Man in Shadow


Sonya Huber wrote this brilliant piece this week about the shadow syllabus. It is what is not in the written syllabus, but what she wants you to know, nonetheless. This was the first time I “met” Sonya and I can see she has a generous nature. She has given permission for others to share and/or modify her words. Thank you, Sonya. I wanted anyone who read this to read and appreciate Sonya’s own words while changing a few things to suit my own point of view. Therefore, I have used the strikeout feature when removing her words and italics when I am adding to them. What I changed wasn’t because what Sonya wrote wasn’t wonderful. Instead, the changes were meant to more closely reflect who I am as a teacher.

The Shadow Syllabus

  1. I’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 was too afraid and undisciplined to work for A’s when I was in college because I was afraid I couldn’t do it and it was safer not to try.
  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. But we will try to do things differently in our class.
  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 reading and thinking,  although I’m good at commas at teaching reading and thinking.
  14. This is about commas reading strategies and logical fallacies and vocabulary, but it is also about pauses and breaths and ways to find moments of rest learning who you are and what you want and what you think and what you didn’t know you think 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 or because something in my life is hard and so you have to deal with my being annoyed, sarcastic, rushed, or sad.
  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 … well, I can’t explain WHY I love it, but I do. At the very least, be assured you have an instructor who WANTS to be in the classroom with you.
  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 disinterested person and just settle for being a person.
  29. Everyone sees you texting. It’s awkward, every time, for everyone in the room. Most of us don’t care unless your need to text gets in the way of our opportunity to learn.
  30. Secret: I’ve texted in meetings when I shouldn’t have and I do not regret it, but you probably will regret texting in class because you will miss something you need to hear or say or do.
  31. Secret: I get nervous before each class because I want to do well. When a class doesn’t go the way I hoped it would, I get very frustrated with myself.
  32. Secret: when I over-plan my lessons, less learning happens. When a class goes as expected, sometimes I am still disappointed because I didn’t do enough or care enough or think through it enough and it could have been something more.
  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 your mom or a third-grade teacher your best friend. I have to be both. I want to be Willie Wonka. That’s the ticket. Unpredictable, not always nice, high standards, and sometimes candy. The truth is, I am not either and am not supposed to be. But as a teacher, I will probably always have a smidge of both in me.
  35. What looks like candy can be dangerous. This may or may not be a good thing.
  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 heck to do. (I can’t… I just can’t officially leave it with the original word.) 
  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… a little. You can swear a little. PG-13 swears. 
  42. Welcome. Welcome to this strange box with chairs in it. I hope you laugh and surprise yourself.