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Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success

reviewed by Frances Johnson - November 09, 2012

coverTitle: Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success
Author(s): Ellen Bremen
Publisher: NorLightsPress,
ISBN: 1935254685, Pages: 270, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com

Professors have often wished for a guide for college students. A guide that would help students understand how to deal with the interactions between professors and students.  In Say This, Not That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success, Ellen Bremen provides such a guide in a light and entertaining way.  Bremen is a long-term tenured faculty member at Highline Community College’s Communication Studies department, has received national recognition for innovative teaching, and is a much in demand subject matter expert in public speaking (p. 258). Her love for both student success and teaching shines through the pages of this text which should be a must read for every incoming college freshman and those professors who work with this student population on a daily basis. While the book is an easy read, it is also a reference book to look up most situations that arise in the interaction between students and faculty.  This reference organization is where the book’s true strength is.

The table of contents provides the initial look into the simple, yet effective organization of the information found in Say This, Not That.  This organization first divides the book into two large sections, “Section 1: Class Issues Your Professor Won’t Discuss with You (But Wishes Someone Would)” and “Section 2: Class Issues Your Professor Won’t Discuss with You (And May Not Want You to Know).”  A further level of division is found in Section 1; Section 2 does not have this level.  Section 1 is divided into the themes or topics of “Parents, Classroom Behavior/Your Peers, Grades, Managing Your Assignments/Schedule, and Dealing with E-Mail/Social Media/Technology.”   Both sections, however, are divided into traditional chapters, with such titles as “Class Jokers; ‘Getting’ Grades and Working ‘Hard’ for Your Grades; Your Work Ethic, Sending Angry Emails”; and from Section 2, “Challenging a Professor.” The organization makes it very easy for a student to use Say This, Not That as a reference guide. Since the book covers the most common issues between professors and students, a student can quickly find the area that discusses their current issue. If this great organization was not enough, Bremen provides an Introduction chapter that explains the organization of each chapter and how to use the book as a reference guide.

After an interesting and reader-friendly section on the “real story” and “back story” (pp. 3-5), Bremen provides instructions on the purpose, “to stay with you at all times, either in your backpack or on a digital device . . . so that you can have the right words to deal with an immediate class-related crisis” (p. 6). She then describes how each chapter is divided into the same five sections with explanations of what type of information the section is providing and how the student should use the information.  The sections provide students with insights into real students dealing with the issues being discussed in the chapter.

Each chapter begins with What You May Think (or Say in some chapters) and What Your Professor Thinks blurbs.  The first blurb serves as insight for students as to what they are probably thinking about an issue while the second blurb provides students insight into what/how professors view the situation.  Here is an example of this from Chapter 6: “‘Getting’ Grades and Working ‘Hard’ for Your Grades” (p. 43).

What you might say: I got a D? Why’d you give me that grade? Or, I worked so hard on that paper! I should have an A!

What Your Professor Thinks: You weren’t given a grade. You earned it. Your hard work doesn’t guarantee you any grade. (p. 45)

The body of each chapter is then divided into The Real Story; The Back Story; Ask Yourself This; Think This, Not That; Say This; and Not That.  

The Real Story and The Back Story are short narratives explaining a real student situation about the topic being discussed with The Back Story being “a rare glimpse inside of a professor’s mind . . .[y]ou’ll really learn what a professor really thinks about the way students speak or behave in that situation” (p. 6).  The sections Ask Yourself This and Think This, Not That discuss and provide helpful examples of self-reflective questions student can use to gain a perspective on the issue and some advice on what a student should be thinking about, not only on the issue, but how the current issue could impact their academic career.  The sections Say This and Not That end the self-reflective part on what to say to yourself to affect change and actual advice on how to talk to a professor about a particular situation.

Section 2 of the book follows the same organization, but while still talking to students, is clearly aimed at professors and issues that students have that perhaps professors do not want to openly acknowledge and/or deal with. The most controversial and eye opening is the last chapter in the book, Chapter Thirty-Six. This deals with how a student can open lines of discussion with a professor when the entire class fails.  While the chapter discusses how a student can engage a professor in dialog on the issue, the chapter, on a subtle level, asks the professor what he/she could be missing that everyone in the class did not grasp the concepts being taught.  Bremen addresses the common argument head on that students fail because everyone in the class did not prepare for the test, assignment, or course.   Basing her response on statistics and the bell curve, Bremen answers this non-studying lament with “[b]ecause students usually fall all over the map with their grades, I find it hard to believe that every single student just didn’t study and as a result, did poorly” (p. 249).

Along with the organizational strength of the book is the overall conversational, non-preaching tone that allows students and professors to realize that each is human.  The reality of the issues addressed in Bremen’s book is tempered with humor and grace.  By doing this, she allows students to see that professors not only care about the subject matter, but also care about their students—and that students must be proactive in their education, something that is missing in our publically educated, taught-to-the-test student population.  Bremen directly tells the student reader that “The onus is always, always on you to ask for what you need” (p. 93) and every word was written in support of this concept.  All-in-all, Say This, Not That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success, is both a great read and a great resource for students and professor; especially the dedicated individuals who teach those students who are experiencing college life for the first time.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 09, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16930, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 11:19:28 PM

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About the Author
  • Frances Johnson
    Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi
    E-mail Author
    FRANCES JOHNSON is a Professional Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi working with incoming students in the award-winning Core Curriculum Program teaching discipline specific composition to students who are science majors.
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