Sample Syllabus

Mr. Miyagi I'm always surprised what people ask about at conferences or in small group settings. That's not a criticism, just a reminder that sometimes we don't know as much as we think we do about what people want, need, or might take an interest in. 

I'm often asked about my grading policies and classroom expectations and such. Obviously no single document can capture classroom dynamics, and no set of policies means much without the right relationships and other art-more-than-science stuff. Even if I AM doing something that's working brilliantly, that doesn't mean it will work for all teachers with all kids in all situations.

That's why we haven't all been replaced by DVDs just yet - there's too much real-live-people stuff that we're needed for every day for this whole 'school' thing to work. 

That being said, I'm more than happy to share my Class Syllabus for the coming year. (Don't worry, Jenni - this isn't where I send my kids to get the real syllabus. I corrupt them elsewhere on the interwebs.) I've altered a few specifics regarding contact information, the Class Website, etc. - hence the {brackets} here and there. 

None of this is an effort to convince you or anyone else to do anything differently. YOU are THE BEST AUTHORITY on what works for YOUR KIDS in YOUR CLASS. Period. I'm just sharing, because... unicorns. 

River Syllabus

Pre-AP American Government / Oklahoma History (9th Grade) Class Syllabus

{Teacher Name & Contact Info} 

Content & Skills Overview

This semester we will cover the origins of American Government, the basics of the U.S. Constitution and its major Amendments, important Supreme Court cases, the general structure of Congress and how it works (or doesn’t, depending on your point of view), and other American Government-y sorts of things. Next semester we’ll jump to the history of our dear state, focusing on those elements that help illuminate U.S. History as a whole or which {your teacher} finds particularly interesting. (Yes, some of it’s interesting.)

Because this is a “Pre-AP” class, we’ll also work on the sorts of skills that might help us survive – or even flourish – in an AP class or in college. The big four are (a) learning to ask good questions, (b) interpreting and analyzing primary sources, both textual and visual, (c) understanding and incorporating secondary sources, including graphs and charts of various sorts, and (d) analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing, and otherwise wrestling with the information we’ve gleaned, then saying or writing something coherent and persuasive about it.  

Stuff You’ll Need

* Paper / Pen or Pencil – Seriously, you’re in high school now.  Bring your own basic supplies to class.

* A folder or notebook dedicated to this class. I will periodically give you stuff to keep in your History Folder for easy access, forever and ever. From time to time I’ll ask you to show me that you have these things in some easily accessible, coherent order. Figure out what works for you, but keep in mind the general goal is that at a moment’s notice, you can find and access these items without substantial pain and suffering – for you OR for me. 

* An agenda or planner of some sort. It is important that you copy our anticipated weekly agenda from the class website each weekend and have it ready to be checked every Monday morning. You may incorporate this into your History Folder (so they’re essentially one thing) or the Agenda may be a separate thing (in which case I strongly encourage you to use it to stay organized in ALL of your classes).

Class Website: {URL}  

Computer Syllabus* You will be required to visit The Class Website regularly in order to copy the anticipated schedule for the upcoming week. Your agendas will be checked each Monday morning. The schedule will be posted no later than lunchtime Friday of the previous week so that students without convenient internet access at home can use the school library or other school computer during lunch or after school in order to fulfill this requirement. 

* Generally, everything we do in class will be posted on the Agenda in full – sometimes before we get to it in class, sometimes shortly after. If you lose something, check the Agenda. If you’re absent, check the Agenda. Hopefully you see a pattern here. 

* The Agenda is also a good way for parents to keep up with what you’re supposed to be doing, even if you shrug a great deal and act like you’ve never even heard of this class before whenever they ask. 

* Pre-AP students will be expected to access the website for periodic class discussions, usually over a book we’re reading for class. The window for such assignments will be sufficient to allow those without convenient internet access at home to make use of computers here at school, at your local library, etc.

* The Class Website is also used for announcements of general interest from time to time, Required Viewing videos, and other things intended to help you keep up with this class. As the name suggests, the Class Website is a website for this class – that’s all it does. That’s why it exists. Everything on it is for you. Try not to act surprised that something on the Class Website is intended for you to access or utilize for this class. It’s… discouraging. 

Silent Reading Fridays

Almost every Friday in this class is a silent reading day. Often there will be assigned titles related to the class, but other times you’ll be allowed to choose, as long as your choice meets some very general and easy-to-satisfy requirements (which we’ll cover in class when appropriate). This is NOT a day for catching up on other work or going to other classes to make up quizzes, etc. With very few exceptions, SILENT READING IS SACRED.

Required titles may be procured as you see fit. Barnes & Noble by Woodland Hills Mall has most of what we’ll read set aside behind the check-out counter with my name on them, but you are not required to buy them there. You may purchase them wherever you like, new or used, check them out from the library, download them, borrow them, or whatever – as long as you have them by the required date. E-Readers are fine as long as you use them primarily to read. 

I usually have copies available to check out, but not enough for everyone to use. If there are circumstances complicating your ability to secure a copy of a required book, NO WORRIES. I just need an email or phone call from a parental unit asking me to check a copy out to you. This is a logistical necessity to separate “we can’t get this right now” from “I forgot to tell my mom about this but don’t want the mean teacher to scowl at me.” Classroom copies will be checked out on a first come, first serve basis, based on emails / phone calls.

Books About Pants?Why All The Reading?

I’ll spare you the research and discussions behind the decision, but the short answer is this: Reading is Good. 

The slightly-longer answer is that reading helps us learn stuff, increases our attention span and vocabularies, prepares us for AP and college, and potentially makes life richer and fuller because we’re not quite so shallow and clueless. And yes, *sigh*… it increases test scores as well – for people who care about such things.

Grades & Grading

The current system requires that we boil down everything you do in school to a handful of letters and numbers. It’s a horrifying, stupid way to measure learning, but it’s entrenched and unlikely to change anytime soon. So, if we gotta do it, might as well try to make it meaningful and useful in some way.

How To Pass: Show up. Do your work. Try. Try some more. Ask for help if you get stuck. (You will find this system works for most things.) Generally, it’s difficult to fail this class unless you really want to. Oddly, a number of people each year seem to really want to. I find this bewildering, but… you’re in High School now. With increased power comes increased responsibility. 

Your grades will be split into 3 categories of equal weight, even though we may not spend equal time on each one.  

Effort / Completion Grades / 30% of Semester Grade - This is the “did it, turned it in” part. While it doesn’t sound like a very high bar—and it’s not—a big chunk of life consists of showing up and doing what you have to do. Whether it’s flipping burgers, filing reports, examining patients, or recording your next album, at some point you have to show up and do something to move forward and/or get paid.

Content Knowledge / 30% of Semester Grade - This measures whether or not you know stuff.  Most quizzes and tests fall into this category, especially the knowledge recall types (i.e., “which Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment?”) It won’t always be tests and quizzes, but grades in this category will always be an attempt to measure what you know.  

Social Studies Skills / 30% of Semester Grade – These measure what you can do, at least in terms of the skills central to this particular class. In some ways, this can be the toughest category – it’s the one most closely related to actual thinking and wrestling with ideas and information and such. On the other hand, this is the one category in which you may attempt mastery (or at least competence) as often as necessary until you “get it.” Because of that, you should ALWAYS have a 100% in SKILLS. If you don’t, it’s because you choose not to. Period. Literally. 

Semester Test / 10% of Semester Grade - The ideal semester test incorporates both skills and knowledge, and of course you have to show up and take it to receive credit. I haven’t made this year’s test yet, so I can’t promise anything regarding what it will look like, but I can promise it will be worth 10% of your semester grade.

You Will LearnMiscellaneous Stuff You Should Know

All of the stuff in the school policy guide you’ll be given the first week of school applies in this class as well.  You are responsible for knowing the rules of the school. Some of them make perfect sense; others are simply necessary in order for a building with well over 1,000 kids and less than 100 adults to function safely and smoothly. 

You want to change the system? Start by beating the system – graduate, get yourself a real job, then run for School Board. Another option is to get an Education Degree and come shape young lives in your own way, all you like. If you’re not willing to get involved, power remains in the hands of those choosing to put in more effort than you. That’s how government works. 

Anything you are doing in this class other than what you are supposed to be doing might become mine. I’m not actually looking for reasons to take your phone or your candy or your magazine or whatever. If you’re listening when I speak, getting your work done, and otherwise taking care of business without distracting those around you or annoying me in some way, we’ll probably be fine. If not, I’ll need a parent call or email to get your stuff back. With increased freedom comes increased responsibility. 

Other teachers do not have the authority to excuse you from this class. If you are tardy or absent without a pass from an administrator, counselor, or the school nurse, then you are tardy or absent. Notes from another teacher do not change this. Every teacher thinks their class is WAY more important than everyone else’s class – but it’s not. 

Class lasts until I dismiss you. DO NOT get out of your seat or begin wandering over to the door before you have been dismissed. I realize this is Old School and not the way the cool teachers do it; it is how I do it, however, and I’m particularly grumpy and touchy about this one. I need desperately to believe there are a few lingering signs of civilization and that we have the ability to control our bodies and actions – at least in short bursts. 

When in doubt about what to do, do the least disruptive thing and/or the thing which demonstrates respect for your fellow students. Use your best judgment, and if I think you made the wrong call, we’ll change it for next time.  

Finally and Foremost… (if it’s possible to be ‘foremost’ at the end of something, which it may not be)

Don’t pretend you can’t do something just because it’s hard or makes you frustrated. Obviously some of it’s hard.  If all of this were easy, we wouldn’t have to come to school to learn it; we could knock it out online and spend the rest of the day on Instagram or Twitter.  THE LEARNING HAPPENS IN THE STRUGGLE. 

Don’t complain that you’re not smart enough to do this or that or tell me you tried your best if you didn’t. I mean, lie to me if you must (although it’s usually not effective), but don’t lie to yourself about what you can or can’t do. You might start believing yourself.

That being said, don’t make the opposite mistake and hesitate to ask questions or seek help if you’re stuck or confused. Ask your classmates, read the directions again, etc., FIRST, but if you’re still not sure, come see me before or after school or at an appropriate time during class. The same thing applies if you have questions about a grade you received, a comment I made, a topic we discussed, or anything else class or school-related. You’re not “bothering me” when you do this; the district actually pays me a paltry salary primarily so that I’ll help you with stuff. It’s what I do. Have you not seen the motivational posters everywhere?

I’m always happy to talk to your parental units, but they’re not the ones trying to learn how to become students, historians, or grown-ups. YOU should try to handle it first – THEN call in backup if we’re for some reason unable to work it out. That’s one of the primary goals of school – to help you become actual people. With increased potential comes increased responsibility. 

I want you to struggle, yes—but you’re of no use to anyone curled up in a fetal position shaking in fear and self-loathing. Own your learning. Seek solutions. Ask. Try. 

Repeat as necessary.



Silent Reading Friday is exactly how the seeds of my Reading for Pleasure class were sown. I love this idea...may have to drive up the turnpike to join you some Friday.

Oh, and the rest of the syllabus is great...mix of expectations and fun.

Great syllabus! Covers just about everything (Just when you think you've seen/heard it all, they surprise you.).

I knew you were going to be a family favorite the day my oldest brought home the syllabus from your class.



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