A Letter to My Students

Dear Students, 

Welcome to my class. I am so excited to get to know you, learn from you, and have the opportunity to help you love learning and love History. 

As I start my 9th year of teaching, I wanted to share some advice on how to be successful in my class and in all of your other classes. Consider this an addendum to the syllabus. 

First, please know that I absolutely love teaching. I constantly consider new and better ways to help you absolutely love learning and thinking. Thinking is always–always–a good thing. In this class, thinking will always be encouraged.

I know that you have grown up in a society, specifically a cultural and educational environment, that does not encourage questioning or creating.

I know you are tired of schools, tests, and all such things that remind you of being required to sit still, listen, and regurgitate what you have been told.

This is not your fault. You’ll hear people suggest otherwise at times, but you are not at fault for being sick and tired of schools.

Recognize, though, that you are now in college. Now, you have the opportunity to learn how to learn in an environment that embraces thinkers and creators and rebels.

College really is very different from high school or any other institution in society. Your professors are experts in their teaching fields. Your English, History, Chemistry, Anthropology, and Abnormal Psychology professors, to name just a fraction of possible examples, have at least 2-10 YEARS of formal, advanced course work in the subject(s) they teach. Professors know their subjects very, very well. You’ll discover career choices you did not even know existed!

You’ll find some (or many) professors care far less about all of the names and dates and facts. Instead, they care about thinking. They want you to analyze and interpret material.

Getting more specific, to be successful in college, you must actually do your assignments. Professors generally do not use the word “homework.” In high school, you likely either had no out-of-class work or very little. In college, you’ll have 6-9 hours of studying to do per class, per week during 16-week semesters. Studying means reading, writing, thinking, talking with the professor, or working in study groups.

College is a job. College is a full-time commitment.

Students regularly say that I assign too much readingtoo much writing. My response is always, and I mean this respectfully, “good.” I by no means assign an unreasonable load. We always spend class time talking about how to read for college, especially how to read historical secondary sources and primary sources. I am also always available to work with you or help you out. But, and this is a big but, reading and writing are how you learn. They just are. In my class, if you devote one hour a day to reading and writing, you’ll be just fine. That’s perfectly doable. And working a little bit each day will make your learning all the more effective.

College will be hard, and that’s a good thing. Challenges help us to all do better and learn more.

If you follow directions and start early, I guarantee you’ll earn very high marks in the class. If you attend every class and demonstrate interest in the material, I guarantee you’ll earn at least passing marks in the class. 

History is always very enjoyable to teach (and learn) and also a significant challenge at the same time. History classes, even those that are not survey courses, are always very, very selective in terms of who and what they cover. There simply isn’t time to cover even 1/10000000th of the possible events. Think about it this way: A United States History course from 1877 covers over 50,000 days! Every one also has been “preprogrammed” to have certain ideas about the past. These ideas are frequently at odds when we really examine the evidence closely. Frequently, then, History classes are sometimes painful and surprising for students.

Students sometimes ask why I focus on “all” of the bad things. Three answers. One is that those “bad things” are important. And second, everyday culture more than throughly covers the “good things.” And, historical events cannot really be classified as “good” or “bad.”

To get the most out of college: ask lots of questions, talk to your professors outside of class, take creative risks in your learning, and do your assignments. More and more, I like fully discussion-based classes. When I do “lecture,” it is an interactive lesson. This video will give you an idea of what I do not want to happen. For our learning to be most successful, you get to participate. And, indeed, you’ll learn far more by actively participating in class and owning your learning. 

Please take time to explore my webpage.

Before I conclude, check out these letters to you from former students who did really well about what they learned in my class and how they were successful. 

Are you ready to learn?!


Professor Pegoda

(Updated 1/5/16, please also see Emotional Demands of College, When to and not to Email Professors, and Comfortable, Courageous, Compulsory, and Contagious Confusion)