Being unprofessional in the classroom hurts your future

Pitt students network with UPMC recruiters at the 2014 Spring Career Fair.  (TPN File Photo)

Pitt students network with UPMC recruiters at the 2014 Spring Career Fair. (TPN File Photo)

By Mariam Shalaby | Columnist

“Hey, Jordan!” yelled one of my classmates from the back of the room, grabbing the instructor’s attention. An unconventional way to call the teacher.

The disrespect we show in class seems to increase every day. When I saw this kind of thing happen as a freshman, I figured it would improve as I went through college. But three years later, we still wear pajamas to class and eat piercingly strong-smelling hoagies during lectures. These things are no doubt unique to the college experience, but if we want to get and keep jobs, we need to get our acts together. Disrespecting our professors and classmates could ruin our professionalism in the future.

According to a 2015 study conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College, college graduates differ greatly from their older coworkers — in fact, over 70 percent of employees polled stated that they believed the level of professionalism displayed in the workplace differed between generations. It should come as little surprise that older workers said their younger coworkers lacked social communication skills, respect and work ethic.

We need to step up our game and be more respectful in the classroom. If not for our professors’ and classmates’ sakes, at least for our own.

I’m not saying that our behavior is a sign of the downfall of societal standards. Norms and habits change and what is “acceptable” is subjective and evolves over time. But keeping habits considered disrespectful by the majority of the professional world only harms us — particularly our effectiveness as business-people, health care professionals and workers in general.

For example, especially in big lecture halls, many students — myself included — arrive five, 10, 15 or even 20 minutes late. We’ve developed the idea that lateness is not a big deal.

In high school, administrators emphasize punctuality. Lateness by a few minutes has been linked to lowered high school performance. According to a University of North Texas Ph.D. dissertation study on tardiness and high school achievement, 25 percent of the variance in state math test scores were due to tardiness to class.

At a large university like Pitt, no one calls us out when we show up late. But it sends signals to the professor that we don’t value their time and effort enough to show up on time. And, it makes it seem like we don’t care about the class.

Furthermore, it translates to our future success. A 2012 study by the Center for Professionalism at York College surveyed a national sample of human resources professionals. The survey asked them about professionalism of new hires who recently graduated from college. One question asked for the most common mistakes applicants make at interviews. “Arriving late” made up 29 percent of the answers, just second after “inappropriate attire,” at 39 percent.

I try not to check my phone during class but some days, when I’m sleepy or preoccupied, it can be hard. I can’t count how many times I have seen classmates doing distracting things on their laptops. I’m sure we’ve all browsed Facebook once or twice during class, or discreetly responded to a text or two. But I’ve even seen students shopping during class and playing games online.

Let me tell you, it’s difficult to concentrate on learning about lipid metabolism when you keep seeing the cute dresses the girl in front of you is buying on Forever 21’s website.

If we’re going to distract ourselves and peers, why even go to class?

If you don’t buy that we’re disrespecting our teachers and peers, know that it’s a fact we’re doing ourselves a disservice. The 2012 study at York found that 96 percent of the HR respondents reported that one’s professionalism affects the likelihood of being hired. And 92.9 percent of managers stated that professionalism impacts promotion chances.

Unfocused behavior was one of the most disruptive unprofessional behaviors observed, according to the study. The most common of these behaviors was use of technology at inappropriate times.

How we present ourselves to our professors and our classmates indicates our attitudes toward our work. Simple things like sitting properly, wearing clean clothes and keeping hair neat matter.

Ladies, many of us are small enough to curl up onto our chairs. But that doesn’t mean we should while listening to our professor lecture about Spanish verbs. Would we do this at a business meeting?

It’s easy to say, “I do these things in class, but I definitely wouldn’t do them at work.” But the numbers say we will. Habits developed during school are not easily shed once we start work.

According to a 2012 article in Psychology Today, “We may like to think we have free choice in what we elect to do, but in reality conscious thought determines only some of our decision-making. Blind obedience to habit, […] is at the root of much of our conduct.”

We need to pull ourselves together and start forming good, professional habits — and fast. We can create a more respectful learning environment, and help us be effective, likeable and proud professionals.


Mariam Shalaby primarily writes on social change and foreign culture for The Pitt News.

Write to Mariam at [email protected]