On Teaching, Self-Discovery, and IT'S IN THE SYLLABUS!!!!!!

For me, teaching is an opportunity for self-discovery.

For example, the other day, I spent a solid five minutes explaining an upcoming assignment. I had done this a number of times before in previous classes. Moreover, the details of the assignment were spelled out on the course website.

I do this to avoid confusion. I do this so that EVERYONE knows EXACTLY what is expected of them.

Then, after class, a student came up and blithely asked, "Now, what's this assignment again?"

My response was something along the lines of....

OK, actually, instead of flames, it was sarcasm. For whatever reason, that has frequently been my response to situations like these. In my mind, such jutting humor diffuses the situation. But it's probably the case that I just look like a jerk.

On the way back to my office, I began to realize something about myself. Specifically, that I get really annoyed when I think that I am unnecessarily repeating myself.

Witness this policy in my upper-level classes:
The “It’s In the Syllabus” Rule: I expect that students have read the entire syllabus. Additionally, I expect that if a student has a question about an assignment, deadline, or policy, that he/she will review the syllabus first before asking the instructor. Accordingly, if my response to a student’s question is "It's in the syllabus," the student will receive a 5-point grade deduction.
So yea, the correlation between annoyance and repeating myself is a thing.

But why? I'm not sure. Maybe I see it as a personal affront. "I spent all of this time and effort explaining this. WHY AREN'T YOU HANGING ON MY EVERY WORD????"

That's probably not healthy.

So with this in mind, I have been thinking of more productive ways to manage this breed of classroom irritant. Here's what I have so far...
  • I am dealing with teenagers. Most of my teaching is to first-year students. Importantly, I don't have my "It's In The Syllabus" rule in these classes. I would be setting them up for failure. After all, if I think back to what it was like being eighteen (he fluffs his mullet), I admit that about 90 percent of what adults said to me when sailing cleanly through one ear and out the other. So empathy.  
  • Critical thinking is important, but so too is critical listening. I still think that lecturing is a valuable teaching tool. Fortunately, I'm not alone. For me, I see the lecture as an opportunity for students to learn how to detect, articulate, and retain the most important bits of information in a broader topic or argument. Listening is a skill. And like any skill, we have to practice it over and over again in order to improve. So when I have a student asking me to repeat something, that is a signal that this person's critical listening skills need work. Maybe I can take the opportunity to help them along.  
  • We're not doing brain surgery here. I want to teach accountability. I want to teach responsibility. I want to teach an ownership of learning. I want to teach attentiveness. In short, I want to teach a lot of things in my classrooms in addition to the course material. But there are worse things in the world than repeating myself. Sometimes it's worth stepping back, taking a breath, and realizing that the stakes just aren't as high as I want them to be. 
I like this list. It makes sense. It's also quite positive.

The trick, I suppose, will be to remember this list the next time I say something like "It's in the syllabus." 


  1. Create YouTube videos for all the answers, monetize them and then send the students to view them for the answers. Cha-ching!

  2. At the rate I'm going at, I'll be able to retire by 50.


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