Although I quickly go through all my policies on the first day of class, I don’t expect my students to remember, say, what my absence policy is, or what my late work policy is—let alone minutiae like how much each unit is weighed, grade-wise. Why should they remember all those details when they have multiple teachers each semester, each with a different set of policies? I want to send a few signals about expectations, of course, but the details can always be looked up in the syllabus if needed. And did I remember any of my own teachers’ policies when I was an undergrad? Not a chance.
Fact is, my class is NOT the center of my students’ universes. It’s just another class, one among many. If I want to pretend it’s super important, my students aren’t having it.
I remember a grizzled, middle-aged returnee student who came up to me after the first class of a new semester, scowl on his face. “My last teacher told me I needed to focus more on her class,” he started, “but I can’t do that. I’ve got three court cases this semester, and they’re all more important than your class, and that’s just the way it is. You got a problem with that?”
I asked him if he’d share the details with me, and he did. I can’t share them with you for FERPA reasons, but let’s just say he was indeed deeply involved in a bewildering array of civil and criminal court proceedings. So I acknowledged that yes, I understood. He wouldn’t be able to focus on my class—and I didn’t expect him to. He had a lot on his plate at the moment—avoiding jail time, for starters. I just asked him to let me know when he had to miss, so we could try to keep him up to speed as best we could.
Except what happened? He only missed one class, and he got a good grade. Turns out he liked the class and the people he was working with in there, so, for him, it ended up being the one sane oasis in an otherwise crazy life. For him, at least, my class WAS the center of the universe. Go figure!