October 26, 2013

Making my first syllabus for college

In the Philippines, classes in the tertiary level ended last week. It’s another semester off the back of the teachers. For many schools, a new semester will start a couple of days after All Souls’ Day. So what does this mean? It means that while many students are off jaunting about and having the time of their lives during what I’m sure they would call “academic freedom” (though that would not sound politically correct for some), teachers are spending a few days or so making, reviewing, and improving the syllabi and preparing the lesson plans for the courses they will be handling before the start of classes.

Like what I am doing right now. Thankfully, I am no longer tied to an 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. desk job, giving me enough time to really work on absorbing the old syllabi made by Madam Mayette Tabada, my favorite college teacher. (She puts her Sun.Star Cebu columns in one blog that I follow avidly.) It is an honor to be facilitating two of her former subjects at St. Theresa’s College (STC)-Cebu—Investigative Reporting (Mediacom 5) and Newspaper Layout and Editing (Com 4-05).

It will be my first time to do so. In fact, it will be my first time to handle two subjects; it has always been one subject per semester for the past two semesters. No, make it three on the first month of the next semester, since I will also be substitute teacher for Mrs. Mia Embalzado-Mateo, STC Mass Communications Department Chair who is on maternity leave, for the course on Media Management (Media Com 4/Com 20). As a new teacher, I embrace these incoming challenges with a mixture of dread and excitement.

Then, after I asked for a copy of the syllabi of the three courses, the college secretary asked me to submit a new or improved version of the syllabi of the two courses I am fully handling. You know, requirements for PAASCU (Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities) and all that. Oh, well, sure, why not? I can do that. (Gulp.)

Development Theater Class of Summer 2013
The first “official” syllabus I made was for Development Theater last summer. It was so terrible that it makes a perfect case study for someone doing research on “the worst syllabus ever made in the Philippines”. Thankfully, Sister Rosiana Mendoza, the college dean, has been so patient in guiding and helping me through the mental ordeal. You see, my college background is not Education. I only took one Education subject as an elective because really, at the time, there was nothing else. So you do understand when I say I had near zero idea on how to make a syllabus.

Before I made a dedicated comeback to teaching just this year, I taught Basic Video Production in STC when I was 24, Development Theater when I was 25, and News and Feature Writing when I was 26. During these three semesters when I was a reluctant teacher, I merely used the syllabi made by teacher who handled the course before me, not because I was tired of making another one, but simply because I didn’t know how to make one. Then PAASCU got a bit meticulous, prompting the school to come up with a new format and requiring me to adhere to it.

You remember the first official syllabus I made? It had to be returned to me three times before it got Sister Rosie’s nod. But I’m a fast learner; the second syllabus I made, which was for News and Feature Writing last semester was approved upon first submission.

Allow me to share some lessons I gained from the experience of writing a syllabus:

1. It is important for college teachers to acknowledge that a syllabus is important. Apart from being the central document of a course, it represents a beginning (a way to introduce the course to the students) and an end (a reference to be used for course evaluation).
2. Since a syllabus is important, it is only reasonable that you, as the teacher, spend adequate time planning, researching, consulting with the department chair, and writing it properly. Take some time to think and research about what you expect your students to learn and, most importantly, how they should learn. My personal challenge is how to integrate the core values of the Catholic school into the lessons. I mean, how do I teach “integrity of creation” when writing news?
3. Your efforts at working at the syllabus will reflect throughout the semester and your students will appreciate what you’re doing. Of course, some of you may contend that there are teachers who write the syllabus very well but do not deliver them just as well. Remember that implementing the syllabus is not just the role of teacher, and this brings me to the next lesson.

My News  and Feature Writing class surprises me during the
World Teachers Day last Oct. 5, which got me "nearly" teary-eyed.
They keep shouting in Cebuano, "Cry! Cry! Cry!"
Sadist kids. 
4. Show the syllabus on the first day of the class to your students so that they will be aware about what is at stake for them and what they need to do to make the entire course successful for them. In some schools, the format of the syllabus does not include course policies, such as attendance, class participation, and dishonesty, since these are already included in the school handbook. Still, even if you will not include these in the syllabus, it is important to review them as a class on the first day. Believe me, this will make your teaching life easier. Some students can be so…ingenious when it comes to excuses.
5. Lastly, I learned that the syllabus is an extension of myself. It reflects my approach to learning. Learning gets me excited and challenged but it’s still cool and fun. I want the same experience for my students.

Do you remember writing your first syllabus for college? What was it like? I look forward to learning from you. Do drop a sentence or two in the comment section. I would appreciate it very much!

Cheers to all good teachers around the world,

- Nancy -

P.S. Salute to the teachers who are now volunteering their time and efforts in the relief operations for the 7.2 earthquake victims in Bohol, Philippines! #BangonBohol #BangonSugBohol #BangonVisayas


  1. You are exactly where you are supposed to be right now. You are phenomenon about to become and you will change the world a day at a time. One soul, one person, each moment building a monument of life one brick at a time......

    1. Thank you very much, sir! You're an inspiration.

  2. Nicely said, Nancy. I am sure that your classes are fun for your students, because of how you approach them.


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