Thursday, November 19, 2009

Community and Individual

If you're a college professor who has never mandated that your students meet with you individually at least once during the semester for a significant amount of time (say, at least 20 minutes), you should try it. Once a semester, I'll cancel class for the week and meet with each of my students in half-hour blocks. I usually try to schedule this such that we can discuss the most difficult project of the semester. In a composition course, that's the third one, wherein they identify/contextualize a problem in their local communities and offer a solution to said problem. In literature, it's an earlier paper, generally because I introduce literary theory (e.g. Feminism, Marxism, Structuralism) at a pretty early point. In creative writing, it depends on my feel for the class - things tend to be more fluid in my creative writing courses than the others, and I try in any course to react to the needs of my students.

As far as the writing projects are concerned, the sessions are always helpful. I have the opportunity to ask pointed questions and really get individuals thinking in new ways that aren't impossible but are more difficult in the classroom. I can tailor my critiques to their personalized grammars/styles, their topics. Those who are afraid to raise their hands in class to request clarification are always willing to do so in a one-on-one situation. It's good for the paper, which is good for the grading as well (for those of you wondering if it's worth the extra effort up front).

Just as importantly, I actually get a feel for what my students want to do with their lives. I'm not taking this route as strongly here at UNE as I did at Texas A&M, but it's still a question I ask. What does this person want to get out of my class? Out of college? Out of life? At A&M, much to my chagrin, the advisors were overworked and let too many students fall through the cracks. I remember talking to a senior in a CW class of mine who was actually interested in journalism. Nobody had suggested to this student to try getting an internship with the local paper. Nobody had suggested working with the school paper. Nobody had taken any interest other than to note that the journalism program had been disbanded earlier. Even at that stage, nobody suggested that perhaps transferring prior to senior year might have been the best course of action. They just shunted this student into English classes because, hey, it's all language-based, right? That's wrong. UNE is small enough that I don't see the same problem happening. I'm also reticent to jump in before I understand the culture here more thoroughly. But really, somebody should be asking these young men and women to examine their dreams, not just dream them. That's part of what we do.

As my wife puts it - we encourage critical thinking, creativity, and communication. I add to that community, of which we are a part. Sometimes we best find out place in the community by interacting as individuals.

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