What to Say When You Want to Say “It’s on the Syllabus”

It’s the first day of finals week, which means I am getting roughly 6 emails per second from students who have just realized that they missed some key piece of information that I have shared with them no fewer than 9 times: in the syllabus, on the quiz over the syllabus, in the video of my explaining the syllabus that they can re-watch any time, in the transcript of that video, in the assignment, in the rubric to the assignment, in the announcement I put into our learning management system reminding them of the assignment, in the follow-up all-class email I sent to the whole class reminding them of the information, and, finally, two hours before the assignment is due and when I see that they still haven’t done it, in the targeted email reminder to all students who still have turned it in.

Which is why I need this post from my friends at Teaching is Intellectual:

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I will add to this my own “how to” strategy for not snapping back with “It’s on the syllabus!”

When a student asks a question that has been explained clearly elsewhere in the class, I write back with a variation of this:

Screenshot the spot in the directions/syllabus/rubric that you are confused about, then send me the screenshot with your question about it. That way, I can make sure we are looking at the same document and are on the same page when I answer your question. You can screenshot something on a Mac using Cmd+Shift+4; on a PC, use the snipping tool. Attach is here using the paperclip icon, or paste it directly in the email. 

Most of the time, when a student is reminded that they have all the skills they need to answer their own question, they do. Only sometimes do they have a real question. And sometimes they have discovered an inconsistency in the syllabus, which I, of course, want them to draw to my attention so I can fix it.

What is most common is that, in their question, they are asking, “Am I okay? Is this going to end well? Do I belong here? Can I do this?” They need my reminder–in the form of taking their question seriously but also in helping them remember that they can navigate college expectations without my direct intervention–that they are worthy of their place in the classroom.  That’s the real lesson they need to learn, and it’s my job, especially as a teacher at a public university serving mostly first-generation students, to teach it, even amid the busy-ness of finals.

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