At the first class meeting, most professors give out a class syllabus listing the purposes of the class, expectations, important dates and other pertinent information. The professor often posts the syllabus online as well. It might include required books, projects and research papers and their due dates, scheduled tests, and the components of determining your grade (i.e.: how much each submitted item is worth, attendance and participation value, etc.). Professors in American university classrooms primarily lecture to students, although in some smaller classes the instructor may conduct the class in a group-discussion manner. Students do not rise when the professor enters the room; they sometimes interrupt their teachers, and passionately argue points with which they disagree. Students might also eat during class, or get up to leave whenever they choose. What is considered proper, acceptable and expected student behavior varies between universities, and even between departments within the same university, and with each individual instructor. Watch other students to learn what is considered acceptable, or ask your professor.
America’s unique view of individualism usually translates to the classroom by students competing against one another for the best grades as well as the attention and recognition of the professor. Usually, each student is expected to do his or her own work, although occasionally professors ask students to together work in groups for certain projects. If you have any questions about the class or expectations, take advantage of the instructor’s office hours to meet one-on-one and discuss specifics.
In most U.S. classrooms, instructors encourage discussion. If you have a question or even wish to challenge something the instructor has said, don’t hesitate to raise your hand and speak up when called upon. Some professors will base a portion of your grade on your participation in class discussions. This demonstrates that you have read and processed the course material.
If you feel uncomfortable with speaking English publicly or the classroom style, make sure to approach the instructor early in the term--outside of class--to explain your difficulty. If participation in class discussions counts toward your grade but you feel unable to fulfill this expectation, your professor may consider alternative ways to ensure your engagement in the course, such as an additional project or assignment.
In the United States, students do not usually give gifts to their professors. Any gifts you might give would have no affect on your grade. Your grade will simply reflect how well you met the professor’s expectations in the classroom, on tests and in your assignments. However, once you have completed the class, and you have received your grade, you can thank the instructor with a small a souvenir from your country or another sign of appreciation if you wish.
With the strong emphasis on individuality and creativity in America, cheating is considered a serious and unacceptable practice, at any level, but especially at the college and graduate level. Having someone else complete an assignment for you, copying someone else’s work and submitting it as your own, or looking at another student’s work during a test to get an answer are all forms of cheating.
Likewise, copying large sections of text from books or the Internet into an academic paper, as if it were your own (and without indicating the source) is called “plagiarism,” a very serious form of cheating. Instructors have a variety of ways to determine whether you have submitted original work or not. Since the standards for this type of behavior may vary from that in your home country, make sure you understand the expectations of the American university system and the serious consequences for failure to follow the rules.
If an instructor catches a student cheating, he/she may remove some or all of the points from the student’s score on that paper/test. The teacher may even fail the student for the entire class. Many colleges and universities require students caught cheating to appear before an honor board (similar to a court) to determine the punishment, which in some cases may include expulsion (where the student must leave the school). Each school has specific policies governing investigation and punishment of cheating. Make sure you clearly understand the rules for your specific school and program.