Quintessential Kenyon: Student Life, Uncut

Keeping it Classy: Etiquette for the first day of school

James Dennin
January 18, 2013

I learned the importance of starting a semester right from my mom on the first day of the third grade.  As we got out of the car she grabbed a box of chocolates from the trunk.  “Who are the chocolates for?”  I asked.  “Ms. Atkins.” “But you hate Ms. Atkins.  She’s always so mean.”  “Exactly, that’s why I bought her these chocolates, so that she’ll be nicer this year.”

Any relationship beset by needs and wants raises questions about our sincerity.  For that reason I’d refrain from complimenting your professor’s clothes or providing them with chocolates.  However, first impressions resonate, so here are some tricks I’ve learned on how to accomplish that without any of what my friend Marcus calls “First-Row-Kid-Behavior.”   


  1. Look Smart.  Looking smart is the same as looking responsible. We have all semester to impress our teachers with how much stuff we have to do that’s even more important than bathing or laundry. 
  2. Sit in the middle (See accompanying diagram). Sitting in the middle allows you perfect flexibility with regards to your teacher’s line of vision.  Have something great to say?  Lean forward.  If the teacher scans the room for a “volunteer” you can lean back.  It’s science.     
  3. Save your jokes for later.  It always helps you in the end if a teacher has a feel for your personality.  But it helps a lot more if you approach class with a sense of propriety.  Sometimes it’s when we’re being humorous or vulgar that we’re also being completely spot-on, but this is rarely the case when discussing 17th Century Poetry or econometrics.  Avoid profanity unless it's absolutely necessary.    
  4. Don’t be afraid to use outside knowledge, if relevant.  In my junior year of high school I had this teacher named Mr. Lostal who spent most of the 43 minutes a day we spent in Advanced Algebra discussing the evils of communism.  His real passion, however, were these ridiculous, mathematical idioms that he would make up using dated pop-culture references.  He used to say “we must be elegant in our problem solving like Audrey Hepburn in Hello Dolly.”  Once when referring to a problem set he shouted emphatically “I WANT IT THAT WAY… like the song.”  When no one else in the room seemed to understand what he was talking about, I belted out the first line of the Backstreet Boys classic.  Mr. Lostal liked it so much he had me “perform” for every one of his sections of Advanced Algebra that term.  To this day I wonder if I’d ever have passed his class if my first grade self hadn’t longed to be in a boy band.  However that whole experience taught me something very important: that teachers exist to create opportunities for us to excel.  They just need you to do it their way.