Dear Undergrads,

Another school year is upon us, and I wanted to share some thoughts with you.

See, the thing about professors: every single one of us was once in your shoes. We took classes. We had good professors; we had bad professors. Some of us were ideal students; some of us were not. In the long run, though, we hacked the system, we graduated, and we fell in love. At some point, this mad love drove us to give up five or six or ten more years of our lives to MOAR SCHOOL. And that is why we are here, and why we get to call ourselves Dr. when we’re trying to score a reservation.

Perhaps you don’t know what professors do or why we are here. Perhaps you saw a movie once where professors smoke pipes and stare out windows all day, or you bought into some half-wit politician’s laughable claims that professors don’t work very hard. HA HA HA. Here’s a professor joke for you. Q: What do you call a 50-hour work week? A: Vacation!

Well, then, why are we in this job? It ain’t for the paycheck. Most of us are motivated by a deep and eternal love of learning. For some, that joy is learning through the research we conduct. For others, it’s helping others learn through the classes we teach and the students we mentor. For the lucky ones like me, both of these things are incredibly gratifying.

To put it in the most trite manner possible, every course is a journey we are embarking on together. I work incredibly hard to plan our route, accommodate any number of bumps in the road, acclimate or re-route around unforeseen obstacles–all the while making sure I’ve packed enough spare axles and trying to ward off dysentery. While I am juggling all these things (and deciding whether to caulk the wagon or ford the river), I want to share my expectations of you.

I want you to want to be here. I do. If you see this class as just another checkmark on your college requirements list, I am not the professor for you. Your enthusiasm may not be turned up to 11 all the time as mine often is, but I want you at least at a 6.

I want you to go beyond book learning to experience and integrate the material. My exams won’t allow you to just robotically recite definitions. My assignments aren’t intended for you to cut and paste quotations from articles together. I want you to think deeply about these topics and see how they apply to your lives and the inner workings of society. I want you to encode and apply this knowledge when a texting exchange leaves you upset, or a friend posts on social media seeking social support, or a video game leaves you ecstatic or angry or desperate for more. I want the name of a theory to pop in your head. I want you to drop the name of a concept in conversation that has your friend asking, “What’s that?” And then I want you to become a teacher as well and share that knowledge. Overall, I want you to learn the things that will help you be a more critical consumer, a happier person, a smarter worker, and a better citizen.

I want you to learn more than just the course material. College isn’t just about getting a diploma. Most high school learning is very rigidly structured. College is where you learn not just content, but the meta-skills that will help you succeed—or fail—in life. People who don’t go to college often learn these lessons far sooner than you will: how to budget your time (and money), how to prioritize your obligations, how to balance your work and your relationships, or how to communicate and build relationships successfully in work environments. This is what adulthood looks like. Your boss isn’t going to be okay if you miss work because, hey, it’s just too early in the morning to get out of bed, amirite? You’re not going to keep your job by telling your colleagues you were, like, reeeeeaaallly busy and didn’t get your work done on time. And you’re not going to earn anyone’s admiration or respect by staring at your mobile phone or other device when someone is trying to speak with you. Hence the rules in my classes: you are expected to behave in a professional, mature, and respectful manner, and electing not to do so has consequences.

I want you to work hard. I will hold you to higher standards than you may be accustomed to, because I find that students are often capable of more than they think they are. I want you to challenge yourself to continuously improve your performance and learn more, not attempt to skate by on minimal effort. If you’re looking for an easy course, this is not the droid you’re looking for.

I want you to teach me things, too. I love it when you bring up news I haven’t seen, share experiences relevant to what we’re learning, or send me a link to a great site or video. I am an insanely busy person and tech evolves at a rate no one person can ever keep up with. I also appreciate constructive feedback. Teaching tech also means the material is always changing, and I am always looking for ways to improve the next iteration of the course.

I want you to be successful, and I want you to share your successes. Seriously, the best part about teaching is hearing from students and learning what awesome things they’ve gone on to achieve. Do great things and keep in touch.

As for now: it’s time to pack the wagon.