Inspired by Sonya Huber’s (2014) Shadow Syllabus, written as a free-writing exercise for myself, with an eye to adapting it for use in my writing courses.
This is your map for getting an A. You’re the driver, and I call shotgun, making me your navigator. I’ll tell you exactly how to get to where you’re going, but over the lulling hum of your engine, you might have difficulty hearing me.
You are guaranteed to get lost.
When I was in college, I was always lost. When I reached grad school, I realized being lost is a luxury you will one day lose.
There’s this ancient Greek myth, maybe you’ve heard of it, of a hound destined to always catch its prey and a fox destined to never be caught. The paradox of their mutually excluding abilities annoyed Zeus into turning them both into stone, and then into stars, where they continue this fruitless pursuit.
Those who strive for As usually don’t get them, and those who abandon the hunt, in favor of seeking knowledge, of seeing how deep an empty foxhole goes, usually do.
You will think it’s easy for me to say this. I don’t have scholarships riding on this. I don’t have families, histories, homes to extend or transcend. But I did, once.
Also, that’s the syllabus genre, which is why I’m always, resentfully, retooling mine.
The only way to learn is by being open to learning, which means opening yourself up to unknown forces, which invites a considerable amount of fear.
When I was in college I believed an A was the measure of my academic self-worth, which meant getting anything less was a world-shattering event. No one told me until much later that this isn’t true.
I end up changing the syllabus anyway because paper never fully accounts for a living, growing class.
Some days, your professors are as lost as you.
I am the authority figure who never wanted authority, has problems with authority, and has had to work around it. You can learn not just from what I’m saying, but how I say it, and how I do what I do.
There are rules about when and where to use commas, but let’s not forget, in this life, we sometimes, need, to breathe. Which is to say that some professors will be blown away by your aesthetic choices, when it’s obvious that it’s not error, but stylistic flourish.
One of you will hate this class at the beginning and love it by the end.
One of you will hate me, and I will think I can’t reach you, and after some awful, awkward exchanges, you’ll become my favorite.
One of you will drive me crazy and there’s nothing I can do about it.
One of you will annoy the hell out of everyone else in the classroom, no matter what I do, until one of you, politely and respectfully, shuts that shit down.
One of you will Google me and express amazement at what I do, while one of you will do the same, and find something to be offended by.
That’s okay. I’ll Google some of you too.
During and after a course, much longer than I should, I’ll feel ashamed of how I oriented towards you.
You teach me as much as I teach you. Especially about limitations and access.
When I am tired and in pain, especially, I rely on you.
I don’t want control. I always ride shotgun. To be frank, I never learned to drive.
All I want is for you to learn, even when you run like the fox and force me to be the hound.
I have feelings and a life. I will come to class impassioned, exhausted, depressed, irritable. I will be rushed and forgetful. Sometimes this is because you don’t seem to care, you’re not doing the work, you’re trying to con me.
I taught a course on bullshit. I’ll know. Don’t try it on me.
I swear. You can swear too. If swearing offends you, tell me privately. If you are limited in my classroom in any way, call me out. It’s less awkward than you think.
Everyone sees you texting, sleeping, Facebooking or Tweeting. Don’t make me call you out. It’s awkward for everyone, every time.
You should rethink how you treat your instructors, especially if you complain about how your instructors treat you.
Talk to me. I’m human. In this classroom, we’re just human. Being human is how “real” learning gets done.
Confession: I’ve texted, slept, Facebooked, and Tweeted in classes, meetings, and conferences when I shouldn’t have, and even when I wasn’t caught, I regretted it.
If you text, Facebook, or Tweet your class notes, I applaud you.
I over-plan my lessons knowing I’m going to abandon the plan, because tangents are where the real learning begins.
There’s no such thing as “real” learning.
Some of you will lose your syllabus and then you’ll lose your way. In college you’re responsible for yourself for once, for what you choose to keep and what you scatter to the winds. This is, now and henceforth, what the world will be.
Confession: Every single one of your instructors knows what it’s like to not know what the fuck you’re doing. The trick is having faith. Knowing that under the quicksand is a bigger cavern to explore. When you figure this out, your map will make sense. The real cartography is not what’s written. It’s the shadow world, hidden underneath.
Welcome to the stage of your learning. I call shotgun.