The Syllabus Minimum

Another warning for students as we head full-steam into the end of another semester. Today I’m going to talk about easy ways to embarrass yourself. No, this has nothing to do with that bar and that song at the end of the night and that tradition and the prevalence of cell phone cameras. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with your roommate. It doesn’t even have anything to do with that awkward conversation you tried to have with your lab partner in that required science class. This is about something I’m going to call the “syllabus minimum.”

What is the “syllabus minimum” you ask? It’s simple, really: at minimum, you should know the syllabus. Go back and read that again if you need to. I’ll wait. (Pause.) Back? Okay. At minimum, you should know the syllabus. I’ve had large classes of nearly 500 students where a single student came up to me during the final weeks of school and asked, “Hey! So, you’re one of the teaching assistants, right?” I was, in fact, the instructor who’d been teaching the class for the past three months. This student didn’t know that. I didn’t correct him — I was too shocked.

At the end of the semester you might have questions about something going on in the course. I have one small and simple request: check the syllabus first. When there are mere weeks left of class time and you don’t know who your teaching assistant is (or even the instructor) and can’t be bothered to look it up on that all important document known as the syllabus you embarrass yourself. This doesn’t mean don’t ask. This doesn’t mean that no one will help. It just means that if the answer has already been provided, copied, digitized, distributed, and committed to paper and easily available then you should know it. Who knows — you might even save yourself the trouble of sending an e-mail or setting up a meeting.