I teach some combination of undergraduate teacher education courses and graduate education courses. Most of my students are college juniors, so they’ve had a couple years of experience before they get to me.
Starting next week, I’m teaching a course that our university calls SFA (acronym for Stephen F. Austin State University) 101. It’s a one hour course that students take voluntarily (although the university enthusiastically encourages them to take it) that aims to smooth the potentially rough transition between high school and college. The list of topics we’re supposed to cover includes:
- Academic Integrity
- Accessing and Evaluating Information
- Campus and Community Service Opportunities
- College Classroom Learning Strategies
- Overview of University Resources
- Personal Survival Skills (Time MGT, Money MGT, Alcohol, Drugs and Sex)
- The True Value of a College Education
- University Rules and Procedures
- Working Successfully with Peers, Faculty and Staff
I had no idea what to expect last fall when I taught it for the first time, but I was unprepared for the difference between my brand new SFA 101 freshmen and the juniors I usually teach. In that regard, it was gratifying to see how much good a year or two of college does for them in terms of responsibility, maturity, organization and work ethic. It was also good for me because it provided me with endless fodder for dinnertime “what would you do if . . .?” conversations with my kids (ages 9, 12, and 15).
Some things about the students were worrisome. I found myself feeling like one of those old people you see in the movies who snaps in her dentures and grumbles, shaking her head, “Kids today . . .” They were brutally honest about everything, which I initially invited—and then found myself cringing when they shared everything (and I mean everything). They were very open and informal about everything from cheating to sex with their boy/girlfriend to partying. No holds barred.
But I loved the class. I felt like they needed the content of the class and, in some cases, they needed me. On the second day of class, one student approached me after class and asked about what student counseling services were available on campus. They visited me for one-on-one appointments throughout the semester. Several of the guys sat in my office and acted proud and macho—until I asked whether they were homesick—at which point more than one cried unashamedly. They needed help navigating troublesome roommates who came into the room at all hours of the night—disrupting their sleep—and dealing with life-threatening health problems that had gone untreated because they lacked health insurance. In short, they were dealing with some heavy duty life stuff in addition to the usual college “stress” like cramming for tests, re-writing papers, etc.
Mostly, I asked myself all semester long: What would I want for Kennedy (or my other kids, but Kennedy’s first in line) to know about succeeding in college? What advice would I give her or wish that someone else would give her? And hoping that when she does go away to college, there’s a mom-type like me at her university who will look out for her if she needs it.
So I’m putting together my new syllabus and I thought I’d put it out there for my D & S muses:
What do college freshmen need to hear loud and clear?
What do you wish you’d known when you were first starting out?
What do you wish you’d done (or not done)?
Of course, all this assumes that my students will be listening. I know that.