I never appreciated the syllabi my professors handed me at the beginning of each of those college classes. I’m sure — studious and perfectionistic student that I was — that I lived and died by them during the semesters. I’m sure I monitored homework and project due dates in my student planner. Rarely was I late on an assignment. Rarely did I miss a class.
Now, forty years later, I am sitting with eyes crossed in front of my computer finishing the fifth of five syllabi. How did I never know or begin to appreciate how much work these things were for my profs? I’m grateful to do them because now my classes are organized for the next four months. These little sets of papers are — dare I say it? — works of art!
When creating a new class, the syllabus is my way of planning it, start to finish. I need to know what I will be doing during each class period, what homework I expect from my students, and then I want to prep all of the required material in the appropriate spot on Blackboard. Beside me as I do the syllabus is my notebook where I fill in the detail for each class period that goes with the general info on the syllabus.
At least, at this point, I’ve taught all of these classes before, so I can begin with last class’s template. But I have a new textbook in one class, another class went from meeting Tuesday/Thursday to Monday/Wednesday/Friday (which meant spreading out the material to fill the new number of class periods), and minor revisions I wanted to make to the other syllabi based on class feedback and my own desire to offer a class that is that much better each time.
It’s self-editing! I try to make my syllabi so thorough that the students can know exactly what will be happening every day of the semester in class — what’s due when and what to be prepared for.
So the self-editing part often includes:
- dumping bad ideas that didn’t work (a class activity that fell flat, for example)
- revising homework assignments from hard copy to online quizzes and reflections (saves paper, makes grading faster)
- checking the links for required reading of online articles to make sure they’re still live, and then replacing some older material with more recent articles
- revising point structure on assignments to reflect level of work and level of importance to the overall class
- sometimes I remember how I thought at the time last semester, “I should make a PowerPoint for this section,” and now I need to make a PowerPoint for that section
- finding new memes for said PowerPoint, as well as to put on the syllabus itself (because, face it, memes are hilarious)
But suffice it to say, I really love both the process and the completion. And it makes me excited to get started teaching. I mean, that’s the point. The class should excite ME so that my enthusiasm can overflow to the students.
I went over to the university today and photocopied my works of art for each class (23 in Communication Writing Essentials; 19 in Public Speaking; 12 in Social Media Strategy; 18 in Manuscript to Book: How It Happens; the fifth syllabus is for my online Freelancing class). Next week, I will carefully and joyfully hand these to my 72 students . . .
. . . who won’t have a clue how much work and care went into them.
But that’s okay. My job is to make sure they know where we’re going and to get them there. And hopefully, along the way, they’ll read the syllabus.