Today is back to work day for me. No students yet, but rather a week of meetings and hours spent in my office battening down the hatches for their return next week. This week is important because it sets up the structure of my semester. Much of the energy that ends up wasted in the semester can usually be deterred through prudent use of my time this week. Setting up my courses, clarifying my policies in my syllabi, and structuring me office hours are all things that will set the tone for my semester. My syllabi are especially crucial. Every semester I find that I must revise them to include some new issue that students have introduced me to during the previous semester. These three life lessons have been garnered through the revision of my syllabi over the past few years.
People do not read policies because they do not care or think that the policies really apply to them.
A Syllabus, for those not in academia, is not just an outline of course policies–it is a contract between the student and the teacher. You are clarifying your expectations and they are agreeing to abide by them. Some professors even have students sign something stating that they have read and understood the syllabus. Others, myself included in my online courses, have quizzes over the information. More than half of my students fail the syllabus quiz even though it is open book and open notes. The number one missed question is: “Under what circumstances is late work accepted?” Now in my syllabus is says in two different places “No Late Work will be accepted at any time. No excuses. No exceptions.” The most popular wrong answer students give to that previous questions is “On a case by case basis.” This tells me they either don’t read the syllabus, or they believe that should it come down to them turning it late work, they will be the exception.
If you want something done, there must be a tangible penalty.
For years I have had no cell phone policies and listed bringing the textbook to class as a requirement. Neither of these things were even close to obeyed until this past semester when I had a clause in my syllabus saying that I would deduct points from the final grade for cell phones out or missing books. And even then I had a few who still acted surprised when they lost points for not bringing a book to a literature class.
You can always get easier, but you can rarely get harder.
There have been semesters where I realized halfway through that there was a serious problem in my class. (Last year it was the class that just refused to bring books, hence the new book policy.) While I might want to institute changes to fix those problems, I can’t renege on my own contract, especially to make it harder. Oddly, that’s not how the real world works, but I digress. My policies are strict because I would rather be able to have one day where I give the students a break by making things easier than spend an entire semester fighting against a class that won’t do things just because they are asked.
PS. My cleanse starts today!