I had some spectacular deja vu two weeks ago as my college classes were studying for finals. I took them down to the building’s huge main lobby, where I hung butcher paper on the walls, with titles I wrote in the center, based on the major units of the semester. I broke them into teams, gave them markers, and asked them to make diagrams of major points, themes, and other relevant information from throughout the last few months. They spent a few minutes at each station, and then rotated to review and build on each other’s work.
My classes this semester were English 98, a remedial class for those whose test scores don’t qualify them to start school with English 101. They are all freshmen. Now, many of these students are decent, responsible, talented young people who go on to have great college careers. But many are not. And it is during activities like this that I hear grumbling and whining. Actually, I hear that in almost every class almost every day.
Here’s where the deja vu comes in. During this review session, a group of four upperclassmen walked by and, observing what we were doing, came over to talk to me. They asked about the class, and complimented me on what they saw, even saying that they wish they’d had a teacher like me for freshman composition.
The exact same thing happened last year. During this precise lesson, my own students were griping about it (as usual), and four upperclassmen came through and told me how great they thought it was.
That’s one of the biggest problems with teaching freshmen: they think they know exactly what college should be like, and when it isn’t, the teacher must be doing something wrong. They just don’t have enough experience yet to know how good they have it with me.
Incidentally, during this class, one young woman asked me, “Was World War I or World War II the one with Hitler in it?”