Thursday, August 26, 2010

Obstacle or Opportunity: How do you see your (remedial) course?

I'm teaching three sections of what the university calls Basic Writing, but what is understood as Remedial Writing. These are kids who didn't achieve a college readiness score for writing on their ACT. These are kids who do not have the writing (and usually reading) skills necessary in order to do college work, in order to really succeed in college. They are often first-generation students, coming from impoverish rural areas with small, sub-par schools. These are kids with big dreams and I, with my required, not-for-credit course, am standing in their way.

No one wants to do remedial writing: students don't want to take it (who wants to pay for an extra class?), professors don't want to teach it (good news for me, because it means I have a job).  For professors, remedial writing was not what they were hired to do, nor what they were prepared to teach. So, the class represents an obstacle, something that stands between them and what they really want to be doing. For me, it's a challenge, an opportunity to help students get to a place where they can take the classes I've been trained to teach, the classes that I really want to teach. An opportunity to help a student who would otherwise (most likely) fail and dropout.

I tell this to my students: this class is an opportunity for them to improve, to practice and to hone their reading and writing skills. An opportunity to try, fail, try again and do better. The class is like training, like practice, doing the basics over and over again so that they are ready for the big show, the big game. Coaching and playing on gameday is fun; coaching and performing in the practices leading up to gameday is hard. I tell them that if they see this class as a chore, then it will be; if they approach it as a waste of their time, then it will be that, too. 

The class, as I teach it, isn't just about writing, it's about college success. To become better writers, they need to give themselves time, they need to be able to read and recall what they need to write about efficiently and effectively, they need to have skills and strategies to balance their work and life, and they need to know how to get the right kind of help they need. I can teach them grammar until I'm blue in the face, but if the students don't have the time or motivation or substance to write, then I've wasted my time. I tell my students, in this class, I'm here to put you on the right path to get out of here with your degree.

I am not standing in their way anymore than they are standing in mine. I'm in it for 15 weeks. I hope they come along for the ride. 

Tomorrow, how my 200-level (or second-year students) are an even bigger challenge.

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