Shadow Syllabus

  1. IMG_3738I’ll tell you exactly how to get an A, but you’ll have a hard time hearing me.
  2. I could hardly hear my own professors when I was in college over the din and roar of my own fear.
  3. Those who aim for A’s don’t get as many A’s as those who abandon the quest for A’s and seek knowledge or at least curiosity.
  4. I had bookmarked a citation for that fact, and now I can’t find it anywhere.
  5. The only way to seek knowledge is to open your hands and let your opinions drop, but that requires even more fear.
  6. The goals and outcomes I am required to put on my syllabus make me depressed; they are the illusion of controlling what cannot be controlled.
  7. I end up changing everything halfway through the semester anyway because the plan on paper is never what the living class ends up being about.
  8. I desperately needed A’s when I was in college because I didn’t know what else I was besides an A.
  9. Our flaws make us human; steer toward yours. I steer toward mine. That won’t always be rewarded in “the real world.”
  10. “The real world” isn’t the real world.
  11. I realize that I, as the authority figure in this room, might trigger all kinds of authority issues you have. Welcome to work and the rest of your life.
  12. I have a problem with authority figures myself, but I’ve learned how to work with it. Watch my cues.
  13. I think I have more to teach you about navigation than about commas, although I’m good at commas.
  14. This is about commas, but it is also about pauses and breaths and ways to find moments of rest in the blur of life’s machinery.
  15. I hope we can make eye contact.
  16. One of you who is filled with hate for this class right now will end up loving it by the end.
  17. One of you who I believe to be unteachable and filled with hate for me will end up being my favorite.
  18. One of you will drive me to distraction and there’s nothing I can do about it.
  19. Later I will examine the reason you drive me to distraction and be ashamed and then try to figure out my own limitations.
  20. There will always be limitations, and without my students I wouldn’t see them as easily.
  21. Sometimes I will be annoyed, sarcastic, rushed, or sad; often this is because you are not doing the readings or trying to bullshit me.
  22. Students are surprised by this fact: I really really really want you to learn. Like, that’s my THING. Really really a lot.
  23. I love teaching because it is hard.
  24. Someone in this classroom will be responsible for annoying the hell out of you this semester, and it won’t be me.
  25. Maybe it will be me. Sometimes it is, but often it is not.
  26. I won’t hold it against you unless you treat me with disrespect.
  27. You should rethink how you treat the people who bring you food at McDonald’s, if you are this person, as well as how you treat your teachers.
  28. I hope you are able to drop the pose of being a professional person and just settle for being a person.
  29. Everyone sees you texting. It’s awkward, every time, for everyone in the room.
  30. Secret: I’ve texted in meetings when I shouldn’t have and I regret it.
  31. Secret: I get nervous before each class because I want to do well.
  32. Secret: when I over-plan my lessons, less learning happens.
  33. Secret: I have to plan first and THEN abandon the plan while still remembering its outline.
  34. Secret: It’s hard to figure out whether to be a cop or a third-grade teacher. I have to be both. I want to be Willie Wonka. That’s the ticket. Unpredictable, not always nice, high standards, and sometimes candy.
  35. What looks like candy can be dangerous.
  36. Secret: Every single one of your professors and teachers has been at a point of crisis in their lives where they had no idea what the fuck to do.
  37. Come talk to me in my office hours, but not to spin some thin line of bullshit, because believe it or not, I can see through it like a windowpane.
  38. Some of you will lose this piece of paper because you’ve had other people to smooth out your papers and empty your backpack for as long as you can remember, but that all ends here. There’s no one to empty your backpack. That’s why college is great and scary.
  39. Maybe there’s never been anyone to empty your backpack. If there hasn’t been, you will have a harder time feeling entitled to come talk to me or ask for help.
  40. I want you, especially, to come talk to me.
  41. You can swear in my classroom.
  42. Welcome. Welcome to this strange box with chairs in it. I hope you laugh and surprise yourself.

-by Sonya Huber

(I’m so happy teachers like this and want to use; it’s fine if you edit a version to take out the swearing if you’re using it with students! All the best, Sonya)

Edit: Here’s a Shadow Syllabus for your use.

170 thoughts on “Shadow Syllabus

  1. I so enjoyed reading this, Sonya. It’s so very true that these are the things we want to say to our students. And the thing is, I think they’d read them with a deeper understanding of what it means to learn. I posted this in a discussion forum in my fall online writing course I’m teaching, and will see what kind of discussion it provokes. Thanks for writing this much needed creed for for students/instructors on vulnerability, courage, and no bullshit. 🙂

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    1. Haha! You are very observant, Teresa! But actually, WordPress and I are about four hours off in timing. It’s 12:30 p.m. in RI right now, but much later in the day in WordPress world. I was still up pretty late by my standards!

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  2. Reblogged this on Pin Up! The Blog and commented:
    This came across my feed as I was heading to do my first bit of “official” fall term work on campus – i.e. the job that allows me to do projects of passion like “Pin Up: The Movie.”
    A beautiful articulation of what’s been swirling around in my head regarding teaching.
    One of the project producers, Maria Elena Buszek, shared it with me. Thank you, Maria.

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    1. Dear Juan, I appreciate your comment, as this is a difficult area to negotiate. In my real syllabus, I have lines about respectful communication, and we also take a blind vote–if any of my students are uncomfortable with swearing, we have a curse-free class. But what’s interesting to me is that students are never disrespectful with it. In fact, I can count on one hand the times they have cursed in my 15 years of teaching, and it was only to express general confusion or even joy. What happens, I think, is that they are delighted that some of the policing of their behavior is put back on them, and they rise to that occasion. They act like adults because they are treated like adults, able to manage themselves and their speech. But they respond to the level of respect and comfort that come from being given permission to express themselves if need be. But that’s just my experience, and I continue to wrestle with this and adapt. Thanks for raising the issue!

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  3. Going back to college I am often 9-10 yrs older than the other students. If I find them only asking what to study for a test, I go berserk on them so the teacher doesn’t have to. While my employer may take into my account my grades thinking they demonstrate skills, I’m not seeking an A or to just pass another exam or essay. I’m seeking knowledge, and experience, the ability to use them judiciously and wisely. That’s especially important when majoring in one of the sciences or applied sciences.

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  4. Sonya — This is awesome.

    Reminded me of something from Ursula Le Guin’s translation of the Tao Te Ching:

    “Anyone who doesn’t respect a teacher
    or cherish a student
    may be clever, but has gone astray.
    There’s a deep mystery here.”

    Your piece explores that mystery so very, very well. Thank you.

    All the best.

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  5. Great insights into the mind of a college professor. I laughed when you mentioned Willie Wonka. I recently read an article titled the 5 Reasons Why Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is Actually About a Child-Hating Serial Killer which this idea has been floating around for quite some time. Are you certain there aren’t any Oompa Loompas hiding in your classroom? As a joke you should play their song during the first day of class and pass out some candy – as I like to say candy from strangers is the best kind of candy there is 😉 LOL

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  6. Credited to you and your website and added as an attachment to my own syllabi — in intro freshman survey courses as well as upper division research courses.

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  7. This is so perfect and perfectly timed. Lots of “syllabi re-org and unification” going on at my school now and I was drowning in the jargon. You stepped inside my heart and gave voice to everything I was feeling. I’m welled up and full of gratitude. Thank you so so so much. I’m reading this to all my classes after I hand out the official syllabus this year. You just made everything ok.

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  8. You might as well swear in my classroom. I’m betting that I do. Though I am not entirely sure. I am supposed to be the adult in the room and have been for a long time. Not sure I’ve ever lived up to that. Oh s**t.

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  9. Thanks for the permission to share. I’ll be doing so with my students tomorrow . . . complete with swearing. It’s the first day of class, and they’ll need to get used to me doing it. 🙂 Thanks for writing such a fantastic piece.

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      1. You’re more than welcome! Your post really opened my eyes, knowledge is more than a grade on a paper, it is curiosity and the ability to allow ourself to fail and try again and then try and try again.

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