Our school year is set to begin in late September (ah, the good old quarter system) and I am once again (solo) teaching public speaking after a year off on fellowship. I’m taking suggestions from past students that they wrote on my online evaluation and adjusting my syllabus accordingly (One thing I will not change? The daily “hard” news consumption requirement. There are things other than Jersey Shore. Perhaps not many, but at least a few.). I also have been logging onto various websites to look for ideas, and one I’ve been toying with for a couple weeks is the idea of a syllabus contract.
In essence, a syllabus contract would require students to sign a form stating that they’ve read the syllabus. As young adults, I generally feel my students should learn that reading the syllabus is required to retain good standing in the class. But I often find myself fielding emails and questions that are easily answered by the syllabus. In a couple of disturbing moments, one in which a student screamed at me in front of the class informing me that if the assignment requirements were in bold in the syllabus she would have known what was expected of her, therefore, her poor grade was my fault.
I would have just ignored her temper tantrum, except that she made her displeasure at my “unfair” grading very clear on my evaluation, which of course, future employers examine. I don’t have the luxury of explaining myself to someone who sees a disgruntled student rate me as “inflexible” or “unprofessional” in my grading. I should note that the majority of the comments are positive and offer constructive, useful criticism, but as is the case with most public opinion surveys, the most angry are often the most motivated to express their displeasure.
I wonder if a syllabus contract is a way to avoid these uncomfortable, stressful, inevitable?? situations in the classroom. Or is this something I will just have to grin and bear as I suit up each academic year?
If anyone out there has a suggestion or opinion, I would be interested to hear it.