Friday, September 30, 2011

"How I Wish I Might Annotate my Syllabus" by TubaPlayingProf.

Very prescriptive department requirements now limit what I can include on my syllabus, but if I could, I would include footnotes:

Footnote for Instructor: Please call me “Mr. Tubaplayer” or “Dr. Tubaplayer” or if you can’t pronounce my name “Mr. T” or “Dr. T” will do. I will answer to “Hey Tuba.” I will even answer to mispronunciations of my name. Just do not call me “Professor” unless you use it with my name. I am a professor; that’s my rank. I am admittedly proud of that accomplishment at times, but usually humbled when I think of all the talented, hard-working, excellent colleagues who might never achieve that rank here, especially the abused adjuncts for whom we can find work but no job. The word professor has now come to mean “college teacher” for students who don’t know if their instructor has another title and for students who don’t now their instructor’s name. Others might disagree, but you calling me “Professor” means to me that you either don’t know my name or don’t care to learn it. Other titles I prefer to the generic “Professor” include “sir,” “dude,” and “you.”

Footnote for Email Address: Parents reading this syllabus be assured that if you try to contact me about your child—whom I assume to be a college student—I will politely explain that the regulations of FERPA forbid me from any further communication. I don’t know if that’s true, but I will delete subsequent e-mails from you—even the one asking me what FERPA stands for.

Footnote for Contact Info: I will respond to your email messages quickly—but I reserve the right to sleep eight hours each day, have time with my family, have time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, time to move around the track in what I adorably miscall “running,” read, grade, teach my other classes, and selfishly take Saturdays and Sundays off. A conventional old man, I sleep at night, so expect no reply until the morning—when old men awake. And no, I don’t have Face book as I fear the poke feature. I do have a smart phone with a texting plan, but I use all my minutes on people who are in my life before and after the fifteen weeks you and I will share; these people are called “friends and family.” Pardon me for having privacy issues, but I will not give out my cell number even though as some of you will argue, “it’s how our generation communicates.” Learn to use e-mail, the way my generation communicates—and it’s free and unlimited, just not as convenient. Also, I would not appreciate two a.m. butt calls from drunk students screaming at me, “Who is this? Who is this?”

Footnote for Attendance Policy: I have devoted my life to understanding, appreciating, studying, and loving this material. I left family, home, culture, and language, earned two graduate degrees, and relocated to teach this “stuff.” If you were to drop by my office, you would find six bookshelves, with books and journals that I have read, to have something significant, worthwhile, and essential to say each and every class. I know that for you this class is only one of forty courses you “need to get out of the way” for your degree, but it’s more than that for me. So, please know that I will always answer “Yes, why, of course,” when you ask if we covered anything important when you miss class. I won't say it to upset you; I really believe it. For that reason, I will be here for every class, always on time, always for the entire period--that's my attendance policy.

Footnote for Class schedule: This class meets at 8 a.m. twice a week. Please know that that’s true for the rest of the semester—during the baseball playoffs, homecoming, your formals, your work schedule, the day after concerts, rain, snow, heat, and lovely weather, etc. I can’t change the starting time of the class. I know it’s early, yet you chose to take this section. Please don’t announce that you’re tired. Get enough sleep, or don’t complain. And please see the next footnote about grading.

Footnote about Grading: I know that some of you take my sections to avoid the other guy, who purposely cultivates his reputation as a “hard” teacher. Don’t assume that I’m the “easy” teacher. At best, I’m the fair teacher. I will expect you to read just as much as the other class, write just as much and as well as the other class, and know the material for the exams. I will only promise to work “harder” at trying to help you—if you ask for help. In other words, you will work just as hard, yet as I don’t have to maintain a self-perpetuated reputation as a hard-ass-therefore-serious teacher, I can work with you. But you must work.

Footnote for Required Text: Yes, it is big and expensive. Yet if you don’t bother to read the book, it becomes useless and expensive. And don’t complain about the cost when you’re wearing a sixty-five sweatshirt and drinking a six-dollar coffee. And no, the publisher doesn’t yet offer an e-edition. I will admit that if I bought a 500-dollar tablet computer, I would want to use it for everything too. The required text doesn’t have Angry Birds, the Face Book App, your calendar, and photos of your significant other, so it does limit your ability to multi-task while I try to teach you stuff. Pardon me.


  1. Second Footnote for email address: Students who attempt to contact me from an email address such as:

    will find that I am slow to reply.

    Seriously, I had to add this to my syllabus after one of my former students couldn't figure out why I wasn't responding. He was (as one of the other students so eloquently put it) "kindofa bonehead"

  2. If indeed my spam filter doesn't boot it in the first place.

    I don't mind "Professor" at all - I don't care if they know my name,so long as they grasp that I'm there to teach them something, not to be their best buddy or yet another person they can condescend to because female. "Professor" is great; "Professor Academic" is better, but both are much better than "Hey Merely!" which is sadly far too common.

  3. Yeah, the "professor" title doesn't bother me at all. Our adjuncts are called "Professor" (if they're privileged males; the females seem, by default, to be called "Mrs."). And I SO detest being called "Mrs. Cynic" because it's my maiden name and to be "Mrs. Cynic," I'd have to be married to my brother (ewwww).

  4. My syllabi do not yet have footnotes, but I've resorted to an appendix to contain a (perfectly good) required policy statement that is in too different a "voice" to fit into the syllabus proper (I make reference to it there). And I'm beginning to think I need an even more detailed description of what grades are attached to what level of work and why, which may well go in a second appendix. At this rate, I'll soon have written a textbook -- or some kind of massive, indigestible, unsalable book the only truly useful purpose of which is to serve as a doorstop.

  5. Whenever a student addresses me as "Frankenstien," I remind them that calling someone by their last name only is something that bosses in the real world won't like. It was, of course, how the student who brought down Bobby Knight provoked him, as long ago as 2000. While addressing someone only as "Professor" is similar to saying, "Hey you," I'll take it. Every time I do, though, I think, jeez: my nursery-school teacher told me, "Don't call me 'teacher.' Do I call you 'boy'?"

    Students, of course, are not the only people who mispronounce my name "Dr. Frankenstein."


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