Read the Syllabus, Please

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.

on the syllabus baby

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!

What single word defines you?

When I was at Social Media Camp earlier this month, one of the keynotes talked about what single word defines you. I think this was part of Erica Ehm’s presentation. It took me a few minutes, but then the word appeared in my head. Passionate. I am passionate about things I do and thing that I support. It was funny that I actually pictured some student evaluations or thank you cards that noted my passion for the material was infectious or kept them awake during the early morning class. This passion has allowed me to have great conversations with people, but also offers me moments of frustration. Passionate people don’t always understand why others don’t have a similar passion for their interests, work, and politics.

What is your single word? I’m sure that the word will vary.

Here I include a photo of me looking at a book. Books and reading are one of my passions. What is your single word for today, tomorrow, or that you live by?

Young Adult Lit in the College Classroom and Beyond

I was looking forward to an article in the paper about Yong Adult (YALit) and was disappointed that it really didn’t offer anything new. I’ve been reading YALit for years, as  a matter of fact probably before it was given the moniker. I think it’s filled with theory, politics, messages, and more than just entertainment. It is literature.

Young Adult  (YA) Literature as a genre is not new; however, its popularity has sustained the weakening publishing market. The  YA genre has kept many a publisher in the black, as the genre has a wide crossover appeal. Frankly, we have witnessed the genre balloon during the last ten years. Many have thanked J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter Series for this. I thank her for the great series and more. And, I look forward to her next project.

I never really stopped reading YA lit. I think I dove into the genre more so once my eldest daughter became interested in the genre. Here my interest was really two-fold: my love of reading and want to discuss literature with her. Win-win. However, as an educator I have to say that I have found YA lit useful in the classroom. The genre has politics, gender, class, race, sexuality, nation, democracy and more discussed within its pages. And, the students really enjoy re-reading a book with a different theoretical lens. I have also had a chance to meet new people online and in real life (IRL) and have had great conversations about YA lit.

In my Women’s Studies and Political Science courses, I have actually offered a paper option that required students to read pre-approved YA Lit books and discuss course concepts in the books. Depending on the class, these assignments have been popular. The best part for me is the assessment of the assignment and reading how a student has reassessed a much-loved book in a different fashion and has a different feel for the book.

I have also spoken at Political Science conferences and in my local community about YALit and politics. I am repeatedly energized by the positive reception by colleagues and youth. People are reading YALit and noting the messages, politics, feminisms, and more. My fascination with dystopic YALit is not unique and I have had animated discussions with middle school students and high schoolers about protagonists we like or the way in which Lord of the Flies is germinal to many a plot. Connecting over books never gets old.

How cool is that?

Parts of this post ran in Oct 2010 I was compelled to revisit it based on the article about YALit being a new thing.

Fri Fun Facts: Reading

Today’s Fri Fun Facts is dedicated to one of my favorite habits–reading. How do you organize your reading for efficiency? For students and other academics this is a constant concern. We are always juggling several articles/books.

1. I balance this via setting up time to work on particular assignments. I might dedicate half the day or just an hour, but this keeps me on top of my reading list.

2. I have books, articles, or magazines in several locations and will juggle them accordingly.

3. Mix it up! I am not always reading just work related reading. I will mix it up and add fun reading, too.

4. Don’t cram. This is not the best way to allow your ideas to form and as I say, “marinate.” You want to have some time to think about what you’re reading–so keep abreast of the reading.

Decompress with fun reading. This might vary for you. I have all sorts of genre that I read for fun–mystery, cop thrillers, young adult literature.

Mon Fun Facts: Things You Enjoy

This Monday I am mixing things up and posting a Fun Facts. My Mon Fun Facts is a reminder to do things that you enjoy. What makes you happy? I’ll share some activities that make me happy. First assume that my family and friends make me happy. That is a given. OK, a given on most days!

1. Exercise. I need to clear my mind. And, exercise is the best way for me to do so.

2. Reading. I actually get cranky if I am not regularly reading books and magazines. I have to fit these into the reading and marking of student work, but I do. And, sometimes I am more successful than others. I always have lots of books on the go.

3. Cooking and baking. I don’t know what it is, but I take great satisfaction in baking or cooking. I find the process and smells soothing and there is nothing like having my girls swarm the kitchen for some freshly baked cookies. And, the students are really happy when I surprise them with cookies.

4. Brain massage. Yes, watching a movie or some TV. There are times when I just need to plop down on the couch and get a brain massage.

5. Body work. Speaking of massages…I cannot say no to body work. I’ll include physio, acupuncture and massage in this category.

Remember to do what you enjoy and try to live a balanced life. We can get caught up in the rush of our daily lives and forget to take care of ourselves.