The best thing about students is that they grow. In college, they grow really fast, too. In the first year, they resent the written assignments I make them hand in every day of class. There is a lot of eye rolling, exasperated sighing, and shoulder twitching. The freshman class always hands in tiny little paragraphs written carelessly between classes.
By the third year, however, they begin to realize that these written exercises are extremely helpful. Sometimes, I get small written notes attached to the assignments where students thank me for taking the trouble to work on their writing every day. The responses they hand in become long and detailed. I can see that they want to get as much as they can from each assignment. In my Culture of Spain course, for instance, nobody – not a single student – has handed in a response that is shorter than one page. They could have easily limited their responses to one or two sentences but these are third-year students who realize that they would only cheat themselves out of extra knowledge if they did that.
If one survives the laziness, the immaturity, the cheating and the indifference of Freshmen, one can be very happy with more advanced students. Students come to college with grievous problems in basic socialization and a stunning degree of immaturity. With Freshmen, I feel like I work at a daycare. It is very rare that you see a student whose parents did a good job and sent their kid to college with the basic knowledge of how to exist in human society. To give just one example, whenever I teach a Freshman class, I know that I will often have people fall into my office and address me with, “I want. . . ” or “I need. . .” It takes a couple of years to teach people that they need to knock, greet the person in the office, and say something like, “I’m sorry, am I disturbing you?”
Last week, an angry disheveled person stumbled into my office. She plopped a stack of books on my desk, knocking off my own papers, placed a bag on top of the books and began to rummage in it. All of it was done in complete silence. After five minutes of silent shuffling of stuff in her bag, the student announced, “I need you to sign a form but I don’t know where it is. Do you have this form?”
“You must be in my Freshman course,” I said. “Would you like to introduce yourself?”
I can’t wait to see her two years from now and hear her tell me, like students sometimes do, that she cannot believe how wild she used to be.