Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Deadlines are firm

An adjunct faculty member who teaches a communications industry writing course for sophomores and juniors attending a prestigious communication school at a large university in the Northeast, I shamelessly promote myself by proclaiming this with pomp and circumstance. We're all entitled to bask in our personal glories from time to time, and my demeanor, while always adamant and direct, is also usually humble. Consider my dues paid.

I led the first session of the new semester's class last night. The kids are going to be extra fun this time. Why? They laughed uncontrollably at my jokes.

Is that my ego posturing? Perhaps. I strive to be the best. Professors with a good sense of humor are the best, as my experiences of yore taught me when I was still the young, rapt kid sitting in that steel chair replete with a small, attached desk.

Who forgets a joke? I rarely do. And who forgets a funny professor? I never have. If a lesson accompanies the joke, is it too much to presume that the student will also remember? Students who laugh at my jokes remind me that I'm doing a good job. Humor is the lubricant of life, and, as I saunter across the classroom floor before their eyes, my prevailing goal is to lubricate the gnashing gears that learn.


Every semester, I tweak the original syllabus I developed just a few semesters ago. The approach makes sense for someone who must also tend to a full-time job. I continually endeavor to make the document clearer, more specific, and, last but not least, funnier.

And there's nothing funny about deadlines, which is why Brent's Theory of Teaching says, "Deadlines, described, must be extra funny." I always seem to acquiesce when students give me their excuses for missing deadlines. My fear of being an ogre gets the best of me, which allows the students to get the best of me, a new professor still learning the ropes of discipline.

Good news: I may have rounded the learning curve of discipline this time, when I decided to have a little fun with the "Deadlines" section of the syllabus. A certain vein of thinking drove me: If this syllabus section manages to walk the thin line that divides what's funny from what's serious, I'll have a much easier time, thereafter, actually being serious about deadlines.

Last night's troupe of sophomores and juniors was in stitches after I read the revamped "Deadlines" section. "Mission accomplished!" I immediately thought. Following is the "Deadlines" section excerpt, for all to read. And if you laugh, please let my ego know.

Excerpt from Prof. Brent's Syllabus:

Deadlines are firm, and leeway will be virtually nonexistent. If you intend to pass in your work late, don’t even bother. An accumulation of missed deadlines (or even just one) would easily cost someone his or her job. Your grade on an assignment will reflect its tardy delivery. This reflection will always be something other than pretty: A late assignment in this course will, with precious few exceptions, receive a grade of 0 percent.

Schedule clinic or doctors’ appointments so that you can pass in an assignment on time and attend the full class session as well. Unless you are admitted to a hospital, an illness will not earn my sympathy. I may have finished this syllabus at the last minute today, but you are strongly encouraged not to emulate my derelict ways. This means any unfortunate run-ins with malfunctioning computers or printers just prior to the deadline equal tough luck.

I have a soft spot for car crashes when they land you in intensive care or occur on the day of class. Please be prepared to share the riveting account with your classmates and professor. Air travel mishaps, whether you survive, are also acceptable for missing deadlines. Boating accidents are considered on a case-by-case basis. Please do not ride snowmobiles.