A Shadow Syllabus

A friend of mine posted a link the other day to a Shadow Syllabus that an English teacher had written, and I really enjoyed it. It was inspiring and interesting, so I thought I would try to write one. Here’s the rough draft of it. Perhaps one day I’ll make this a real document and give it out with my regular syllabus, but it’ll have to be a lot less snarky. 


A Shadow syllabus.

Learning Objectives for Reading Literature:

Reading means thinking slowly, with other peoples thoughts.

Reading means wrestling like Jacob with God and limping away.

Teachers like to put books on shelves and stick sticky notes in between pages. So we can talk about the Romantic movement and foreshadowing and iambic pentameter and so that we can shield ourselves from the things that wrenched our own feet many years ago.

We like to do the same thing as students because we don’t like other people to tell us what we should find meaningful, and we don’t like to be challenged for a grade. We want to grab our label maker and act like our childhood selves in the 90’s: stamping out the names of everyday objects, peeling off the shiny backing, and wasting our time with what we already know.

A label-maker is supremely useless for educating oneself.

A label-maker is mostly useless for educating others: it only allows one to point to a thing quickly.

Knowing labels can be useful as a mental shorthand for understanding.

And to sound pretentious


Learning Objectives for Writing:

Writing is both mystical and practical. To write is to think on paper and that is mystical. To write is to communicate with others and that is practical.

One can communicate without thinking, but that is to invite murder.

One can think without communicating, but that sets oneself up for a persecution complex.

Grammar is to writing what theology is to religion: a little knowledge is absolutely necessary, but they are not the same thing. Studying theology and grammar is exciting and fascinating, but it often turns one into an unbearable hypocrite.

Late Work:

Get. Your. Shit. Together.

Class Participation:

Tear yourself away from your fake digital life and do something. Learn to see a teacher as a resource instead of an authority figure. Get over highschool.


If you don’t want to be here, I don’t want you here.

Sometimes the only reason I’m here is because I need to keep my job.

Student Grading Scale:

A – I worked really hard on this.

B – I’m not sure why I didn’t get an A?

C – I always got good grades in highschool

D – But I wasn’t here that day

F – Do you offer extra credit?


About Derrick

Derrick lives and works in South Carolina where he teaches English at a technical college and raises his two small children with his wife, Danielle.
This entry was posted in Humor, Uncategorized, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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