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!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope that 2013 bring you joy, happiness, and good health. What else do I hope for with this New Year. Sure, I can say world peace, a cure for Cancer and AIDS, and for the government to really take action with the Fiscal Cliff/Idle No More Movement. And, I truly do wish for all of the above, but this post will instead focus on what I hope for my students in this new year.

The 2012-13 school year is essentially halfway through and I hope that first year students learned how important time-management was during their September term. I also hope that all students realized that office hours are priceless. You might have to queue up and wait for five or fifteen minutes–but those meetings with your Teaching Assistant or Professor really is worth the wait. I have never heard a student tell me that it was a waste of time to see me or one of my Teaching Assistants. In fact, I get follow up emails, note cards, or tweets thanking me for suggesting that we meet or that they met with their Teaching Assistant. So, dear student, please take advantage of our availability!

I also send the gift of reading the syllabus to students. This means highlighting due dates and the instructions for assignments. This is a rich You Tube video about Reading the Syllabus. This made me laugh! Oh, wow. How many of us have had one of these moments?!  There is also a Facebook page about Reading the Syllabus. In all seriousness, the syllabus is the contract between the professor and the student. We expect students to read and review the syllabus.

Get into the library. Attend a workshop about research or citation. Learn how to use the databases and get outside of your Wikipedia or Google comfort zones. Learn other better ways to conduct research. The vast  majority of you are not yet skilled at researching and could use a workshop or two to hone these skills. The A students are the ones who have taken the time to use databases and dig deeper. Do not be embarrassed -go speak to the Reference Librarians and your academic mind will be blown.

My last wish for 2013 is that students stay healthy and this includes their physical well-being and mental health. I feel terrible when a student gets hit with a serious illness that turns their term upside down. I also feel for the student who is dealing with mental health issues and is having a really difficult time. I am not a medical doctor and I certainly am not a mental health professional, so all I can do is be supportive and suggest the health center or the counseling center. Remember, when you’re having a tough time, don’t be embarrassed -contact your professor. We are here to help and it’s much better if we are in the loop.

Happy New Year!

janni 2012