It’s In The Syllabus … Really.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love teaching. I find little as fulfilling as that moment when everything comes together in the classroom and students see the interconnectivity of the human experience. That said, there is a downside to what is arguably an otherwise thoroughly satisfying career choice – and that is the end of the semester barrage of questions from panicked students.

Now, trust me when I say that I “get it.” I’ve been there and I remember all too well what it was like – that rush to complete projects, study for final exams and write those darned papers that seemed to loom the entire semester like a storm cloud on the horizon. But for professors, it’s a different kind of pressure that begins once the student’s has ended. For us, it is the mad rush to grade X-number of final exams, essays and projects – all of which is done while answering (in the most patient way possible) the same questions over … and over … and over.

Now, my frustration isn’t that students ask questions. Not at all. I encourage questions. My frustration stems from the fact that the answers to almost all of these questions have already been addressed in a magical document called, “The Syllabus.” Grades? Points available? Due dates? Cumulative final exam time and location? It’s all there. In. The. Syllabus.

I try to be respectful when I answer student questions. I really do. But sometimes I want to tear my hair out and scream the familiar refrain: “Have you looked at the syllabus?!?” I don’t, but I want to. So, in commiseration with instructors everywhere, I’ve decided to summarize the most commonly asked questions and provide ready-made answers that are kind and helpful. Feel free to cut and paste (with no need for citation.) I also am including for your own enjoyment, the answers we would all sometimes really like to give, though we don’t.

Question #1: Did missing class hurt my grade?

  • What we say: Class attendance and participation is an important part of the learning process and, as noted in the syllabus, I do take attendance. It’s likely that if you miss class, it impacted your grade.
  • What we’re thinking: Yes, yes it did. As I mentioned the first day (and also have in boldface in the syllabus) you lose attendance points if you don’t come to class.

Question #2: Do you round up because I figured that if I get 100 percent on the final, it would put me within two points of a C.

  • What we say: Generally, if you’re within a point of a higher letter grade, I will look at your attendance, your performance in the class and if I see a “good faith” effort throughout the semester to do well, I will often round up.
  • What we’re thinking: Really? You think you’re going to get 100 percent on the final?

Question #3: What do I need to get on the final to pass your class?

  • What we say: Hi _______. I don’t know off the top of my head. If you look at the syllabus, you’ll see that the final is worth about 25 percent of your grade, so I would look at your grade right now (with 75 percent completed) and do the math from there.
  • What we’re thinking: I don’t know what you need to get on the final to “pass my class” but I’m willing to bet that if you looked online at your grade (or the syllabus) and did some math, you could figure it out.

Question #4: Are you going to give any extra credit because I need to bring up my grade.

  • What we say: I will not be offering extra credit. I try to spread assignments out over the course of the semester so that you can earn points each week. By doing that, if you do poorly or miss an assignment, there is still plenty of time to adjust how you’re approaching the material.
  • What we’re thinking: No. For further explanation, see the syllabus.

Question #5: I was looking at my grades and noticed that I have zeros for a couple of assignments. Did I miss those or something?

  • What we say: Let me check the digital dropbox to make sure I didn’t miss a submission, but if there is a zero, it’s likely there wasn’t anything submitted.
  • What we’re thinking: That’s because you didn’t turn anything in … or something.

Question #6: Is the final optional?

  • What we say: No.
  • What we’re thinking: It’s optional in that you can opt not to take it. You will, however, receive an F.

Question #7: Are you going to give us the answers to the study guide?

  • What we say: I’m sorry, but no. Part of the value of reviewing and looking up the answers is that it reinforces what you learned earlier in the semester and helps solidify the information in your mind.
  • What we’re thinking: And shall I take the test for you, too?

Question #8: I don’t understand why Wikipedia doesn’t count as one of my scholarly sources. It’s the first one to come up on my search engine and everybody uses it.

  • What we say: Wikipedia is not a reliable source for a number of reasons including the fact that information can be contributed by anyone, regardless of their expertise or knowledge on the subject. (For more information, see the syllabus). See also (in the syllabus) the section as to what constitutes a reliable, scholarly source.
  • What we’re thinking: Sigh.

Now, because I don’t want to end this on a negative note, allow me to share a question that I literally JUST THIS MINUTE received — and one to which I am more than happy to respond.

Question #9:  Dear Professor Moran. I really enjoyed this class and have decided I would like to pursue a career in anthropology. Would it be possible to meet sometime this summer to discuss additional classes and career options? Where is your office?

My answer:  Yes. Absolutely. I’ll be around all summer. Feel free to drop by my office. The location is on the syllabus.


  1. Hilarious. I have several friends who are professors and stories like this make me really glad I work in my little accounting business… 🙂 I wouldn’t be able to respond so nicely.


  2. This. Is. Hysterical. I am willing to be, however, that you only typed up one syllabus when you started teaching back in 197- and have been recycling it ever since. Apparently, looking for dead body drop sites is a better use of your time than writing a new one each class. heh. j/k. You can tell a good instructor by the degree of their satire and you must be awesome. Glad you are writing for W&W’s now.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a serial Open Studies student who can’t bear to miss a moment of the precious second chance I am receiving (and paying for), I thoroughly enjoyed this blog. I was a lazy so-&-so at school and was better at passing exams than actually doing any work! So I shouldn’t criticise your students too much. But no, sorry, it’s irresistible to feel a little schadenfreude… #holierthanthou #now!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am not going to lie … I had a different approach when I was a student. I didn’t ask my professors until I had exhausted every other option of looking to find the information.


  4. It’s amazing how some of these young people can even complete a college course. When I was a student, the syllabus was my bible and I always knew when assignments were due. Didn’t mean I didn’t start them the night before…but I always got them done and turned in on time.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I bow my head in shame. I went through college the first time with little regard for course syllabi. It wasn’t until I went to graduate school, years later, that I realized the importance of a syllabus. That’s probably because most of the professors at the different university regularly updated and modified them if the course work or lectures weren’t on the originally planned pace. I wonder how much time I wasted as an undergraduate. Luckily, I had plenty of free time to wonder down wrong roads and make new discoveries. But a map would have helped and the professors kept trying to hand one to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Heh. I taught history and anthropology at a community college. Toward the end of one semester, I was, like Sandra, getting bombarded with questions and requisite OMG OMG OMG freakouts. So I rushed into all my classes one day like I had just discovered fire and I waved the syllabus around and I said: “OMG, you guys! CHECK THIS OUT! Every deadline, every assignment, every exam, attendance and grading polices are listed RIGHT HERE! And the most amazing thing EVER? I gave everybody a copy of this at the beginning of the term AND you can find it ONLINE!”

    I noticed a decided drop in questions like the ones Sandra listed above.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. I am a lifelong student (yeah, it’s a problem – never getting beyond the student stage) and I find, when these questions take up class time, that I get very irritated with my fellow students. I think many of them are INTENDING to waste class time so the prof doesn’t have as much time to throw REAL stuff at them. You know, sort of like our government keeping everyone stalled and focused on abortion while we drone (‘pun’ intended) on all over the world creating real problems.
    Anyway, online classes now offer a great alternative to listening to fellow students whine!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Good for you, Prof! Are any of your classes offered online? I love Anthropology! First Anthropology class was about 1983 at Mesa Community College in Arizona (while working in banking) – unfortunately too many years to remember the professor’s name, but at the time he was the state anthropologist (perhaps archaeologist?) and was a wonderful instructor! Just idle memories now I guess!


  8. Having worked at a Help Desk I can identify with your level of frustration. No matter the written material available there are those who simply believe that it doesn’t apply to them and that they can get by without reading it. Of course without those folks I would have been out of a job a lot sooner than I was.
    Maybe you could start a count of these questions with your fellow teachers and the one with the most questions when the term is done wins a bottle of their favorite libation. Make it FUN!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Sadly, they won’t outgrow the inability to follow directions. In my secretarial glory days, everyone came to me for tips on word processing or copiers or just about anything that came with a manual because I was the only one who would read the things (now you don’t even get manuals; you get these cartoon steps that make no sense). In my job now, I send detailed instructions about where to send the invoice (among other things) and invariably the vendor sends it to the wrong person. So don’t take it personally, Sandra!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. In all honesty, I am so glad that I am not teaching anymore. I love teaching, I loved the university, but I’m still glad that I’m out of there. LOL! I feel your pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love teaching as well. But you are correct, students ask questions that are in the syllabus… I am also an academic advisor, so even though I create a plan of classes to take through graduation, they come in and ask, “Do I have to take this class? I think sometimes they are trying test me but maybe no one has told them how to look for things?? Or they figure how can you say no to be in person? Who knows??

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