Tuesday, August 7, 2018

High School Teachers, You Need a Syllabus

When I got to college and I started my first semester I was handed four syllabi. One for each of my courses. I did a quick read of each of them and promptly ignored them for the rest of the semester- other than the course calendar. For the most part, this wasn't a problem. But, I ended up getting a "D" in my Comparative Religion course, because of a course policy I'd forgotten about.

For each class session I missed, my final grade was lowered by a percentage point. The course met three times a week, and I hated it, so I probably skipped at least once a week- a minimum of 15 class sessions! That "D" along with my other grades caused me to earn a 2.3 GPA and lose my scholarship for the next semester. $7,500 down the toilet. Not because I didn't know the material, but because I didn't know the policy. I didn't know how important the syllabus was.

Now, I teach college, and I know my students don't fully understand the role of the syllabus. I feel strongly that because of this, high school teachers need to start using syllabi that mimic a college syllabus.

At my college we are required to list our office hours (planning periods), our preferred methods of contact and expected response times, the standards/objectives of the course, a disability statement for students who have documented disabilities (IEPs), a technology statement, and a plagiarism statement- both our own and what the official college handbook policy says.

I wish I'd thought about doing it more when I did teach high school because I think it would have solved several problems for me.

1. Parent contact- having a response time statement in my syllabus would have helped temper the expectations parents had about how quickly I'd respond. Generally, my statement says within 24 hours during the week. Anything emailed to me during the day on Friday through the weekend will be responded to by the end of my workday on Monday. I often respond faster than that, but this way I don't feel like I'm required to.

2. Equity in discipline- all of my class expectations are clearly laid out in my syllabus. What happens if you're tardy, have your phone out, are disruptive etc. I tell my students it is in the syllabus and I am going to apply the policies equally to everyone unless there are extenuating circumstances. I find this really helps me check myself to make sure I'm not inadvertently holding some students to a different standard than others.

3. Plagiarism having a typed up plagiarism policy that also clearly states the school's policy makes it much easier to address plagiarism with students and their parents. It may even be useful to copy the policies from the nearby colleges to show your students how seriously it is taken.

4. Repeating myself- when students ask the same question over and over I am able to say- "It's in the syllabus." "Refer to the syllabus."

5. Staying on Schedule- though it's not required, with my syllabus, I include a calendar of what we will be doing each week. Depending on the class, it is more or less detailed, but at the very least you can include your general course outline of what is going to be covered each quarter. When I do less detailed ones, I give my students a detailed schedule at the start of each unit. This allows students to get better at managing their time- adjusting their work schedules if something big is going to be due in three weeks etc.

If you're at a loss as to where to start, you can purchase my editable syllabus template here. It has two versions- a Google Slides version and a standard Google Doc version. Both can be converted to Microsoft programs. In this template, I have suggestion sections and language with plenty of space for you to customize as much as you'd like. Hopefully, this can save you some time!

Do you have a syllabus? What do you include in it? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

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