Monday, August 25, 2014


Students are polluting Twitter with claims that something exists known as "Syllabus Week."  Based on their accounts, faculty merely pass out a syllabus, chat for fifteen minutes then end class.  The next class session is spent playing ice breaker games.  Their next class meets on Friday and you can't do any learning on Friday...

Somebody tell me this isn't happening, please.  There must be some movie, seen by these students when they were eleven years old, that warped their view of college and now they are expressing their expectation of how faculty teach.  Maybe one professor handed out a syllabus, had a heart attack, slumped behind the lecture podium and the students figured class was over.  This story morphed into the belief that any real learning (which students will aggressively avoid) doesn't begin until week two.

Although this is idea of a media-generated Syllabus Week is comforting, there are many, many students indicating that this happened to them.  There's the strong possibility that students are just making this up.  I'm pretty sure they lie to people besides instructors.  While I can't discount that, I have a deep suspicion of some colleagues.  If you bake students cookies and want to be their BFF, Syllabus Week wouldn't seem out of line.

This type of behavior by faculty is not deserving of any abbreviated cursing.  What The Fuck, people?  Are you out of your damn minds?  Do you know what college costs your students?  Are you aware that you even work at a college?  (Granted, the amenities students receive does make campus look like a resort community.)  This isn't fucking day camp.  I do my job.  Every single day.  And it's harder thanks to these dirtbag professors letting kids out early "because they can't concentrate with so many butterflies in bloom" or whatever the hell dumb ideas float in and out of their minds.

I know one thing: it's not a humanities vs. science thing.  Lots of departments don't offer labs during the first week of classes.

Christ, I hope that kid fails out.

I'm sure there's a hundred good, practical reasons to gather students together in a classroom so they can pick their noses for a few minutes while you ask, "what did you do this summer?"  (I secretly hope one student answers, "I worked so that I can pay your salary, motherfucker.  Now TEACH!")  Regardless, it's all bullshit.  Teaching starts on day one.


  1. In my first class last week one student needed a pen and some did not have paper to take notes. Sorry kids we have a lot to cover and not enough time. I spend 5 mins on the syllabus and move on!

    One of my employers cancels labs on the first day of lab (labs meet 2 times/week) which is suspect was bred out of the shuffling of students in and out of courses the first few days. Make-up labs suck!

    1. Yeah, we don't START labs until the drop-add period (first 2 weeks of semester) is over because the make-ups are so hard to schedule. But you better come prepared to think on day 1 of the lecture/seminar/class slot, little ones...

    2. I know from experience that dealing with students adding and dropping is a lot more of a hassle for labs than it is for lecture.

      You have 2 weeks of add/drop?! That's a lot of time for students to shop around.

    3. At one of my schools I could have a student add AFTER three classes, meaning they miss about three labs (dumb scheduling in my opinion). It is a nightmare!

    4. Yup, 2 weeks of drop-add - in what is effectively an 11 teaching week semester (nominally 15 weeks, but there's one 'reading week' and three assessment weeks when we can't teach actual content).

      Some people deliberately throw All The Maths into the first 2 weeks, just to get a nice small class size...

    5. Oh, I fight with the administration every single semester (they have no memories). You scheduled my lab to take place BEFORE the lecture? Fine, I'll sort it out. But don't cancel the labs the first week!! I have a lab session with paper and crayons I can do just in case the equipment is not ready yet. Sheesh. Just let me teach and get out of my hair.

  2. Preach it, Beaker!

    I did spend more than 5 minutes on the syllabus, largely as a means of letting the little dears have some agency in choosing some unimportant aspects of the course, like when I have my office hours. The rest was spent dealing with misconceptions that cropped up on the "what didn't you understand?" quiz I put up every class day on MooBoardZabar.

  3. When I was an undergrad in engineering in the 1970s, the first lecture in many of my courses didn't go for the full time. They were primarily introductions to what those courses were about and a reminder of what we needed. By the time the prof had finished, there wasn't enough time for a proper lecture.

    Later, as a grad student, that might not have been as common. The reason might be as follows. In the old days (for me, anyway), registration was either done in person or by post, resulting in no lectures the first week on campus (lots of partying, though!). But that also meant that the first term went well into December. Lectures finished on a Friday and exams started on the following Monday (in some of my courses, I wrote Saturday exams).

    In later years, registration was largely done by computer, so lectures began in the second half of the first week (not as much time for on-campus parties, darn it!). The result was that lectures finished a bit earlier in December, giving the students a few days between the end of the classes and the start of exams.

    Labs didn't start until the second or third week because we had to learn some course material first. Never, though, was the first lab day ever cancelled unless it fell on a holiday or there was some emergency.

  4. Given the number of articles I see posted this time of year on various social media that enjoin teachers *not* to start with a "syllabus day," I have to conclude that the practice is fairly widespread in my field, or at least that a number of people (not least the editors at various education-oriented publications) think it is. I've never heard of a "syllabus week," however; apparently we're experiencing inflation in this area.

    I started today, and spent c. 1/3 of the class on logistics (roll/introductions/brief syllabus highlights) and the other 2/3 on an exercise introducing and testing comprehension of some concepts key to the class. I definitely used all the time. However, I must admit that the intensity and efficiency of my first-day approach was influenced by the fact that I have all hybrid (half online, half face to face) sections this semester, and I won't be seeing the students I saw today for two weeks, thanks to the fact that we take the Labor Day holiday. In traditional face to face classes, I've been known to be a bit lazier (give or take the fact that I can talk about my syllabus for the full class period, or nearly so).

    The only argument against making the first day as substantive as possible that I can think of is all the adding and dropping that may still be going on,and the need to help students who missed the first day catch up. But that's not really much of an excuse.

  5. I do an "Intro" lecture to set the stage for the class material. "Here are the issues we will cover in class."

  6. I posted the syllabus on the course link and warned the students two days before the first day. Then on the first day, having asked if they had all read it ("yes!") I did a ten-minute outline (to define the basic terms) and plunged right in. Enough material after 75 minutes that I was able to assign homework. I'm sure they love me already.

    And indeed they do: four students (of eighteen) dropped immediately. Strangely, all women. The class is now fifty-fifty male-female.

  7. What? I could have been doing a week for the syllabus? No one told me. Like Cassandra, I do an in-class writing dealio in my writing courses to assess those who didn't show up for our placement test or to double check their placement. We are on quarters, so have to cram everything they won't remember into ten weeks.

    In my upper-level courses, it's lecture from Day 1. I incorporate a getting-to-know you activity with the concepts we're covering in class, but there is no going over of the syllabus. I just tell them I expect them to read it and there's an online quiz they take over it. We're on quarters and I only see them twice a week for the upper-division: every class counts!

    Syllabus Week: dream on!

  8. I have colleagues who hand out the syllabus and let class out early. I teach a full class and assign homework.

  9. I like to review it so if a student complains that they did not know about my grading policy I can say "It's on the syllabus AND I covered it in class."

  10. The only one in my department who does "syllabus day" is also the one who shows films almost daily and gives extra credit for bringing in doughnuts. Nuff said.

  11. I start teaching immediately and do a little syllabus review towards the end, just before assigning the homework that is due on Day 2. I just love the look on the faces of the little dears who wander in late.