Syllabus, Syllabus

9 Jan

“From a little after two oclock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that – a dim hot airless room….” Wait, that is the beginning of that other boring document by William Faulkner called “Absalom, Absalom”. The boring document I am blogging about is called “Syllabus, Syllabus”, in my opinion the worst chore for a member of a university faculty. And, it gets worse every semester.

When I began teaching a decade ago, I had no idea how to put together a syllabus. I had received a few in my student days but never realized what was in them. I paid attention to the assignments and the days they were due. Simple, right? Well, it is not as simple from the other end. My first syllabi were straight copies from another teacher. They had worked well for him through the years, and he figured they would work for me as well. And, they did. I looked at one a few hours ago and was stunned by its simplicity.

Contact information at the top.

A sentence about the course content.

An attendance statement (He didn’t count off for missing classes, and I have followed his example. However, he NEVER wanted anyone to show up late. At class time, he locked the door. Unfortunately, I can’t do that.)

A detailed description of the assignments and when they were due.

A grade scale.

That’s it. The syllabus took up 1 1/2 pages and provided everyone with the information they needed. Now, it isn’t that simple because the university has several items that they force us to put in. Most of it is federally regulated. Another example of the federal government getting out of control. I know the day will never come when the government decides to stay out of our daily lives, but one can hope.

That’s problem enough. However, the biggest problem is that federal guidelines and the university response to them changes all the time. In our meetings last week, we were told to put certain items in our syllabi that were completely different from what they told us last semester. Personally, I blame Franklin Roosevelt because he started these government shenanigans. At any rate, I just finished a couple of syllabi and thought some of you might get some blog-reading entertainment out of it.

The first part is simple and straightforward. At least, I think it is. To make sure that it is, I go over it with the class.

Name of the course. (It’s hard to believe how many people walk out during this part when they realize they are in the wrong place. A few more just stay to the end, so they won’t look stupid. That would probably be my choice. Even worse, last semester I had a kid come to class on the wrong day after we had been going for a month.. He sat through the whole thing and even asked a question.)

My office location. (It’s across the hall. I tell them that, and they still can’t find it. Hell, just ask someone where the office with the whores on the walls is.)

Course description. (By now, one person has gone to sleep)

Book for the course. (In one of my classes I use “Devil in the White City”. A few years ago the bookstore lady told me that a couple of African-American students said they were not reading a racist book. They thought “white city” meant white-ruled society, and they were being called “the devil”. It’s actually about the Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the serial killer that stalks its visitors.)

Attendance. (There is a four-paragraph official statement that we have to include. Simply, it says you have to go to class. After that, I put my own mark on it in all capital letters. DO NOT ENTER THIS CLASS LATE!!! It doesn’t work.

My tardiness. (If I am fifteen minutes late, then class is cancelled. I’ve never done it, but I had a teacher do it once. At fifteen minutes we stormed out of the room, and one of the kids ran over him on the stairs. The teacher was pissed off. But, you know what they say. It’s better to be pissed off than pissed on. Unless, you are into that kind of thing.)

Cell phone policy. (Teachers hate cell phones more than anything. Students always stick it between their legs and text. They think we can’t see. I always say that I don’t know what they are doing with their hand moving in their lap, but they probably shouldn’t be doing it in class.)

Conversing. (That’s a fancy word for talking and bothering me in class.)

Computer/iPad policy. (Last year, the university started giving iPads to incoming Freshmen. We also brag about being Tennessee’s first wireless campus. iPad + wireless campus = Angry Birds and Facebook in my class. I don’t allow them to be out.)

Learning disabilities statement. (This is one of the federal mandates, and I know that it is important. We have a paragraph informing students that if they have a disability, then they need to talk to our services coordinator. If I needed to talk to her, then I would. However, many people don’t and wait until the end of the semester to say something. That causes some real issues.)

Cheating policy. (This is a huge problem in higher education that all universities are trying to combat. We have developed a tracking system to find habitual offenders. Cheating comes in several forms. Plagiarism is easy to spot. The difficulty is discovering cheating on tests. There are some imaginative ways out there. If people put as much effort into studying as they do cheating techniques, then they might not need to cheat. We also have an honor code, and students have to sign a book in symbolism. It looks like the Hogwarts Book of Magic. I don’t think it works.)

Grade scale. (This is where I would really pay attention if I was a student. These are the numbers that measure your success. However, I am shocked at the end of the semester when students ask why they got a B or something. They have seen their grades and can average them as well as I can. But, they never understand what happened.)

Assignments. (Now, this is where my ears would perk up. I lay out everything in detail. What to do. How to type. Font. Double-spaced. Margins. Everything. I always have people use bigger font to take up more pages. There is always one person that single-spaces. Then, someone else will quadruple-space. I spend all my time grading those kinds of issues. On the first day of class, I say that if you follow my instructions you will pass. Many are snoring by this time.)

Chain of command. (Another statement forced on us by the school. We have to write the chain of command for student complaints. From me, to my dean, to the VP of academic affairs, and all the way to the president. I have one going up the chain now because he thinks he is supposed to get an A for being him.)

Due dates. (Another instance where I would listen. They are given the dates that tests will take place and assignments are due. I take no assignments late. This is 2012, but I know the Mayan prophecies are wrong. The end of the world will not be December 21 because it always happens on assignment day. Computers crash. Printers run out of ink. Grandmothers die. People go to the hospital. Traffic jams are everywhere. Pestilence has spread across the land. Barbarians are at the gates. It is the end of the world.)

And, that is the end of this blog. I hope “Syllabus, Syllabus” was more exciting than “Absalom, Absalom”.

12 Responses to “Syllabus, Syllabus”

  1. booksnob January 9, 2012 at 04:04 #

    I have never fallen asleep in class. It blows my mind that some people can.

    You earned bonus points for trying to capture my attention with Harry Potter. Kudos, sir.

    • Tennessean-Historian-Blogger January 9, 2012 at 05:25 #

      A Harry Potter reference never hurts. Although, I am more partial to Katniss Everdeen.

      • booksnob January 9, 2012 at 05:43 #

        I could grumble about how Hunger Games wants to be Battle Royale but I will refrain. 😉

        True Fact: Tagging your post with Harry Potter will bring on the hits. My first post was about Harry Potter and I was mistakenly led to believe that every day would bring me that many visitors.

      • Tennessean-Historian-Blogger January 9, 2012 at 05:46 #

        Aren’t all facts true? So, Harry brings the readers? I guess people tag their blogs with things that aren’t really in the blogs. You really don’t like “The Hunger Games”? I think it’s kind of cool. But, as the other post said, I have a thing for post apocalyptic stuff. I saw “The girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and am thinking about writing about it. I saw the Swedish versions. Those were better.

      • booksnob January 10, 2012 at 05:25 #

        I need to remember that redundancies that my friends and I say to each other frequently aren’t always appreciated by others. Ooops.

        I can only speak for myself, but every Harry Potter post I’ve made has done well.

        I didn’t hate Hunger Games, they were very well written. I can just think of several other stories I read first with very similar plots. 🙂

        Since you’re into post-apocalyptic stuff (I am too!) if you haven’t read The Windup Girl, I recommend that you do. It was one of the best books I read in 2010.

      • Tennessean-Historian-Blogger January 10, 2012 at 05:39 #

        I will check out The Windup Girl. As I was thinking about characters and post apoc. stuff I happened to remember one of my favorites. Tree-killer King’s Roland Deschain – the Gunslinger. Don’t worry about redundancies. We historians deal in them all of the time. In fact, true historian’s craft makes us delve into a redundant world.

      • booksnob January 10, 2012 at 05:49 #

        Heh, I was obsessed with DT for over 20 years.

        While waiting for the end, I read the first three so many times…I can’t stand the fourth, fifth and sixth are marginally better and the final volume was only good (for me) the first time I read it.

      • Tennessean-Historian-Blogger January 10, 2012 at 05:53 #

        Yeah, it declined as time passed. I also spent a couple of decades on it. When he got hit by the van, my first thought was, “Oh shit”. Then, I said “oh shit” again when he placed himself in the story. My nephew got the JFK one for me for Christmas. Not sure if I want to read it.

      • booksnob January 10, 2012 at 05:56 #

        hahahaha! I think there was a collective “holy shit, HE’S NEVER GONNA FINISH NOW!” that day.

        The JFK one is on my “read next already own” shelf…but it’s pretty far down the list. He owned me for so long…not anymore.

      • Tennessean-Historian-Blogger January 10, 2012 at 05:59 #

        The only things I have read of his are the adventures of Roland and the gang, Under the Dome, and this cool little baseball short story he wrote. I forgot the name. Each time I say I am not buying anything until I read what I have I end up buying something else. It’s a vicious cycle.

      • booksnob January 10, 2012 at 06:05 #

        I…have read pretty much everything he’s written. Trying to break myself of that habit.

        (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon)

      • Tennessean-Historian-Blogger January 10, 2012 at 06:08 #

        I don’t really have a favorite writer. I just pick up what looks cool.

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