for them. You and your professor have at least one conference about each long paper, so the professor can help you work through the flaws in your writing.

When you get to college you will most likely find that you suddenly have more to do than you’ve ever done before – I definitely encountered this – and you just need more time. Which is precisely what I was assured would never be extended by a college professor.

Dr. Cusack irregularly updates his blog, The Care and Feeding of College Professors, where he answers questions submitted by students about how to keep their professors in homeostasis. On the subject of extensions, he writes:

“If a student approaches me a week before a paper is due, explains that she’s very busy with other commitments, and asks for extra time to complete the assignment, I will almost always give it to her. I usually won’t even care what the other commitments are. They can be academic, professional, or personal; all that matters to me is that the student had enough respect for my class to think ahead and decide how it would fit into the rest of her life.”

This was true for me in his class, and in most other courses as well. Professors do expect more of you as an adult and a student, but with that extra accountability, you are given the freedom to organize your life – and most professors will accommodate that when there are conflicts.

Forward to finals week of spring semester; I am fairly health-conscious vegan, and rarely get sick. If I do get sick, it is never that serious. Until last May when, the Saturday before finals, I woke up feeling woozy and by midnight was running a 101 degree fever and aching from my throat to my bones.

I had a huge page paper and a project due in my night class (Racism, Sexism, and the Media) that week, and only managed to scrape together the project. However, I called my professor and she told me to get better and turn the paper in when I was well again. Because my hometown is only about 45 minutes away, I stayed home until Wednesday night and felt like I could walk around campus without collapsing. Miraculously, I woke up Thursday morning (for my 8 AM Principles of Microeconomics final) and was better.

I checked out of McCasland 708 that night, turned the paper in the next week with no point deductions for lateness, and made a solid A.

Lastly, just about two weeks ago, I needed to take my Intermediate Microeconomic Theory midterm a day early. I studied the days and nights before (but didn’t stay up too late doing it, because that defeats the purpose), and walked in feeling quite confident. Then I saw the test.

I am pretty bad at math, and the whole point of Econ 3113 is to teach the mathematical basis for the economic theory you learn in Principles. I don’t quite know how to describe the situation to you, but those imposing, straightforward numbers, exponents, and variables spun into chaos as I tried to work the weightiest questions on the test.

I handed my test (with only about 3 of 5 questions even attempted) back to my professor and told her I would have to drop the class after that. I even started crying, which is especially embarrassing when you told yourself you’d stop crying over economics last semester. And it’s in front of your professor.

About 30 minutes later, back in my room, I get a call from my professor (who had to have looked up my number). She told me that she looked over my test and that it was obvious that I understood the economics, but that the math had been too complex for the amount of time allotted: she removed one question from the test and allowed me to retake the long question (worth the most points) the following Monday.

I came out with a B on the test I thought I’d failed, and I am working hard to earn a B in the class – all because a professor was able to admit a mistake in planning, and cared enough about her student to give her a second chance.

I know this is a pretty long post, but I truly hope that these stories – one from each semester I’ve been here, you notice – give you the confidence to talk to your professors when you need help, time, or both. Professors are here because they want to teach, not because they want to make us miserable – as much as we may not believe it sometimes.

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