Shadow Syllabus

By Sonya Huber, Fairfield University

[We came across this great posting on Sonya’s personal blog, http://sonyahuber.com/, and received permission from the author to share it.]

I am an Associate Professor at Fairfield University, where I teach composition and creative writing in the English Department. As my fifteenth year of teaching in higher ed begins, I have found that writing and tweaking syllabi doesn’t get any easier. Syllabi are such catch-all documents, and I’m always confused about who the main audience is: students or administrators and accreditors. I understand the need for them, and so I work on them diligently, trying to make them informative and readable. While I was writing mine this month, I started this file to vent everything I wanted to say but couldn’t. Now, however, since so many people have told me they will be using this in their classes, I might consider using it in my own. 

  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.
  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 bat-shit crazy and there’s nothing I can do about it.
  19. Later I will examine the reason you drive me bat-shit crazy 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.

This piece was originally posted on Sonya Huber’s personal blog at http://sonyahuber.com/.

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