Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Syllabus Silliness

When I was in high school, my teachers NEVER gave me a syllabus. Our first day of class consisted of the teacher telling us (and we students would copy down) the pertinent information.
"Here's how I grade...write it down."
"Here's what I expect of you, write it down and KNOW IT!"
On and on it goes.
It was part of learning experience. Know the information and copy it down so you remember it.
Now? Well we have to have syllabi that the parents sign. It's not enough for me to tell the students and write the information down. I MUST have a piece of paper that eventually (and let's be honest here) the students will lose.
Last year I gave my Freshman English classes folders. Every kid got a folder that I went out and bought.
Each folder had:
a syllabus
a calendar
note paper
an assignment log (a grid where the students right down the assignments as I give them.)
Now I told my students, "If you lose the folder, I take points off."
What happened? Many folders were lost, the students never wrote their assignments down, AND (my favorite) though syllabi were signed, it was obvious students hadn't read what I wrote.
"What do you mean you have an attendance policy, Mr Leab? I never saw it!"
"Um...it's in the syllabus...on page one. You know...the syllabus...which you read...and SIGNED!"
"Nuh-uh!"
Sigh.
I bring this up, because I sat down at this computer at 7 PM tonight, and it wasn't until ten minutes ago that I actually finished my Senior English syllabus.
Overthinking is a dangerous thing. I found myself asking questions with every line I wrote.
"Hmmm. Does this make sense? Will it be clear enough?"
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Why do we, as educators, throw SO much energy into the little things? Well, we say it's because that's what gets and helps the students, but I can't help thinking that these lessons and syllabi and such that I have been working on will be looked over...and tossed.
Am I overreacting?
When you, dear reader, were in school did you (or if you are still in school, do you) concentrate on the syllabi? Do you care?
Hey, that's life I guess...so it goes.
Namaste.

6 comments:

Bill R said...

Never had a syllabus in high school, of course that was ancient times for me (1977), I would have loved it but taking notes at the beginning of the semester worked for me. In college some teachers handed out syllabi and I thought it was a great idea. Too bad your students don't care enough to use such a great tool.

Arthur Willoughby said...

Leab, at least providing a syllabus covers your ass. These days you can't be too careful. "Jimmy didn't know you required him to be awake for 90% of his classes, so we're suing the school board."

It gets you off the hook, technically anyway. I had a professor during summer semester who would casually (sometimes impatiently) deflect questions with "Look at your syllabus," and he was correct to do so. A one-time offering of a detailed syllabus allowed him to focus on instructing from there on out.

Just a thought. Hey, have you considered a new line of work?

cat said...

I also did not have them in High School, but I love it when I get them in college. I think that they are a great helper to kids who use them... High School kids, just do not know how easy they have it! None of is did.

Joshua said...

Background: I attended Chisago Lakes Sr. High (public school).

I was given them in some of my high school classes - but only by the teachers who actually treated their students like adults... Those same teachers ended up being some of my most favorite. They gave engaging lessons and challenged minds without being hard-assed nazis. These very same teachers (the good ones) were well rounded outside of the classroom as well. They spoke (and were informed) about art, music, politics, current events, even what their students were seeing on MTV. These were the ones who had soft music playing at their desks while preparing for their lesson for the period. My favoites were intent on preparing us for a world where we would have to think for ourselves if we wanteded to be truely successful and independent - not just corporate lemmings.

The other teachers I had in high school were worthless. Syllabus? Nope. They were still using seating charts because they thought they had to keep the kids under their thumb.

In college I was given a syllabus for each class. Same for my wife at med school... There wasn't much use for them in high school since you HAD to be at every class. But in higher education they're essential to know what's expected of you when you're walking blindly into a new program.

Besides, it's always nice to know what days you can skip class and plan your work schedule around exam dates. :-)

Liar_Liar said...

I had an old priest for a logic instructor in college who passed out the most IMPOSSIBLE syllabus ever the first day involving approx 9 hours of homework daily. The second class he handed outthe real syllabus after 705 dropped the class and said "i hate people who take this to get out of math. Now lets learn something"

LOOOOVVVEEDD THE GUY.

I say mess with em.

Aliecat said...

Never got them in high school and I'm a youngster...but I got them in college and now in Grad school. They're a great tool, but I think it's stupid that they've become a legal document to cover your ass. Kids need to learn responsibility. Anyway, does your school have a website? Cuz you could always make the syllabus available online, that way, no excuses for lost syllabi.