With classes beginning this week, it's once again time for beginning-of-year meetings and convocation, which is being held on Tuesday at SLCC. We're using a new textbook (The Academic Writer) in the English department, and the author came to SLCC yesterday morning to give insight into how her book developed and to elaborate upon certain features of the book that might help us teach more effectively.
It was interesting to hear her speak, and I'm glad I went. There were about 30 folks from the English department, which I thought a good turnout. One thing made me think, though, and I kept it in the back of my mind as Dr. Ede gave her talk.
I sat at a table with two other instructors, both of whom introduced themselves to me, but who effectively ignored me. (The woman sitting in the middle, A., introduced herself, then turned to the woman on her left, B., and engaged her in conversation before we got started and during the break, and seemed rather disinterested in conversing with anyone else. B. didn't seem interested in conversation with either of us.) Both the other instructors teach the level of writing that comes after mine in the sequence, although both had taught the level I currently teach. A. was perhaps a few years younger than I, and noted that she did not really enjoy teaching ENGL 1010 because the students were not "not college-ready." I began considering what "college-ready" actually means.
Does it mean that the students who come to college shouldn't need ENGL 1010? Should their writing skills be such that they shouldn't need to take writing courses at all? Do we tell students who are in their 40s and 50s, who have spent decades developing professionally without having gone to college, that they're not college ready simply because they might never have been strong writers? (Especially if they've been out of school for a few decades.)
I find such an attitude dismissive towards students who may, in fact, have been strong students, academically speaking, when they were in high school, but may need a refresher, or need an instructor who can finally make sense of any writing and reading issues they faced while enrolled in school previously. There are skills skills that need to be taught; one of the reasons one attends college to begin with is so that one can be taught those skills. There are always learning curves, both academically and in terms of attitude.
Or is it that they're not "college-ready" because of other reasons, such as attitude and expectations? It's a change going from high school to college, or from working full-time, developing a career, and going back to college after time away. Students should be allowed to take a semester or two to realign their expectations and learn what it means to be a college student.
It's an attitude I'm beginning to see in some younger teachers who were fantastic students their entire lives; if they never struggled in school, if they went straight from high school to college to grad school with no real academic problems, there's less of an understanding towards those who didn't do things that way.
If you're looking for students to enroll in college and immediately be "college ready," I wonder what exactly you're expecting from students. One of our jobs as teachers is to help students become as ready as they can be, with all that entails.