The Old College Try: Tweaking the Old

Today, I walked into my new, and spacious office.  Although I share it with another teacher, we’re on different time tables and it’s good-sized with a large window.  So, I’ll have the space to myself (most of the time) and lots of bright light to enjoy–both winners in my book.  I still have a few things left to put up (diplomas, pictures, etc) to personalize the place but otherwise, I finished settling in by late morning so I could begin my last-minute preparations.

As I sat at my desk brainstorming about how I thought I’d run my first week of classes, I began thinking about what image students would have of me and the class.  Now, I still find it odd that many of my students’ initial impressions of me falls something along the lines of being intimidating.  I’m not sure how many people reading this served with me in the military or were in Army ROTC with me, but I hardly think ‘intimidating’ or ‘imposing’ would be words you’d use to describe me as a soldier / officer.  Regardless, it must be something about being from the military world in general that creates that air of discipline that others pick up on.  And admittedly, I like to start each year or semester by hitting the ground running–drinking from the fire hose as my Artillery instructors used to say.  This year, however, I think I’m going to tweak some of my older methods.

I’m still going to assign an essay on the first day of classes.  I can’t help myself.  I’m sure there are different ways to break students in to the realization this is not high school, but frankly, I like this approach.   HOWEVER, unlike years past where I assign full 5-paragraph essays and have them before the end of the week (which even my high schoolers were subject to doing), I’m thinking I’ll pull the reigns back some this time.  Maybe only a 1-2 page essay, maybe due a full 7 days later, something.  I trust myself enough to know I’ll be challenging them plenty throughout the semester, but I also want to make sure I’m setting them up for a positive experience as well.  But this group is also a little different.

The students I’ll be teaching this semester are in our entry-level developmental English course.  To be honest, I’d expect most (if not all) of my higher performing seniors and juniors (with language-based learning disabilities) from last year to pass out of this class and at least place in the next level of English or even go right into Freshmen Comp directly.  Instead, these students would probably perform at a level on par with my students who struggled with more pronounced language-based learning disabilities and to whom English has nearly always been a constant struggle.  Suffice to say, setting them up right away for significantly stressful experiences won’t exactly do much to build motivation and enthusiasm.  And unlike the compulsory nature of high school, these students are often prone to simply dropping out if the risk level gets too high.  Especially when many are already working 25+ hours a week along with a full-time course load, have kids at home who they’re leaving with a friend or relative to come to my class, and/or have been away from the classroom for 10, 15, or 20 years and now want to set examples for their high school-aged children.  A little more care is needed here.

As an adjunct, I never had to worry as much about retention, but being a full-timer, this needs to be something I take into consideration.  And to be honest, I am now furnished with the time, space, and other resources to help build greater retention amongst these students than I had available as an overworked adjunct who borrowed time from home to help his night class students.  I don’t have a 6-day-a-week job to balance with my part-time night class… just these two 6.0 credit courses to pour all of my professional self into from September through December.

So, I spent a little time today redeveloping old lesson plans and work schedules to find a healthy balance of rigor while not sacrificing student enthusiasm as I tweaked the “old” to find a good and stronger “new.”


About fhelvie

I live in CT with my wife and two sons. I am also writing my doctoral dissertation, which is focused on the relationship between American literature and comic book superheroes. I have served as a panelist at a number of conferences discussing my research in comics, medieval literature, and pedagogy. Most recently, I had the good fortune to present at the New York Comic Con. In addition to my work in comics scholarship, I'm also a full-time professor of developmental English.
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