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.

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