Thursday, May 21, 2015

Top Ten Lessons from Teaching Freshman Comp

My pants are too big, and I'm praying they don't drop to my ankles in front of sixteen 18-20 year olds.  No more than five of these bored-looking women actually have their required texts, and I have an urge to start asking made-up questions from the "reading" to send them into a Legally Blonde style panic.  "I wasn't aware there was an assignment, Professor Gray."  Only these women were little bitty girls when that movie came out.  (What?!?)  I realize that I'm old enough to be the mother of every girl in the room.  This doesn't help focus my thoughts.  We go through my carefully constructed syllabus, and I swear I can hear brains detaching from skulls and drifting into the ether.  There will be countless questions about this syllabus in the weeks to follow, questions answered clearly in the pages of requirements, grade info, and calendar.  But I expect this.  This adolescent inability to pay attention, to focus on guidelines for more than fifteen seconds at a time.  I'm not prepared for everything, though.  I learned plenty from my first full semester of teaching Comp 101.  Here's a quick primer for anyone about to stare down a bunch of semi-colon abusing, adverb loving teenagers:

1.  Nothing is ever simple.  Ever.  It doesn't matter how well you break down the semester in your work-of-art syllabus.  They will be confused.  It is a willful state.  Take no pity.

2.  Nineteen-year olds have the same tells as my five year old.  It's almost cute when they think you believe their story about having emailed the paper to you last night and I-don't-know-why-it-didn't-go-through.

3.  Freshmen are masters of the minimum.  It was mind-blowing the lengths they will go to in order to do nothing.  It's an art, really.  Color me impressed.

4.  Don't let them write persuasive essays on abortion, marijuana legalization, or capital punishment.  Ever.  Ah, the hubris of youth.  They're the ones who are going to make the definitive, game-changing argument, all without ever using a comma correctly.  Not even accidentally.

5.  No dead grandparent essays.  Okay, this one sounds harsh.  I'll admit it.  I never claimed to be nice.  But let's be real here.  We've all got dead grandparents.  It's sad.  It's terrible, in fact.  But unless your granddad was killed by a falling meteor, or you have some more interesting take than My-grandparent-changed-my-life-and-their-death-made-me-appreciate-the-little-things-and-taught-me-to love-those-around-me-before-they're-gone, I just can't read any more.

6.  Proper semi-colon use can't be taught; it must be inborn knowledge.  Nineteen year olds love semi-colons.  None of them knows how to use them.  They never let that stop them.

7.  Freshmen love to use, "In conclusion," in essays.  Go ahead and cross out the phrase, but you're just wasting good ink.

8.  Like children and dogs, freshmen can smell fear/weakness.  Never forget this.  Be bold and badass even if you secretly suspect you're wrong.  Especially if you suspect you're wrong.  They must never know.

9.  They have all mastered that hurt, my-high-school-teacher-said-the-complete-opposite-of-what-you're-saying look.  (See rule #8 above.)

10.  I had untapped procrastination skills I might never have found had I not had to grade freshman comp essays.  You know it's bad when you start contemplating the laundry and how much you wish you were folding clothes instead of reading an essay about defunct grandparents.

So, there you have it folks.  I survived the semester and am looking forward to the next.  I shudder to think what I'll learn next year, but I'm sure that whatever it is, there will be copious adverbs, semi-colons, and giant page-filling fonts involved.

Update, or Back From the Dead

So I'm not dead...though a few days I considered it.  More sickness, well, my eyes are sick anyway.  Went to the dermatologist for a recurring rash around my eyes.  Following his advice, and now I look like I'm somewhere between a bender, pink eye, and leprosy.  And have for a month.  Because it's not enough to be perpetually sick, losing my hair, and taking more pills in a day than most people take in a month.  I have to also have red, flaking lizard skin around my eyes.  That hurt.  A lot.

In between frightening small children and strangers with a glance and applying moisturizer by the quart, I've also been finishing up my first full semester of teaching.  It's been such a great experience (glitches and resistant freshmen notwithstanding), and it feels so so good to have all of those essays graded.  And the most exciting news (and that's saying something because having seventy five essays graded and done is pretty exciting) is that I get to teach Intro to Creative Writing in the fall! This is such a great opportunity, and I have to confess that I had trouble sleeping the night after I found out because I couldn't stop planning my syllabus.  I'll be teaching another section of Comp as well, so that'll keep me busy during my first school year with Kiddo gone full time.

Yep, I said full-time.  Kiddo is starting Kindergarten in the fall.  We went to the orientation at her school, and she is so excited (in between her bouts of mourning for her preschool teacher and friends.)  I too am very excited about all the alone time I will gain the fall, but I'm not going to lie: That school seemed so big, which made Kiddo seem that much smaller.  I have to keep reminding myself who we're talking about here.  Kiddo is unstoppable.  A school full of kids twice her size won't daunt her.  

Today is her last day of preschool, and I'm trying to crank out some work at BN before the summer of together begins.  Kiddo will be going to day camp a bit over the summer, but mostly she'll be home with me.  I'm not teaching over the summer, so I'm determined to get lots of writing done and stop being such a slack ass.  I've even given up teaching the kiddos at church on Wednesday nights in hopes of limiting my exposure to germs.  Let this be the summer of writing and writing some more and NOT GETTING SICK!