[As the semester begins.]
Here are five suggestions. They assume a professor who is willing to engage in dialogue with students and a student who is interested in such dialogue.
1. Don’t blend in, and don’t tune out. Sit near the front of the room. Put away your phone and earbuds well before (not when) class begins. Have the relevant reading at hand. Listen and take notes.
2. Take part in the action. If a class is devoted to discussion, pitch in. Make your contributions relevant to the flow of discussion: if your professor has just posed a question for students to consider, don’t raise your hand to introduce a different topic.
4. Try to get a conversation going. Ask questions after class every now and then (good questions, not “What’s my grade?”). Talk to your professor during office hours, at least occasionally. You can do these things without being mistaken for a would-be confidant or a pest.
5. If you come across something in the larger world relevant to the work of the course, e-mail your professor about it. Everyone appreciates news about things that interest them.
These suggestions have nothing to do with sucking up and everything to do with what it means to be a participant in a community devoted to learning — which is not the same as just being in college.
January 9, 2014: In a comment, Steve Woodland suggests a candidate for the missing no. 3: it’s Rule 7: “The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually catch on to things.” Rule 7 is now no. 3. Thanks, Steve, for the perfect addition to this set of suggestions.