Ooh, May 2012 graduate ready to complain about syllabi! Right here! Pick me!
So syllabi. Every professor uses their syllabus in a different way, and I don’t know your style, but here’s what I faced, and what I liked/didn’t like:
HATED: One of my professors last semester handed out a syllabus, never went over it, and never mentioned it again. Reading assignments were listed on the syllabus, but not with dates (it was like, “chapter one, chapter two, chapter three”… but didn’t say “chapter one, read by January 31,” or whatever). Other assignments (quizzes, homework, etc.) weren’t on the syllabus at all (so if you missed a class, you wouldn’t know there was homework). THAT WAS THE WORST. Doesn’t sound like you do that, though, so good on you!
LOVED: I had a professor several times (took 5 classes with him) who did a great job of making a comprehensive and sensible syllabus. He went over it in the first class and frequently mentioned “check your syllabus for next week’s assignment,” but didn’t necessarily tell us in every class “and read these pages for next class, and write a paragraph.” For bigger projects, he’d go over the assignment some in class a few weeks ahead, but have all the same information in either the syllabus or an additional handout. If we had questions, he’d point us to the syllabus/handout first, then answer any additional questions. This worked GREAT for me because I like having everything planned out (the syllabus had exact due dates for every assignment) and I could find stuff out on my own because the syllabus was actually useful.
Other stuff that might help you (but you might already know): Sometimes I’d get a syllabus that was in a weird order. I always found it easier if the need-to-know information is easily accessible, in the front or the back. For example, where the class is, what time it meets, and the attendance policy should be smack in front. The course calendar could come next or it could be at the back, to make it easy to flip right to. Then the other information (final grade breakdown percentages, specific requirements for assignments, etc.) can be kind of “buried” in the middle. You know where to look for it, it’s just not in the way of the other information.
I never did well when the professor INSISTED on us following the syllabus by ourselves, without any guidance. Just a simple “don’t forget to check the syllabus for the reading assignment” takes three seconds out of the end of class, and is easier than a ten-minute lecture on “you have to follow the syllabus or you’ll fail, you’re wasting your time and mine” at the beginning of the next class.
If something changes, update the syllabus (either hand out a new paper copy or post one on Moodle or Blackboard or whatever). Snow days, unexpected absences, spending more time on one chapter than another–something’s going to mess you up. Update the syllabus so everyone’s on the same page. Plus, if you hand out a new schedule or email a new syllabus out, it will remind the students that “oh hey, here’s something I should look at every now and then.”
This might all be stuff that you know/thought of, but hopefully it is a little helpful.