The syllabus is the course contract. This statement sounds like a simple one, but alas, it is not. The statement might sound legalistic, but it is not. The truth is that the syllabus is our guide for the course, not a guideline, but the rules. The thing that I try to remember is that while I take special care with crafting the syllabus and the ways in which I will evaluate my students, I do not have control over their time. I need to make sure that my syllabus clearly states the all the necessary information for student success. I also know that students have multiple courses with multiple deadlines. And, as much as I want to get frustrated that they are not reading the syllabus, it is a waste of time to get frustrated about them not reading. Instead, I am prepared to re-read and revisit the syllabus as necessary prior to assignment due dates. Plus, I must remember that they have three to four other syllabi to keep track of during the term and that my class is one of many.
No, instead, I remind them about the information on the syllabus and refer them to it. Each term many will say something to the effect, “Oh, I must have missed that.” I typically smile and say, “I know that you have four other courses, it is easy to get the information mixed up.” This is a better use of my time and emotional energy. My job is not to chastise or scold. Frankly, I do not like scolding unless I absolutely have to do so. My job is to give the information and move on to the next query or item. Sure, I chat with colleagues about how syllabi are not read. I am sympathetic and am the first to talk to a colleague about what we can do to make this better. However, each term it is the same song and dance. This term I noted in two different places on my syllabus that class would not meet during our Reading Break. The note is in bold, too. My Teaching Assistants went to the class and found almost half of my class sitting in the lecture hall. They looked at the students and said, “You need to read the syllabus. There is no class today.” I am guessing that my students really liked the material and were keen for another lecture.
What can we do? Review the syllabus with the students and review it more than once. Remind them of the deadlines and refer them repeatedly to the appropriate resources on campus. My syllabi are considerably longer than before, but I am OK with that. This means that I have as much helpful information as possible and I am doing my job. The other half of this is that the students must do their job and review the syllabus–highlighting due dates and keeping an organized calendar. Yes, I am speaking to the students owning part of this and that might require a different blog post. And, I probably should work on that blog post, but now, I am thinking about the syllabi for next term and how I need to be as clear as the water in Maui. I am pining for warmer weather–can you blame me it is almost winter and I know that in just a week I will start three weeks of intensive marking and occasionally write on papers: you should have read the syllabus and followed directions.
Please note that the above photo of “Sassy Syllabus Baby” is from a former student who did get permission from his family to use the photo. And, Kevin always read the syllabus. May he have a great post-university life!