Is a Syllabus Necessary?

Joseph Clausi
4 min readApr 2, 2021

I remember the first time I saw a syllabus in college and it was super overwhelming. My first class, was Business 101 — and when the bloat passed out the packet of paper, I took one, passed it around and dug in only to find the entire course layout, homework assignment, test dates, and readings for the entire semester. It was reading after reading of two different 400 page books, that this idiot wrote, and we had to buy.

one of SUNY’s most beautiful campuses…

I heard that a college syllabus was awesome because the entire course was laid out for you — but to me, that was a terrible thing for some reason.

Not just any reason I suppose, I guess it just made the class seem like all I have to do is read the instructor’s books, he’d chat about them while we took notes, and then faced the tests on the dates on the syllabus — which is exactly what it’s supposed to elucidate. But that meant the class was looking to be completely boring and I didn’t want to support this guy by purchasing his book by force. That bothered me too.

I took out the college paper and began searching for classes. He was distracted by my clear effort to find something else, and asked me to leave. I told him that was a “win/win, because looking at the syllabus the class was going to suck,” in hindsight, I should have just walked out.

I apologize to you Mr. Bad Professor of Business who was the Author/Instructor from that class — but your syllabus reflected the most boring semester ever.

What are they really?

If you have a syllabus completed, this means that you have the entire semester planned out. My high school teachers develop daily lesson plans, and then put together units of study, which collectively create a semester’s worth of curriculum. Going into that pile of instruction, making a coherent order of what is taught, linking with themes of content — is almost half of a syllabus. The other half is expectations.

The order describes the content sources, authors to be studied, and culminates in assessments that are defined as well.

The expectations attach length, dates, and specifics for obtaining success in the course, to the order.

Basic information grace the top of the syllabus as a heading, and voila — a syllabus is formed.

Expectations — are the true benefit for a student who actually wanted to be in that class, as the syllabus is the key to obtaining that success.

If a high school teacher distributes a syllabus for students, you can count on the fact that it won’t have dated chapter reading assignments 5 months in advance all planned out — because high school is more realistic and makes learning about the learners in the room, not the teacher lecturing to the students, therefore the assumption of change and flexibility allow for learning to take place.

The problem with a syllabus is that the only path the course will take, is the one on the paper.

Unless it is an assessment from beginning to end, and therefore content will vary depending on the student’s path — that syllabus will prohibit as much as it will enhance.

What if you get into a topic and the conversation is the best you’ve ever had in a class. Time runs out and the next syllabus date reflects a major change in topic. Should you continue what you are talking about next class, or move on to stick to the plan?

Should you expand upon student interest, perhaps shed more examples for discussion, or experiment with a hypothesis from that day’s conversation capitalizing on the learning process — or stick stay with the syllabus and forget the possible engaging connection as long as the students finish your book you wrote by the end of the term?

A syllabus can give you four months to prepare and write a thesis, because you have it 4 months in advance.

You know how to score an A, because it says it on the syllabus.

You know when to show up, when to turn things in, and when help is available — all extremely valuable.

Just be careful of the syllabus that needs to be followed to the letter, because that doesn’t allow for creativity or flexibility — and that also doesn’t allow for revision, assuming it’s perfect and everyone can learn what’s on there, when we know that’s not how learning goes at all.



Joseph Clausi

My name is Joe Clausi, and I have over 20 years of experience in secondary education, on both coasts of the United States, and with all kind of schools.