Top 5 things to love about syllabus building

Ah, August… Time to remember that we actually have to teach in this profession.  Time to reflect on all those things we said we’d get done this summer, and are feverishly writing blog entries instead…

Ah, August….

But we also get to write syllabi.  My five favorite things about it:

  1. Choosing a font.  Garamond again?  God I love that font.
  2. Picking office hours.  All on the same day?  Before class (never) or after (always)?  How late should I stay?  Will anyone come?  Hello out there?  Anybody here?
  3. Trying hard, damn hard, to remember all those things I said I’d change last time.  Not just fixing the last lecture or two, or changing the books I wanted to assign, but figuring out which stories worked and which didn’t, or if I should restructure the class completely.  Should I teach the Labor Movement or Populism first?  Or at all?  I know this analogy worked, but did it work better in Lecture 12 or Lecture 15?  Oh, for a better memory!  Also, I have to ponder (and reject) moving over to the undercoverage method.  An annual rite!
  4. Finding new ways to tell students that history is not just a list of names and places and one damned thing after another.  I say it every semester (and I once had a student say “amen” afterward), but just to stay awake, I have to come up with new language.
  5. To realize, once again, that I can make a tiny difference in these people’s lives, if I bother to care.  How to do that is another question all together.  Is it by teaching them to write?  Is it through allowing them to see themselves as actors in the great historical drama that is American history?  Is it through a turn of a phrase?  We never know what will be effective, which is both a blessing and a curse.

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