Planning for Fall Already: My, Oh My….Syllabi

I’m already planning my Fall courses.

I start with the syllabus. It’s a question about how many rules I want to put in the syllabus. I hate to start the class on such a negative point; but when I don’t include rules it always comes back to haunt me.

One of the elements I struggle with is my “no late work” policy. In a perfect world I would absolutely never accept late work. I haven’t been as married to the policy, though, these past two semesters and it’s caused me untold problems getting all of the grading done. I won’t tell you how behind I’ve been because I know you’ll want to scold me.

Into the new syllabi will be a firm (and hopefully enforced) no late policy.

Some of my peers think that this is a rather harsh policy. My peers aren’t really the issue, though. It’s the students who have such extreme needs throughout the semester who fight against this structure more than any other.

Students don’t realize that when they turn work in late they’re eroding the careful balance their harried instructor has worked so hard to create. I’m the harried instructor here, and I only speak for myself on this. I’m betting all of you handle this far better than I do. I’m a soft touch; I crumble at the first excuse, I’m afraid.

For example, students have argued eloquently that there was a deficit for that essay at the time it was due because it wasn’t done on time. Like roll-over minutes, the missing work opened up a time slot in the previous week, thus allowing me the opportunity to work ahead. Of course “life stuff” is actually more amorphous than that and will fill in whatever framework our days take on. No roll-over assignments, no roll-over time slots. There is no such thing as extra time. I have to schedule time to breathe; grading their late assignment is just not to be considered.

Really, if I accept even one 5 paragraph essay late, that’s one more essay to read when I am past that assignment and onto grading midterms, commenting on ePosts in my online classes, correcting quizzes, or inputting grades. It’s an easily collapsible mound of time-sensitive stuff.

I am sorry when their dog dies or their rock star crush breaks their heart; I’m even more sorry when the serious reasons unfold, such as their neighbor sues them, their car is stolen or wrecked, or their landlord kicks them out. I always wonder: are my hands tied? Like with finals that can’t be taken as scheduled, how much accommodation do I need to make?

I’m just as much a softy about attendance. That one confuses me because I tend rant and rave on the first day and have in my syllabus in several places that coming in late or not showing up at all isn’t my problem it’s the students’. They figure out pretty early, though, that they can work me. This really goes hand-in-hand with the late work policy, as it turns out.

I will be addressing both of these, and a few other challenges I seem to regularly deal with, as I make my syllabi. I’ve decided, in fact, that for the Fall I am going to sound like a Marine Drill Sergeant on that first day and scare off anyone who isn’t serious about my class. Maybe I’ll wear a uniform and use an air horn to punctuate each of the points in my policies section. All joking aside, colleagues have told me that giving students a test on the syllabus really helps. I’m starting with that.

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