Hmmm. How to begin this post?
The semester is off and running (I'm already in my third week) and it's about that time where bigger assignments are coming due in my courses. Not big-big, but formal, graded assignments. And a few students have either missed class, come late to class, or zoned out during class, and this means that they've missed crucial announcements. And it's got me thinking because I'm wondering whether this is a weakness in my classroom administration or whether it's actually not my problem.
I suppose I should give some background. In all of my courses, I distribute a pretty explicit syllabus (course schedule and course policies). Each class meeting is listed on the schedule, and next to each date is the reading assignment for the day (title of text) as well as any out-of-class assignments that are due. As for the course policies, well, I make it clear that attendance is mandatory. I also make it clear that you've got to have the text for the day with you in class, and all of that other neato stuff that you're supposed to put in your course policies.
I don't, however, include page numbers (if we're covering a text over multiple class meetings) nor do I include what exactly we will do in class (because, well, it changes from year to year, semester to semester, class to class). I also don't have a really hard-core attendance policy where after a certain number of absences your total grade for the course goes down or where you automatically fail (though attendance does affect your participation grade). So it's pretty explicit, but not suffocatingly so. There is room for me to move within the explicit course schedule that I design. And I ALWAYS stay on schedule. Not since my first year on the t-t have I deviated either by removing texts or by changing dates on which assignments are due.
I should also say that I hand out all out-of-class assignments with ample time (usually one week, sometimes more (I hand out all assignments for upper-level classes on the first day), sometimes just less than a week if it's an "ungraded" assignment) for students to get going on them, I give out review sheets if we're to have a test or exam (also within 5-7 days), and I always spend at least a little class time before the first graded assignment in any course going over what they need to do and what my expectations are.
So far, so good, right? And remember, I do emphasize attendance and being on time, and so if students just show up on time and stay awake, students should know exactly what we're doing, right?
But the rub is that because I assume that students attend, and by attendance I mean being on time and being there not only physically but also being there mentally, not everything is written out and set in stone on the syllabus. I don't necessarily say on the syllabus when I will go over the first graded assignment; I don't necessarily say what exactly the reading assignment for the next class is until the class before. In my mind, this allows for flexibility. It means that if we don't get far enough in discussion one day on a text that is stretching over multiple class periods (for example) that I can assign a little less reading for the next class. Or, if we cover a lot in a day, we can go a little farther for the next class period. And while my assignments state the basic requirements for what they need to do, on, say, a paper, I do tend to give supplementary information about my expectations in class, if there is supplementary info to give. I don't state "I'll give out the pages to read for the next class" on the syllabus, nor do I necessarily say "I'll be talking about the test or paper or whatever on this date" on the syllabus. To me, this is what coming to class is about - getting this supplementary info. If you aren't in class, my theory is that you should just do all of the assigned reading (or guesstimate about what we'll be able to cover in a class period) or that you'll go it alone on the assignment, which you've already received. If you miss class before a test, you should assume everything we've covered to that point should be something that you study.
Moreover, if I've got handouts or assignments to give, related to course material, I don't necessarily keep them in my bag throughout the entire semester. Sometimes I clean out my bag, so I don't have everything I've ever handed out with me. It states clearly in my course policies that if you miss class you need to ask somebody else in the class what you missed - not me. If a student misses a handout or an assignment, I expect them to ask me for it when they've found out they missed it from a classmate. And if I don't have it with me, I tell them to email me, and I'll be happy to send it to them as an attachment. In some classes I even post assignments online so that they can just go to the website to retrieve them.
So. I've got these students. They've not attended class, or they've come late, or they've left early, or they fell asleep. To me, they're adults. If they miss stuff, they miss stuff. It's their responsibility to find out what they missed. But at the same time, if they're missing so much stuff, and then they don't turn things in when it says that they are due on the syllabus, why are they taking the class at all? What can they hope to get out of it, and what am I supposed to do to teach them if they're not there to teach?
My thought at this point is that it's not really my problem. I'm very clear - from the first day of class on - about what my expectations are and what their responsibilities and my responsibilities are. But I don't know. What if what I'm describing here is not flexibility but rather lack of organization on my part? My preference would be to maintain in the fashion that I've been going, in part because I hated as a student syllabi that constantly changed, that were so rigid that they could not be followed. And I do think there needs to be wiggle room - not only in syllabi, but also in assignments. So my question for you, readers, is whether you think I'm being unreasonable. And if you do, what would you suggest I do to become more reasonable?
4 years ago