Friday, September 18, 2009

And Now for a Moment of Tetchiness

On the whole, I am settling into my new teaching situation without any real trouble. Faculty and staff have been generally welcoming, and my students (so far as I can tell thus far) are pleasant and friendly, with some good observations to offer in the classroom.
On the other hand, I am disconcerted to receive a small onslaught of student emails that do not really bode well.
For example, a student who apologizes for missing class due to taking care of alleged administrative hassles inquires "Is there anything I missed?" This is the kind of query that tempts me to respond "No, I don't bother to lecture when you aren't there."
Another student asks "Since I missed today, I was wondering if we have any assignments due next week?" While it is better to ask than to miss out, the syllabus does reveal that there is a paper due next week.
Somewhat in the same vein is the question "what is the name of the paper we have to read and where can I find it also do we have to write a feed back to the paper and if so how any pages?" All of this information is on the course website, which is also where the syllabus can be found since (as a cost-cutting measure) we are not supposed to hand out paper syllabi and assignments. For that matter, I did talk about next week's paper yesterday in class.
Finally, another student apologizes for tardiness due to problems in the preceding class, and regrets that telling me so after class would have caused further tardiness. Since it is only the second week of class, I have certainly not learned to match everyone's name and face yet, nor do I notice everyone who slips into a dark classroom late; thus it is essential for me to know who actually showed up so that I do not wrongly penalize lateness as absence; hey, handing me a simple note after class would do the trick if I am (improbably) surrounded by eager students.
It's true that I prefer students to ask even somewhat foolish questions than be too shy or easily embarrassed to ask a question at all, but it would be nice if they thought a bit, too.


  1. Aah, I get some of the same kinds of questions right now in my TAship this semester. It seems like when I was in undergrad, syllabi were treated with utmost seriousness. I'm starting to wonder if when I should incorporate a "syllabi are very important" talk into my classes--when I'm out there teaching on my own. It doesn't help when I work with profs that like to change their syllabi throughout the semester. Am I the only one left who likes to think of this as a contract?

  2. Maybe you can do an online pop quiz on the syllabus and see how many people are watching! Seriously though, Will uploads articles to his course's blog and the kids are partially graded by their blog comments. They definitely pay attention to his site that way!

  3. I've never found it all that strange to change the syllabus during the semester--sometimes the schedule simply has to be changed. It can't be changed capriciously, though. The fundamentals of the syllabus have to stay the same.

    Of course, if students don't even look at the syllabus, we could change our syllabi constantly and they'd never know the difference. Yeah, we could tell something completely different to each one who writes in asking! Oh boy, that'd be devilish.

    One thing that's a bit weird and confusing here is that we have our choice of two online systems, Web CT and Course Studio (neither of which I had ever used before). Still, the professor just needs to set the course link to whichever system s/he is using for that class, so the students shouldn't have to wonder where to look.

    Since I only got my first look at Web CT the week before classes, I'm using it in a pretty basic way and not trying to have online discussion of readings the way I did in Blackboard. It's best to go at these systems slowly and carefully.