Spring semester is coming to a close. Only a few final exams left to give. After days and days of grading, assessing, checking, rechecking, and contemplating, it’s time to assign grades. When grades are recorded, the semester is over.
Then the phone calls begin. “Why did I get this grade? I was shocked to see that I got a __ in your class!”
To be fair, students generally take courses seriously. They want to do well, and I want them to do well. But in the end, a professor merely records the grade a student earns. It is similar to a supervisor conducting performance appraisals in the working world. An employee has a job description that says what he or she is supposed to do. When properly administered, the job description is accompanied by standards of performance that say how well a job is to be done.
In a university, syllabi are both job descriptions and standards of performance for students enrolled in a class. Syllabi state clearly the rules and regulations that govern the course. Syllabi state what is to be done and how well it is to be done. Syllabi are “contracts” between an instructor and his or her students. Good syllabi spell out in clear language what assignments, behavior, and conduct is expected, how well the assignments must be performed, and what the rewards and punishments are for conformance or non-conformance in terms of behavior and conduct.
I put a great deal of thought into each syllabus I write. I include course purpose, course description, prerequisites, course objectives, required books, a complete week-by-week schedule of what we’ll study with assignments, a clear attendance policy, students’ responsibilities, points value of each assignment, and clear assessment criteria that tells students how each assignment will be graded.
One more thing on my syllabi: I list my complete contact information including office, home, and mobile telephone numbers, plus two email addresses. I encourage students to contact me with questions any time. For example, I took a call from a frantic student with a question at midnight during exam week. Did I get mad? No. I helped the student get through the problem and do well on the assignment.
I spend the first full class period going over the syllabus to make sure each student understands the syllabus. I refer to the syllabus frequently during the semester as a reminder. But in a few days, the phone will begin to ring with students questioning grades. The syllabi procedure explained above is part of my process for preparing students for careers by teaching them to work within guidelines of job descriptions and standards of performance. Students will have to meet employer expectations. Doing so now in a course is good preparation.
In the end, whether it is one of my courses or a student’s job after graduation, the only thing that matters is results.
Excuse me, I have a call coming in.