Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Wed 5/2/2007 9:48 AM
Random Thought: A Quickie on Those First Year Students, I

My eyes are getting bloodshot. My muscles are aching. I feel my energy draining. For the past few days, I have been reading, pondering, reflecting upon almost 600 evaluations written by the students of themselves and each other, pouring over notes I’ve taken during the semester about students, going back to read project evaluations, pulling up a host of journal entries out from the pool of over 10,000 entries. Grrrrrrrr! All this is for the most uneducational and education-destroying aspect of getting an education: final grades. It is struggling times like this I wonder at my “idiocy” of not just giving tests, grading them, adding up test scores, dividing by the number of tests, throw something in for participation and attendance, and finally, when all the curving and bending and twisting and doubling up and dropping lowest and generally skewing is done, inscribe the appropriate subjectively arrived at objective letter on the final grade sheets, and just saying with a note of self-serving satisfaction, “the grades made me do it!”

But, as I waded through this weighty process I’ve weighed on myself, words and phrases in these evaluations, notes, and journal entries waxed and waned like a series of verbal novas. Put together they made for host of wow-type realizations about these students that fast danced through my mind. So, for the next few days, I’m going to rat-a-tat a series of “quickies” about my experiences with and impressions of these first year students before I depart on Monday to teach in China as part of VSU’s Maymester Study Abroad Program. Here goes the first installment.

By and large, except for the very, very few non-traditional first year students, the first year students are high school graduates facing the future without much know-how which way to face and how to face it. They are not "young adults." They haven't gone through some genetic mutation during the summer between their June high school graduation and August entrance into college. They are not those so-called "young adults" so many of us academics like to call them--however we may often treat and control them as children--when we don't want to get involved with them or take any responsibility for what they do or don't do. In many respects, I understand. Outside those in the collegiate First Year Experience programs, so many of us academics have no preparation, much less inclination, support or encouragement, to deal with eighteen and nineteen year old adolescent teenagers. Those first year students, especially emotionally, are far more demanding and dependent old children than self-reliant and self-directed young adults. They are still molting teenagers. They are, at best, what I call “adults in training.” And, we have the heavy responsibility to be their trainers in some manner, shape, and form!! In the thriving, tenure seeking, resume growing, time consuming world of research and publication, of classroom lecture and testing, these first year students demand a lot of time and attention and effort; more often than not, individual time, attention, and effort. To spend that kind of energy, a teacher is forced to "low tech" it and find the time and make the effort to see, to listen, and to feel. They have to do subtle teaching in areas not associated with their academic discipline. A day doesn't go by that they wouldn't have to intervene, ameliorate, negotiate, advise, guide, console, and, at times, prevent. It's so much easier to weed out with "oughts," "shoulds," “they aren’ts,” “they can’ts,” and "they don'ts" than it is to nurture. The problem is, as a friend told me, a weed is Mother Nature's magnificent flower that is just as beautiful as a rose; we just don't want them in our organized and pristine and low maintenance garden.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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