Designing the perfect syllabus takes time and careful thought.
It is a declaration of what kind of a teacher you are, what your teaching philosophy is, and what your expectations are in the classroom. It will also relay to students and parents that you are very organized and serious about teaching. It sets the pace for the entire semester/year.
So..... Here are the steps to creating the perfect syllabus:
1. Begin with a header that is bold and attention-grabbing:
Mr./Mrs. (your name goes here)
Name of the school
Fall Semester, (year)
2. Add an image to the right of the document such as a globe or a character in World History. For example, I have used the image of Julius Caesar in my World History syllabus. If you can print in color, I recommend you do so because you want to visually stimulate your students from day one. The simple act of adding an image and color to it sends a quiet message to the students that your class might just be interesting after all.
3. The next section should describe what the course is about and it should explain, chronologically, which topics and time periods will be explored.
If your class will pay particular attention and emphasis on certain topics or time periods, say so as I have done above. It is also very important to use formal language and terminology to set the bar high. Show your students that you are serious about this course and that you have high expectations of them.
4. It should list the goals (in bulleted form) of the course. In other words, what should students have learned and mastered when the semester/year is over? This establishes right from the beginning what you plan to accomplish throughout the semester/year.
Here is an example from my World History syllabus:
A very efficient, professional syllabus also tells students what kind of assignments they can expect in your class:
Next, tell students what supplies will be required in your classroom. Make it very clear so that they don't come to you later, "I didn't know we had to have that!"
One important aspect of my teaching style is the requirement that students have a binder for only my class. An organized, complete binder is worth grade point value and I explain this to students very clearly in the syllabus.
I firmly believe that if a student keeps an organized binder for a class, they will be more successful in that class. I also perform random checks of the binder to make sure students bring it to class every day. At the end of specific blocks of time, I collect binders and check them for content, organiztion, and neatness.
Trust me, this procedure keeps your students organized!
Next, I illustrate which procedures they can expect in my class. In this section, I also include any miscellaneous information that students and parents need to be aware of:
I don't know about you, but spiral notebook paper is the biggest pain in the rump! Those scraggley edges get tangled and attached to each other and to other papers. I simply refuse to accept work on spiral note book paper.
Give the student a zero (hey, it's not like they weren't warned in this syllabus) and I guarantee you that it will not happen again.
And do not allow them to cut the edges off in class! This wastes time and is unacceptable. If the student insists on using spiral note book paper, fine, but the edges must be cut BEFORE they come to class. Don't let it slide once, because if you do, you might as well not have put the warning in the syllabus.
Including something in a syllabus and then not following through with it, is detrimental to a teacher's credibility.
The rules are important, but it is more important to keep them simple and straightforward. It is more important to have two or three simple rules that your students can remember and follow than to have a list of seven or eight wordy rules that no one pays attention to.
Don't state the obvious and don't get too specific. Consider what you want from your students each day and put that in your rules. As for me, I chose three things that I want every student in my class to do, rather than not do. I wanted to project a feeling of positivity. Then, I simply stated that whatever the school-wide rules are, then they are in effect. You can't get simpler than that.
On my syllabus I simply state, "If you choose to break a rule.." Notice I put the word "choose" in there. Make it clear to students that whatever consequences they get from breaking a rule, it was their choice to do so. That puts the responsibility on them. It's a psychological thing, really.
If students break a rule, they must give you their time. One thing kids hate to do is sit in the classroom any longer than they have to. I've always felt that a little detention works wonders. Believe me, when the bell rings at 3:00 p.m., the last things students want to do is stay in class!
The last part of the syllabus is where the signing takes place. Students take the syllabus home and read it with their parents or guardians. Everyone signs the syllabus and parents can make comments or ask questions in the space provided. Their contact information is required as well.
During the first week of school, I collect the syllabi and keep the signed portions for my records. Students get the rest of the syllabus back to them and they are required to put it in their binder. There it must stay at the front of the binder during the entire length of the course!