An Unsent Letter to My Students

Updated: Apr 22


Dear Students,

My name is Nicholas Gentry. For the next four months, you can call me "Professor Gentry." This has little to do with my ego, and everything to do with how we need to relate to each other until final grades are in. Once you are no longer in my class, you can just call me "Nick."

Maybe some of you are looking forward to the next four months, while some of you (perhaps most of you) dread it.

Either way, I don't blame you.

Reading, thinking, and writing is hard work, and most people have hard enough lives as it is. Let's face it; that's precisely why you're in college. The free market economy can be very unfriendly, and starting college gives you hope that things will be easier in the future.

Your hope is justified, but only if you are here with the right expectations.

Think of it this way: Every year, right around January 1st, a bunch of people shuffle into gyms across the nation armed with New Year's resolutions, new membership cards, and newfound hopes that they will soon have washboard abs. Every gym regular hates these people, because they crowd up the free weights, stare at their cell phones, and generally get in the way.

But the gym regulars also know that 99% of these new people will be gone by the end of February. The fact is, it's easy to pay for a gym membership and throw a few weights around — but it is extremely hard to EARN washboard abs.

Building muscle is strenuous. It is boring. It is day-in, day-out. To some degree, it is based on factors beyond our control, such as natural talent. It is NOT for everybody. Gyms know this, but they need your business. That’s why they sell you the fantasy that anybody can look like a cover model without really putting in the work. I’ve even heard of gyms giving away free pizza once a month. What a joke!

Gyms can give away all of the free pizza they want, but we all know that the only people who truly have a chance of becoming buff and beautiful are those who are genuinely obsessed with athletic self-improvement.

Real fitness fanatics are willing to take total responsibility for their own success or failure — and that is precisely why they succeed. They don’t all succeed to the same degree, however. Even amongst those who work out religiously, some become more buff and more beautiful than others, because some are just more naturally gifted than others. Some earn “grade A” bodies very easily, some have to settle for “grade B” bodies, and others work their butts off just to earn a “C.” But they all nonetheless share one crucial thing in common: They prefer to take their chances on hustling, rather than sitting around and getting fat by merely hoping.

The same is true with the gym of the mind, otherwise known as "school." No teacher can make you learn, and easy A’s are as counterproductive as free pizza. A college can plaster the city with billboards that promise you the moon, but only you can put down your cell phone and get to work.

I have had semesters where I started with 25 students and ended with only four. This is because community college is just like the gym: Anybody can sign up, but few are able and willing to do the work.

I don’t lose sleep when my students fail, because I am not a stock character. In other words, I am not the "heroic teacher" you see in movies — the one who uses the sheer power of his personality to “turn around” a classroom full of cynical high school kids who only care about basketball. Nope. Had I wanted to teach high school, I would have become a high school teacher. There is a good reason why I did not. I have no interest in dealing with children all day. I like teaching adults, because adults — unlike kids — must take full responsibility for their success or failure, whether they think so or not.

I am not going to "inspire" you to learn, because I take it for granted that you are already inspired. Why else should you be here?

I am not going to make this class interesting for you, because I expect you to already be interested. Even if you are not interested, I expect you to do such a good job of pretending that I will never know the difference. There is only one way to earn an A in this class. You must do all of your work, and you must do it superlatively well.

That’s all there is to it. The rest is details. Gentry

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