Recently Added to the Endangered Species List: The Syllabus
After looking at another professor's syllabus this summer - I realized I was basically shooting myself in the foot when it came to managing the grading of papers. Students have to do 4 papers; in semesters past, they (surprising to nobody but me, I'm guessing) wait until the last 2 weeks and turn all 4 papers in then. And I'm stuck trying to grade approximately 200 papers the last week of class (or at least in time to meet the grades-submission deadline) when I have my own papers to be writing and my own finals to be studying for. Other professor has "mini-deadlines" and makes them all turn in paper #1 by such and such date. Ditto for paper #2 and so on and so on and they tell two friends (extra credit for you if you get that reference!) and thus, the massive flood that is their papers becomes a manageable river.
So, Monday night, I did a lot of finger-shaking and reminding. (Yes, this is why I thought I wanted to go into "higher" education. Cripes. I don't have children for about a million reasons and this is just one of them. Who wants to be a professional nag?) "Remember, your first installment of the assignment is due next week. Don't forget. Remember, remember, remember." And, if I'm not mistaken, I did the two week countdown last week as well.
The instructions for all assignments are in the syllabus. Really, they could NOT be more detailed. Short of me telling them what type of printer they should be using, I spell it out so they don't have to guess anything. I believe in clear rubrics. I think that's fair. And because I want to dispel any anxiety about what may be expected of them, I even have them TAKE TURNS reading the syllabus aloud the first night of class. It takes forever, but I consider it an investment in their success and my sanity. All spelled out. No surprises. (Aside: Another professor (and another commenter on this very blog) uses a contract - students sign a piece of paper stating they have read the syllabus and will abide by whatever it says. For some reason, I figured this wouldn't work with my students, but maybe I need to reconsider?)
Imagine my consternation when cute-frat-boy type walks up to me after class. "Yeah, uh, about this paper that's due next week?" he says in a skeptical tone, like I just sprung it on them about 5 minutes ago. "Mmm-hmm," I say, only half-listening because I am still inwardly flabbergasted by the word bank kid. "Like, uh, what are we supposed to do for them?" Since this has happened to me before I said, "Well, if you recall, everything you need to know is in the syllabus. If I explain it to you now, I might forget something important, so just look in your syllabus." He looked confused. "I don't think I have one of those things." Wasn't in class the first night? Yes, it turns out, he was. I'm pretty sure I had extra syllabi at the end of the night - did he not get one? Oh, now it turns out he did get one, he just doesn't know what he did with it. So could he, uh, have one? This is another one I love. Could I borrow a stapler? Can you lend me a paper clip? How about a syllabus? They see what I bring to class. Do they think I also have a portable office somewhere on me as well? Hold on, let me check all my body cavities. I believe there's a stapler here somewhere . . .
I refer him to the class website where the syllabus is posted as well. "Yeah, I think I saw it the other day. Although I might have been looking at the wrong one because it says the lab fee is $10.00 a week and so far we haven't had to bring any money here." So far. But hey - he's given me an idea on how to update my wardrobe for fall: "Students, due to the extreme increases in prices of things like chalk, we are now charging $10.00 per class, per student, for 'operational costs.'" Right, I agree, it's probably not the right syllabus. But I'm fairly certain it's online. Yet, he clearly doesn't want to go online. (Maybe he doesn't know how? Maybe I just missed a "teachable moment?") "Aw, c'mon," he wheedled. "Just, like, you know, how long does it have to be and stuff and what are we supposed to write about?" I didn't answer him directly for two very good reasons: 1.) There is a long list of writing prompts in the syllabus as well as details about precisely how long each section should be and I honestly couldn't remember them all off the top of my head. And, 2.) I didn't feel like it.
I may have already blogged about this, but it's still not as bad as a colleague's student: He showed up to the midterm completely unprepared and begged her not to make him take the exam right then and there. Reason? He hadn't yet bought the textbook. They were in the main office when she was giving him the makeup exam and I witnessed the rest of the scenario. She asked him why he hadn't yet bought the book. He said he didn't think he'd need it "so soon" in the semester. She asked about the syllabus. He actually said, "Yeah, I try not to read those if I can help it." I don't know him, so I can't tell if he was being serious or sarcastic - I mean the content was sarcastic - I think - but the tone was completely serious.
So tell me: should I just get over myself and my 6 or 7 or 8 page syllabus (although, if I'm not mistaken, we are required to have one on file with the department) and explain everything a week before they need to do it? Based on the number of students who have "last minute emergency printer problems where every printer in all 43 of the university's printing labs happens to be broken or out of toner at the same time", I figure they never do anything more than a week in advance, at the absolute most. Because you know? I'm starting to feel guilty about all those trees I'm killing for no good reason.