Show Up Unprepared? Then You’re a Loser*.

On April 6, 2011, in teaching, by Barbara Nixon

Image Credit: "Loser" by Barbara Nixon

Be prepared for a short rant.

As has happened more than once this semester, students have shown up for class unprepared. Though I don’t like it, I halfway expect a small handful to not have completed the assignment that they were given. But this time, I was taken aback. In a class of 20, only four (FOUR!) had listened to the assigned podcast and written about it before class time. (NOTE: They should have listened to the podcast last week and blogged about their reactions no later than midnight on last Saturday night.)

When only 20% of a class is prepared to discuss a topic, the entire class loses. Many are disappointed, including those who WERE prepared for the discussion and their professor. And more importantly, learning is diminished.

Part of my job as a college educator is preparing students for careers after college. So how does it affect you, Dear Student, when you choose not to prepare yourself before a meeting? Here are a few ways:

  • You lose time. . . your own time and the time of others who must regroup because you did not have your deliverable ready on time.
  • You lose the respect of others who were counting on you, your co-workers, your boss, your client . . .
  • You may lose the business of a client who was counting on you.
  • If it happens more than once, you may even lose your job.

In what other ways does showing up unprepared affect individuals and organizations? I’d love your input. And thanks for “listening” to my rant.

[* UPDATE: One of my students from another university noted via Twitter that it looks like I am calling students “losers” in a public setting. I can definitely see how that might appear, especially if reading only the title of the blog post. My intent in this post wasn’t to name-call or embarrass, but instead to highlight something that’s relatively easy to fix and that will definitely impact students’ careers once they leave the confines of a college classroom.]


11 Responses to Show Up Unprepared? Then You’re a Loser*.

  1. Melissa M. says:

    Barbara, I’m printing this out and taking it to class tomorrow: I’m asking my students (in a second semester freshman writing course) to read it, discuss it, analyze your argument, and develop rebuttal arguments. I’m hoping for some spirited debate!

  2. Andrea Adkins says:

    I was there last semester. Working and being in full time college is difficult. It isn’t good to have a tendency of being unprepared but certain professors pile on work, forgetting that the students have 6 others and most work full time just to afford their education. Very sensitive issue depend on the individual situation. Sometimes teachers say they understand and will “work with them” but then don’t when they really are struggling to keep up with the massive amounts of work required in the specific class. Then some have the real disadvantage of having two classes… basically a failure to succeed notice from day one. Very good post though Professor because this isn’t always the situation (more of the exception to the rule). I enjoyed the post because it is important for students to know the impact it will have on their future careers. Thanks!

  3. Professor Nixon:

    I must admit that at some point in my collegiate career I was one of those “unprepared” students; however, I know realize how crippling those (few) occasions were. As you mentioned, in the professional world, there is no, “I’ll just do it tomorrow.” Or “I don’t have my homework today. It’s no big deal.” I find myself up hours on end to finish projects just because I realize how detrimental it can be to my reputation if I don’t get things done. Public Relations is a fast-paced industry. Clients have expectations that they’re paying you to meet.
    Since graduating and entering the working world, I must say that your expectations in the classroom mirrored those of the professional world. Honestly, you’re a bit lenient, which I appreciated. =) However, a deadline is a deadline….miss one and see how long you have your “position.”
    It is essential that students take their coursework and deadlines seriously, because there aren’t many second chances in the “real world.” There is always someone with better priorities, better organizational skills and more initiative just waiting for a chance to take your place. I hope your students wise up and take this advice from a former student to heart.

  4. Melissa M. says:

    Thanks for this post. I’m tweeting it to my students (and expecting that 20% of them will read it — but I’ll be thrilled if I’m wrong).

  5. The worst part of it all is that students who are unprepared feel no remorse for their actions. They see it as a way of life and only plan to “change their ways” when they get a job. Ha! That will be too late.

    Sadly, they will probably be the ones at the end of the semester asking for extra credit. It’s rather difficult to take the request serious when you don’t manage to do the work the first time. Oh the joys!

  6. It still surprises me when students act this way (and I’ve been teaching for 18 years). Do they think that when they graduate they will wake up with new and perfect organizational and time management skills?

    Sorry, it doesn’t happen that way. You have to figure it out while you’re in school.

    • Hi Karen. I’m hoping that by calling it to their attention now, when the stakes are lower, it MAY help them realize how important being prepared is when they start their internships and jobs.

  7. Showing up unprepared makes you look unprofessional. As you point out, in certain situations, it could cost you your job.

    More likely than that is the possibility of simply being humiliated. There are plenty of people out there who can sense when someone hasn’t completed the background information or research that they should have done. It’s like watching sharks sense blood in the water, and it isn’t pretty. Being verbally eviscerated in front of peers, customers, bosses, etc. isn’t fun.

    They might think they are getting away with something in school, but in the real world, that sort of humiliation only needs happen once to really sink in. And it can permanently damage a reputation, depending on when and how the “showing up unprepared” occurs.

    You know what’s better than learning the lesson the hard way? Just doing the d*mn work. It isn’t always fun, it isn’t always rewarding, but it is going to be a way of life pretty soon.

    PS–The classes that I took in college that I had to work my backside off in were the ones that taught me the lessons I’ve used in the work world. Not because of the content–my Federalism course and History of Con Law don’t really apply to online monitoring–but they did teach me about setting priorities, planning, how to triage work flow when necessary.

    • Hi Jen. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comments. Many of us have to learn the lesson ONCE the hard way. I am hoping that this was their ONCE.