Cooking and Composition

adventures in discourse and dinner

It’s (Probably) In the Syllabus — January 14, 2015

It’s (Probably) In the Syllabus

The first day of classes is never an exciting one. Most students expect to get done early, no one is really “ready to work,” and most teachers try to give an extra day in case students add the course late. Because of this, we all know the first day of regular classes (meaning: excluding classes that only meet once a week, typically) is really just Syllabus Day.

Oh, Syllabus Day. You are a dreaded thing.

Here’s what I found is typical, both from my experiences as a student and as a teacher:

(1) Roll Call. Teacher inevitably mispronounces names and calls students by names they don’t actually go by. There is confusion over which “John” is present. Sometimes ice breaker activities make attendance more tolerable, but usually students just provide the bare minimum information (name, major).

(2) Pass Out And Go Through the Syllabus. Teacher attempts to avoid “reading at” students but there is no good way to do this. Teacher identifies key parts students always ask about (assignments, attendance policy, grade procedures, schedule, textbooks, etc.) If we’re lucky, 50 percent of students pay attention. Even though textbooks have been ordered for months and teacher sent e-mail about needing to purchase them, there are still several students who don’t have the book and want to know “when we need it.”

(3) Either (a) Teachers let students go early, or (b) Teacher attempts to engage students in an activity, and students spend the rest of class watching other students walk by in the hall, off to eat lunch or watch TV or do anything that isn’t sitting in this classroom, right now, with this teacher, who doesn’t seem to understand that the first day of class is always Syllabus Day.

And there you have it. That’s Syllabus Day, and I’m sure most of you are familiar with it from one side or another (or both). My least favorite part is talking at my students. They are all fully capable of reading the syllabus, without me.

The one refrain all college-level instructors seem to be repeating is “It’s in the syllabus.” There are, seriously, so many jokes about frustrated teachers telling students the answer to their question is in the syllabus. I try not to be too cranky about it, but it is unnerving to have students e-mail you with questions they could easily answer on their own, especially when they seem to need the answer ASAP and you don’t get the e-mail until the next morning.

So, this week I tried something new. Instead of Reading The Syllabus At My Students, I gave them a group activity to help them get acquainted with each other and class.

After attendance and giving a brief spiel about myself and the course, I asked students to get in groups of 3-4. Then, I told them to get to know each other. “Your teacher is saying, ‘Talk about anything that isn’t related to class!'” I joked to mine. Some of them laughed.

Then, I asked students to come up with five questions they have about class, the textbook, what they’ll be learning, or me. I had them write these down with all of their names, so that I can collect these to compile an FAQ later.

After students have questions, I showed them where to find the syllabus and schedule online (I don’t provide printed copies of anything). Then, I told them to use those documents to find the answers to their questions.

At the end of the activity, I took questions students couldn’t find the answers to. Some of them were just things I don’t think about including (“Can I eat in class?”) and some of them were things I might purposely leave off until detailed information is needed (“What are the blogs going to be about?”). In general, though, most students found the answers to their questions in the syllabus and schedule.

Before I dismiss students, I take a few minutes to direct their attention to thing I think are important. I like to make sure that I reiterate my attendance policy and why coming to class matters, as well as my late work policies. I also point out any out-of-the-usual features on the schedule, such as class cancellations for conferences or when we are meeting in other locations. I also remind them that the syllabus and the schedule are the best places to find information, and they should look there before they e-mail me because they can probably answer their own questions.

After getting through all of my first-days for this semester, I feel like this worked reasonably well. In my very first class, I had students who had actually read the syllabus prior to Day 1, so they either didn’t have many questions or were asking things I didn’t anticipate (like the eating question). But when students had not looked at the syllabus prior to coming, I could tell that they had more “basic” questions that were typically answered in the syllabus.

Overall, this was a fun activity that took a lot of pressure of me on the first day of class. It also sets the expectation that students are responsible for their own learning and that they will need to put in work and effort on their own. I like being able to set that precedent.

How do you spend the first day of class? Any advice or ideas for engaging students while still making sure they get the information they need?

Announcing My New Hobby Job — January 7, 2015

Announcing My New Hobby Job


About two months ago, I fell absolutely in love with Jamberry Nails. A former teacher-turned-friend had started selling them to make some extra cash, and she got me hooked!

Gobble Me Up! This is one of my fave Jamicures!
Gobble Me Up! This is one of my fave Jamicures!

I love having my nails painted. If you follow me on twitter or instagram, you’ve probably seen my obnoxious mani updates. Over the summer, I was really big into the gel mani — no chipping, no breakage, no dry time. But the thing I hated about it was how long it took to apply or remove! Two hours in the nail salon getting my nails done (or two hours doing it myself at home) is not really my cup of tea. Plus, I found myself accidentally gouging little chunks of my nails off when I tried to remove the gel polish. Continue reading

First Post of 2015 — January 3, 2015

First Post of 2015

Oh look, it’s a new year.

Oh look, Caitlin never updates her blog.

It never fails: It seems like every year I vow to write more, to eat better, to whatever whatever whatever. Every year, I think “This will be the year when I finally. . .”

Not this year. This is not to say that I don’t have goals for 2015. But I am not going to stress myself out over resolutions I do or do not ultimately keep simply because the calendar has rolled over another year.

While I ultimately *do* hope to write more this year, I need to work on a set of writing-related goals and strategies. I was recently reading an article about the sexual practices of happy couples, and the premise was basically “If you wait until you’re in the mood, you’re never going to have sex.” But, can’t you just substitute sex for whatever it is you wait until you’re in the mood for it? Things like:

  • Eating vegetables.
  • Posting on your blog/writing
  • Going to the gym
  • Knitting a blanket

I think so, yes. And I think the idea of planning rather than waiting for spontaneous excitement is probably a good step in accomplishing whatever it is one wants to accomplish. So, in 2015, I suppose my goal is to plan my life better, a goal that applies to a lot of different facets and activities and that should, I hope, lesson the amount of stress and anxiety that occurs on a semi-regular basis when one (like myself) forgets to plan important things or things that would be helpful to hir general well-being.

But the new year is also an opportunity for introspection and reflection (two of my favorite things!). When I look back on 2014, I have to admit, it was a pretty good year: took an awesome vacation to Colorado, got a full-time job with benefits and stuff, and (re)met a pretty awesome guy. I also made some stellar knit items and did quite a bit of cooking, even though my blog doesn’t reflect that. And, of course, I created a lot of great memories with all of my wonderful friends. If 2015 is even half as awesome as 2014, it will be a good year.

I’m off to plan to make plans (that’s how it works, right?) with the goal of also being flexible when things don’t work out exactly as planned.