You may not want to hear this, but the fall semester is fast approaching. Most of the students I teach are freshmen, and their high school chemistry class was most likely spent sitting at home in front of a computer during COVID.
In other words, they have learned next to nothing about chemistry.
To help make up for this deficit, I have had to find creative alternatives to regular pedagogy—including demos, videos, and extra-credit assignments—to supplement the old-fashioned hard work of pushing a #2 pencil across reams of scrap paper. One cannot learn chemistry by osmosis, by reading a textbook, or even by attending a lecture. Students have to take notes, ask questions, and, above all, solve problems—lots of problems.
I am willing to do whatever it takes to help students pass my class—within academic standards of fairness and my university’s grading policy. But students have to meet me halfway.
The following ten commandments may help get them on the right path.
I—I am the professor your instructor, and you shall have many other sources of information before you. Please feel free to consult other textbooks, seek out a peer tutor, or watch online chemistry videos. Some of the best are available for free from Khan Academy. My teaching style may not be best suited to your learning style.
II—You shall make graven images of molecules. Drawing images of molecules and building 3-D models using molecular model kits are important in organic chemistry and biochemistry classes. They will help you understand such concepts as structure, bonding, and stereochemistry.
III—You shall not take the name of the professor in vain. Chemistry is hard, but it’s not my fault. I try my best to make class enjoyable by interjecting humor when appropriate. Nevertheless, you will sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount of time and work required to do well. Please don’t call me names.
IV—You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. I teach at a Christian university and encourage my students to find a good church where they can attend faithfully on Sundays and serve in some capacity. Come exam time, it helps to have cultivated a good prayer connection with the Creator of all laws of science.
V—Honor your mother and father. Our associate provost reminds us that we have a responsibility in loco parentis (in place of parents). I take this charge seriously. However, students must still remember to honor their parents, who are probably paying for their tuition.
VI—You shall not murder. Yikes! Really? Perhaps it’s a stretch, but I teach multiple sections of laboratory classes where we work with acids, bases, flammable organic solvents, poisonous metals, and open flames. Over the years, I have never had a single accident, but I have read about several in the chemical literature. We take laboratory safety seriously, and so should you.
VII—You shall not commit adultery. A very bright female student I had in two of my laboratory classes once gave me the best advice for enjoying success in chemistry. After a lengthy, student-initiated conversation about family life, I asked her if she had a boyfriend. Her reply was golden: “Are you kidding? I’m dating my books!” A student’s quest for academic knowledge should not extend to the “extracurricular focus on intimacy in the pursuit of carnal knowledge.” I’ve seen the results of bad breakups among my female students. They are never pretty. Stay focused on academics. Your love life can wait until you are an upperclassman or, better yet, until you are ready to be responsible and get married.
VIII—You shall not steal. I often joke that plagiarism is stealing another person’s work, whereas research is stealing from many people. All kidding aside, we have strict rules against plagiarism in all forms, including cheating on exams, copying from the Internet, sharing another student’s work, and, most recently, using AI to author assignments. You are only hurting yourself, and, in the long run, you will be found out.
IX—You shall not bear false witness. Honesty isn’t just the best policy; it’s the only policy. Please don’t cut my class or miss an exam and proffer some lame excuse. I’ve been at this long enough to see through any slacker who thinks he is pulling the wool over my eyes.
X—You shall not covet anything that belongs to your classmates. To covet is to wish for, to long for, to have one’s heart set on something. In this regard, I have two words of advice: First, set your heart on achieving academic success based on integrity and hard work. Second, in the words of Saint Paul, “Set your hearts on things above,” where obeying the original Ten Commandments will count for far more than any temporal academic success.
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