deadlines amuse me

exploring how the world works and why it works that way …

Rx: mood enhancement for teaching freshmen

with 5 comments

A new semester begins today. I’m trying to figure out what mood I’m in as I approach teaching freshmen in their first news writing course.

They’ve changed in the 15 years I’ve taught them. They know less but still think they know a great deal. They think technology substitutes adequately for effort. I expect that a few will arrive in the inaugural class unprepared to do work – no notebook, no pen, no text, no nuthin’. (That happened in the fall in my sophomore classes, which stunned me.)

Many, if not most, will be unplugging iPods as they enter the room. Several will forget to turn off their cell phones with the predictable result (a remonstrative glare from me). They will be dressed (how can I put it?) eclectically. They will not have yet learned the value of first impressions. I expect to see more skin than I think wise, given that sub-freezing temperature rules our campus today.

They will give every impression of “being cool” about everything.

Several, however, will be anxious. They’ve had a semester to hear stories about me. They will have heard the nickname students long gone gave me – Spawn of Satan. (The allegations of mental and emotional abuse have been greatly exaggerated. Really. Honest.) But several will be anxious for a reason that they don’t want anyone else to know: “This is going to be hard. Can I do it?” And they will allow fear to dwell where eagerness to learn should reside.

I will ask each one a different question relating to grammar or punctuation as I call the roll. I doubt more than two or three will know the answers. And I doubt I’ll see more than two or three write down the questions I ask. They will not think it important to do so.

I will use words they might not know or understand, because many, if not most, have not read as much as they should have over still-short lifetimes. So their vocabularies will be weak. They will have, despite an earlier course or two, a lack of regard for the precise use of grammar and punctuation. They do not know yet the true cost of communication that is vague.

I will tell them that they can expect percentage-calculation questions in their quizzes – and they’ll protest: “Hey, this is a news writing course.” And that will tell me that they have not read enough news stories to understand that numbers as well as words tell stories.

They will not appreciate what they will see on a screen as they enter the classroom: Journalism, like life, is mostly about attention to detail, common sense and discipline. Those who come to understand that will do well in the course. Those who don’t …

Many will be like I was as a freshman – a cocky, impertinent wiseass. And so much of that will be charade. Other than that (and perhaps a few illegal substance-related issues), they’re generally pretty good kids.

So what kind of mood as I in? Eager, I suppose. Someone’s got to teach them the nature of work, and it might’s well be me.

Advertisements

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

January 16, 2006 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Ah, “the nature of work.” So many, many students fail to realize that one of the most important lessons college teaches is the nature of work. The content of what we teach is not nearly as important as the behaviors they engage in as they try to learn.
    Your students are in good hands, my friend.

    cwmackowski

    January 16, 2006 at 7:44 pm

  2. I remember my first news writing class fondly — I wanted to do this so badly! I remember reading through the AP Stylebook and I remember hand outs and notes; coming to understand a lede, details, beauty and humor in words. And learning the hard way — and watching in shock as the prof *shredded* someone else’s article because he had written it by hand and then was trying to type it out, instead of composing at the keyboard.
    The first day was like any other — syllabus, books, notes, introductions — but that semester opened a new world to me. There has got to be a kid like me in one of your classes — waiting for that new world she wants so badly to be a part of to open for her.
    Look for that one — because I believe she’ll be looking for you.
    (And Godde knows, I wish I was there to take a class from you.)

    reportergirlkes

    January 17, 2006 at 2:36 am

    • Thank you. I do look for them.
      When I find them, here’s what I do:
      At the beginning of the semester I invite students (those I find like you), perhaps a few dozen, to have pizza with me. I tell them I expect them to save the world (hence the name of our little groups — STW Inc.)
      We talk about what’s wrong with the world and what’s needed to fix it. At the end, I give each an envelope that contains one word written in a heavy-stock 3×5 card.
      I tell them to live with their words for the semester. During finals, they come by to tell what living with the word was like.
      Words I’ve used: purpose, focus, means, balance, risk, fear, distinction, leadership, attitude, diligence, expectation, poise, intensity, mastery, humility, guide, resilience, commitment, character and satisfaction.
      I have more fun doing this than any single thing I do as a prof. Listening to them at the end of the semester is just wonderfu.

      Anonymous

      January 17, 2006 at 3:00 pm

  3. Wait a minute! So what you’re saying is that when I came into your classroom for the first time, I didn’t know everything? The older I get, the less I know…and that’s the only thing I do know for certain.
    However, I’m seriously having a hard time with the idea that any college student would be foolish enough to go to his or her first class without something to write with.

    Anonymous

    January 19, 2006 at 1:04 am

  4. Wait a minute! So what you’re saying is that when I came into your classroom for the first time, I didn’t know everything? The older I get, the less I know…and that’s the only thing I do know for certain.
    However, I’m seriously having a hard time with the idea that any college student would be foolish enough to go to his or her first class without something to write with.
    -Jody Roselle

    Anonymous

    January 19, 2006 at 1:05 am


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: