Open Letter to the Frats Who Don’t Shovel Their Sidewalks

Fraternity Shoveling
What Fraternity Row should look like after a snowstorm (Artist’s Rendering)

Dear Fraternity Row Residents,

I often enjoy my walk to work. It’s a quick 20 minute jaunt through family neighborhoods and, eventually, as I approach the campus of the University where I teach undergraduates such as yourself or, in all likelihood, some of you, I pass the huge mansions of Fraternity Row that you call home.  As you know, most of these streets are quite old or even historical, so the roads are lined with picturesque Elms and Beech trees.  I often am reminded of Dead Poet’s Society or A Separate Peace, but with more red cups strewn along the way. And sometimes, inevitably, a pile of vomit here or there.

But such detritus I can cope with. A quick side-step and I’m back on my way.

I don’t fault you your college antics.

Here’s what I’m pissed about.  Walking to work after Snowmagedon / Snowzilla / Blizzardpalooza or whatever else Twitter might be calling it, I found my progress towards campus stifled.

What by? you cry out, aghast. What kept you from your destination? 

Well, I’m sorry to say that it was you.  Yes, all of you able-bodied young men ensconced in your mansions of brotherhood.

Apparently, you were so overcome by your friendship with each other that none of you could head outside to shovel the foot of snow that fell over the weekend. None of the 20 to 30 of you fraternal residents, currently pursuing the development of your worldviews as University Men, could take the time to come out and shovel the walkway in front of your looming monolith of a dwelling.

Given that there are at least 6 fraternities housed on Fraternity Row and none of them were shoveled (I can assure you, I did the field work on this) . . . doing the math. . . that means 120-180 of you found yourself irreconcilably occupied.

I know that you were outside this weekend.  Carefully shuffling my feet over the crags and crevices created in walked-over snow that has thawed and frozen over 3 days (yes, you’ve had 3 days to take care of this!), I witnessed snowmen with jaunty caps and grilling-utensil arms, sleds askew in your vast lawns, and even a game of volleyball set out to defy the elements.

What didn’t I see?

You guessed it–not a single shovel scrape to be found.

I’ve created an instructional graphic (see above) for you to internalize before the next snowfall.  I hope you take it to heart.

Otherwise, I might have to come shovel your walkways myself–and wouldn’t that be embarrassing?

Yours Sincerely,

Dr. Sarah K. Stephens





Haters Gonna Hate, and other lessons of a college lecturer



Lesson 1: Someone will always hate you. Someone will always love you. Sometimes it will be the same student.

I currently have a class of 200 students.  I know now, after almost a decade as a lecturer, that the end of the semester student feedback will bear with it bipolar reactions to me as a teacher.  Some students will love my teaching techniques and overall approach to education. Some students will think I am a terrible, awful, wretched individual who should never have attempted a career as a lecturer.  Nothing I can do will ever fully eliminate these haters.

Over my development as a teacher, I sought to hone my skill as a lecturer and my technique in presenting material.  Each semester presents a unique opportunity to improve over the previous semester. As a result, the proportion of students who connect with my teaching outweigh the students who despise it, but it’s taken me a long time (and many sleepless nights) to reconcile with the fact that no amount of effort will ever eliminate those haters from my teaching audience.  In a pool of 200 people, you are bound to have significant heterogeneity in learning styles, temperaments, belief systems, and senses of humor, to list just a few. Once I realized that it was literally impossible to meet the personal preferences of such a varied group of individuals, I stopped throwing up before class–which leads to #2.

Lesson 2: Authenticity is key.

The most significant misstep I made as a lecturer was when I tried to put on a persona.  Instead of approaching my students with my natural self, I attempted to set a protective boundary between them and me by adopting the guise of Teacher Sarah.

Teacher Sarah was bubbly, smiled a great deal, and avoided eye contact with students. She treated each student utterance as brilliant, even when it was uninformed. She tried really, really hard to be nice.

When I got nailed on my reviews for being fake, pandering, and patronizing, I knew my students were right. It taught me that disingenuous actions have no place in a learning environment.

Now, I go to each class as myself. I give distracting students the stink eye, I call students out who didn’t read the article and still feel the need to offer ridiculous commentary.  And I also am able to offer genuine appreciation to students who are present and active in their thinking.  Who contribute to the collective learning process through their insights.

I might smile less, but I certainly laugh a lot more.

Lesson 3: Vanity is a fool’s game.

It’s appropriate to be clean and well-kempt in front of your students. It’s fine to dress up, to press sartorial boundaries and to have students want to take pics of your outfits (although, of course, you don’t need to let them). But expecting each day in front of your 200+ students to be one where you walk away without embarrassment is unrealistic. It only takes one wrap-dress coming undone in front of your class, or a missed button right there, or wearing your microphone to the bathroom (all of these, by the way, I’ve experienced personally) to clobber all of the cool pastiche you’ve been gathering.

You will look like a fool at some point. You will say something / do something/ wear something utterly ridiculous.

So get over yourself–much like there is no crying in baseball, there’s no vanity in teaching. As long as they (your students) are learning, who cares what you look like?


Okay, so those are three heavy-lifters. Time for a lightning round.  

Lesson 4: Never give out your personal cell phone number.

Lesson 5: Students might fall asleep in your class for any number of reasons.  Unless the majority of your class is drifting off, don’t take it personally.

Lesson 6: Always check your zipper before your start. Just do it.

Lesson 7: Try to remember what is was like to be a student. Go to talks, presentations, lectures if you can. It’s surprisingly easy to forget what it’s like to sit in the seats rather than stand in front.

Lesson 8: Keep a toothbrush and toothpaste in your office. Coffee breath is nobody’s friend.

Lesson 9: Keep a box of tissues in your office. There will be tears and there’s not much you can do to avoid it, which leads to the last lesson. . .

Lesson 10: You will never know everything a student is dealing with. Never assume you do.