> Good student: "Um... I'd like to be able to plan when I
> should study for it."
> Me: "Oh, okay. I don't know when it's going to be."
> Good student: "Um... Okay. What's it going to cover?"
> Me: "I'm not sure, but it'll be really great!"
> Good student: "That's good, I guess. Can you be more specific?"
> Me: "Not really. But why do you care?"
Wow, this guy is a jerk. This just shouldn't happen. Fair enough, don't tell a student exactly what's on the exam - they should be learning all the material, not cramming for a test. But not telling them when it's going to be is ridiculous. People have lives and need to structure their time.
If a professor or lecturer had refused to tell me the date of an exam, I would have pursued a complaint as far as possible, which would probably have resulted in disciplinary action. In the UK, this just isn't acceptable. Do US universities really treat their students with such disdain?
Regarding the classifications, he missed out "cynical good student", which I suspect is overrepresented amongst HN readers. I never believed my professors were particularly smart people or worth listening to so I didn't attend lectures or hand in work to get feedback, but I did see the value of learning the material so I taught myself and aced exams.
I think you're taking that conversation the wrong way. When I saw the exchange, I sympathized with the author immediately because I've been in this situation many times. It's very distracting when a professor is giving an in-depth lecture, then suddenly, the "good student" pops their face up from their daily planner and raises their hand in the most conspicuous way possible. "Oh, man," I think, "the professor was on a roll; this question better be good."
"Um, will this be on the midterm, and by the way, when will that be?"
Every time this happens (and it actually happens a lot), you can physically observe the lecturer's train of thought derailing and exploding into a mangled pile of molten wreckage. If the professor manages to answer all of the disruptive student's concerns, they then have the difficult task of re-engaging the other 25-100 students whose concentration has since gone elsewhere.
It's incredibly rude to ask a professor whether or not the material that they are covering will be on an exam. What you're essentially asking is, "do I need to be paying attention to you right now, or can we all just zone out while you talk at us?" That thought process represents a very immature mindset that still thinks you're paying for "an education" and not paying to actually learn.
That said, I don't think that this is something that most people will understand given the rise in tuition costs and the (flawed) notion that students are paying for a 4-year "educational resort and spa" experience. As someone who got an undergrad degree then worked for a few years before going back to grad school part time, it's amazing how much I learned to appreciate the classroom environment. IMO students must not realize how infrequently after graduation they'll have the opportunity to learn new things from someone more knowledgable than themselves.
Some schools require midterm dates on the syllabus, some don't. But in this case, the schools are more likely imposing structure on the professor rather than the other way around.
If you know exactly what you are going to teach for a semester, you can plan it all out. But god forbid if the class gets stuck on some material...if the schedule is strict the prof will just move on and let the curve sort it out. I preferred more flexible teachers in college and there were real reasons why universities in the US are high regarded.