Whether you’ve been an English adjunct for 5 years or 5 minutes, teaching a new course or starting at a new institution is both exciting and tedious for a number of reasons. If you’re a brand new teacher, you have to start developing a syllabus and calendar of assignments based on the institution’s specific departmental expectations, which always vary just enough to make your job a bit more difficult and much more time consuming (if you want to read a bit more on how quickly prep dilutes your adjunct stipend, here’s our Profit Breakdown post).
We’ve put together a list of need-to-know-and-have materials necessary to begin planning a course syllabus and calendar of assignments. Not only will this list help you effectively prepare a new course, asking your new dean or department head for such materials displays evidence that you are competently planning your course in the same ways the full-timers plan–a great first impression if you have full-time employment in your future plans.
Here’s our quick checklist of items you’ll want to gather before you start building a syllabus, developing a calendar of assignments, or even consider planning lessons. The first 3 are syllabus specific and the last 2 are geared toward building an accurate calendar.
And here is a link to our Syllabus Best Practices post, which includes a download example and customizable template document that takes less than an hour to customize and implement.
Syllabus and Calendar Pre-planning Checklist:
- Ask your dean/department head (DH) for a copy of the Master Course Outline or Master Course Syllabus.
- This document it will tell you exactly what general educational goals and learning outcomes you are to cover during the semester.
- Master Course Outlines also provide copy and paste-able list of departmental learning outcomes that will (very likely) be required to include on your syllabus.
- Search the institution’s website for “syllabus best practices” or ask your dean/DH for an example syllabus.
- Usually a dean/DH provides new adjuncts with a few example syllabus documents, but be sure to ask for a list of required or encouraged items the institution/division/department wants included on your syllabus. This can range from course information, learning outcomes, and departmental grading policy to specific student services office/contact information, plagiarism/cheating policy, or dispute resolution practices.
- Some institutions mandate a ton of items be included on your syllabus–even requiring a set order or formatting in which to use. Other institutions just want you to have course meeting days and time.
- Here’s our post about Syllabus Best Practices with our download example and customizable template for even more resources, and here’s our Syllabus Template, which is fully customizable and fully loaded with policy language and directions.
- Gather a list of the institution’s important a dates and deadlines.
- Pulling up the academic calendar is usually all you need for this, but sometimes institutions have a separate calendar or document for exam week.
- When you sit down to develop your syllabus and calendar know the date of:
- first-day of classes
- holiday closures
- developmental day closures
- spring/fall/holiday breaks
- last day for students to withdraw with refund
- last day for students to withdraw (some institutions allow withdraw through exams and some have a specified deadline)
- final exam week
- the day/time final grades are due
- Building a detailed calendar of assignments only to realize you’d forgotten about the college being closed on Veterans’ Day or overlooked something big like a spring/fall break can add another hour or more to your prep, which only subtracts from the measly profit you make. Here’s our post of Profit Breakdown if you want to see more information about that.
- Search the institution’s website for its version of an office of or center of “Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Excellence” and/or any departmental “faculty resources” page.
- If you’re lucky, certain departments require specific rhetorical forms/modes be taught with first and second semester composition courses and will often provide example assignment sheets, text-book specific PowerPoints/materials, electronic stylebooks, or common-materials everyone in the department uses for one specific type of assignment. When materials are handed to you in this manner, it always takes a bit to mold your teaching style around them, but they very quickly add to your bottom line by off-setting the amount of prep time you spend outside of your contact hours.
- A center or office of “teaching excellence” (or whatever variation your institution may use) won’t necessarily have discipline specific materials, but there are sometimes directions about Blackboard/Canvas, student resource handouts, and the contact information of who can help you orient yourself to the institution’s Learning Management System (LMS). We have a post coming soon that goes into more depth abou LMS cours shell development.
- You can also check the institution’s “Writing Center” or “Freshman Composition Center” website for any useful resources. Many will provide some electronic/printable handouts and sometimes PowerPoints about MLA Style citation and documentation.
- After you receive the required textbook, search the publisher website for teaching guides, supplemental materials, or provided lesson plans.
- Most instructors don’t like to rely on such materials for day-to-day lesson plans, but it’s helpful to see what is available while developing brand new curriculum for the first time.
- There are often handouts and sometimes lesson modules that you can use as inspiration, student support/resources, or as quick learning modules to off-set the time it takes to build a brand new course calendar.
- This is especially helpful if you are handed a new course very last minute. If you adjunct long enough, you’ll eventually be given a course within a couple weeks of the start date if not a few days before. If you continue teaching the same course for the same institution a few more times, you can start to implement your own materials.
All in all, don’t forget that a useful and well-crafted syllabus is the most powerful document of your entire English composition course for 3 reasons:
- It tells students exactly what to do to be successful in your class: information about your email address, grading policy, essay expectations, and attendance policy.
- It communicates competence to both the student and your dean/DH: students want to know, up-front, exactly what you expect of them; your boss want to know you’ve planned the correct material to articulate/transfer to universities.
- It protects you in the event of a student complaint/dispute: you and your dean/dh want student complaints easy to handle and quickly resolved.
If you’re interested, our Syllabus Template comes fully loaded with policy language, is accessible for screen reading products and incorporates Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, provides direction for how/where certain pieces of information (disability services statements or Master Course Outline/Syllabus learning outcomes) are often located on institutional websites, and includes all the items and policy in our Syllabus Best Practices Checklist.
Many full-timers don’t realize the importance of a syllabus until they need a specific policy in place to rebut a student dispute or a student is crying in their office and they wish they could pull out their syllabus and say “see, you aren’t eligible to pass the class if you don’t turn in all the essays; it’s in my syllabus and I told you about it on the first day.” We want you to avoid all such emotions by having a clear, well-organized syllabus and calendar in place. Because crying students is…
There are a lot more syllabus related resources in our Syllabus Best Practices post, including a list of the most important syllabus policies, a generic example you can download, and a customizable template that takes less an an hour to customize and implement.
To help you get a feel for how our course materials can help you get more done in less time, we offer a free download of any individual course material of your choice. Sign up here to take advantage of this opportunity.
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