Now that everyone is marking papers and exams, some colleagues and myself discuss over lunch the function of guides and guidelines (yes, you, students, occupy our thoughts a great deal of our time). I’m using these two words to distinguish the documents that offer information on a whole subject, and that we call Teaching Guides, from the documents written specifically to help students with particular tasks (like our Writing Guidelines for Literature Papers). We’re divided on the issue of whether guides and guidelines should be offered at all.
Those of us who think that they should, argue that it was about time there existed a unified document (the Teaching Guide) for the whole Facultat de Lletres here at UAB that was taken seriously as a contract between teacher and student (a very good Bologna-related innovation). As for the guidelines, we write them in the belief that they give clear instructions that help students and ourselves save time. In both cases, the intention is also giving students an impression of cohesion and coherence in our teaching practice, and improving indeed these two aspects. The detractors, like those at our lunch table, however, think that students are given too much help and point out that their exercises are proof that many, anyway, don’t even read the documents we pass on. Some of us, they say, coddle students too much and prevent them thus from developing their own autonomous skills (from ‘wising up,’ which, I think, is the closest verb to Spanish ‘espabilar’).
An important issue like this shows the difficulties in communication between students and teachers. When writing guides and guidelines, we think of helping, believe me, of simplifying students’ lives. But I feel, like many of us, awfully frustrated when the course begins and no student has bought the set books even though the Teaching Guide has been available for months. Or when I mark papers that haven’t been edited in the way the Writing Guidelines indicate. Where do we go wrong? If books are not bought sufficiently in advance, the Literature class degenerates into chaos. If guidelines are not followed, marking becomes exasperating and, you, students, should know that an exasperated teachers simply tends to award lower marks. We’re human, after all.
A student once told me that books are bought at the last minute because we, teachers, change our minds all the time. Well, check this with us. And, truly, the function of the Teaching Guide is to prevent that from happening – teachers publish their reading list and this is it: as binding as a legal contract. As for the Writing Guidelines, there are two points that we simply can’t understand: why they aren’t read and why they’re not applied. No small points… Maybe we sound as a bunch of quirky, capricious individuals – one wants footnotes, the other MLA parenthesis… Or we fail to impress students with the importance of obeying rules that we need to obey ourselves if we ever want to publish academic work.
The same applies to deadlines, which some students seem to think are another teachers’ whim and not a way to organise their workload and ours. By the way: the deadline marks the last possible time for handing in an exercise, not the moment when this SHOULD be done… My colleague in Victorian Literature was asked to extend her deadline from 14:30pm to midnight on the grounds that my students could email their papers until that moment. I agree we should have had the same deadline but a matter of hours should NOT make a difference, particularly for a paper that has been in development for at least three months.
I’ll be grateful for feedback on this one.