Pet peeves request

At the beginning of the fall 2010 semester I initiated a new activity. Not yet knowing my students and seeking to set the proper tone, I asked them to name three pet peeves about classes, teaching, laboratory — anything related to their learning.

The procedure

  1. I distributed three Post-It notes to each student.
  2. I instructed them to record habits, situations, concerns…anything that “bugs them” and that interferes with optimal learning. PET PEEVES is what I called it!
  3. All comments were anonymous.
  4. At the end of class they placed their notes in a folder.
  5. I compiled and categorized comments then created a one-page summary.
  6. At the beginning of the next class, I projected the list and reviewed it with the class. I also posted it in the lab and on our college homepage and gave students hard copies.

The idea

I obtained the idea for this activity in a small group discussion at The 23rd Annual Barnes Seminar on Teaching. Sponsored by The Center for Teaching of the Connecticut Community College system, the seminar takes place each spring. One aspect of the seminar focuses on teaching challenges and successes. Barnes is part of the national “Great Teachers Seminars.”

I cannot recall the specific colleague who made the suggestion for eliciting Pet Peeves. I have adapted it successfully each semester in which I have students previously unknown to me.

The results

  1. Students recognized that this was not simply to vent but was to elicit habits that inhibit effective learning. I first listed the pet peeves of students toward instructors’ habits. By doing so, they knew I had their best interest in mind and shared in the responsibility for their learning.
  2. Students recognized many common pet peeves.
  3. I clearly stated that I would not tolerate the negative behaviors and that they could influence their peers’ behaviors too.
  4. The Pet Peeves list was a great way to clarify expectations since it came from THEM and not from a diatribe in the syllabus (often unread).

Here is the list.

Pet peeves

No chuckling. Take these seriously. Several students mentioned the starred items.

Teaching methods

  • Classes that go off topic; interruptions during lecture
  • Disorganized classes
  • Giving explanations to a student (inattentive) after having previously explained
  1. Being rushed during lab
  2. Assigned seating
  3. No clear explanations during teaching
  4. Lack of direction; vague, ambiguous directions
  5. Instructors who mumble
  6. Being spoken to as a child
  7. Instructor who reads directly from a PowerPoint presentation
  8. Professors who expect students to know everything at once; refusal to explain

Student responsibility

  • Not paying attention in class; re-asking a question; instructor repeating answers because of student inattention
  1. Engaging in “pointless arguments with professor”
  2. Excessive questions that interfere with lecture
  3. Arrogance
  4. Not prepared for class and borrowing writing materials
  5. Lack of persistence: not “buckling down to work” even if stumped

Lab/experimental work

  1. Non-contributing lab partners who “cut corners” during experiments
  2. Lack of effort: “people not trying”, people “riding” off the work of others
  3. People who don’t work with others; excluding people from a group activity
  4. Partners who don’t clean up after a lab or put things away

Courtesy/social decorum

(These are definitely “no-no’s” in this class.)

  • Talking during note-taking, reading, etc; talking while the teacher is speaking; private conversations; distracting small talk; talking then asking what we’re doing (“Really?”); talking then having no clue what is going on afterwards — 11 comments on this!!
  • Texting during class; hiding texting under the desk
  1. Monopolizing the dialogue, preventing others from talking
  2. Intolerance: “someone gets huffy” when a student doesn’t understand something and needs it explained in a different way.”
  3. Unimportant interruptions
  4. Chewing with mouth open, and loudly
  5. Coming to class when ill
  6. When it’s not quiet during a test
  7. When a student shows up late, coffee in hand
  8. Tardiness to class
  9. Classmates with poor hygiene
  10. Clicking pens


  1. Negativity
  2. Complaints about being here (“Wake up! It’s a privilege.”)
  3. People who act like they know everything, even more than the professor

[This article is a response to the call for a chemistry teacher’s pet peeves. Send in your pet peeves and/or solutions to Jean Hein,, in order to share and commiserate with other chemistry teachers.]