I had no idea that I needed it. Just no idea.
Let me go back a bit. Like most Composition Instructors, I could potentially end up teaching every single student on campus. Why? Because no matter their major, likes/dislikes, or even level, there is no way to completely circumvent required campus writing courses.
All students must take some writing classes in the writing sequence.
This is a good thing. Love this.
I remember arrogant little me trying to weasel out of my writing classes at UNC, years ago, because I had good AP Exam scores. I’m happy to report that my advisor laughed and put me in a class that paired my Composition class with the New Testament class I wanted to take. That Composition course dove deep into New Testament history, and it taught me how to tackle real subjects- with nary a 5-paragraph essay in sight.
It’s true. All college students, regardless of major, need to dive into some writing classes. It’s good for them.
Those teaching them, though, might need a break.
That was sudden, wasn’t it?
Most Composition teachers I know adore their jobs and feel committed to their students. However, no matter the talent level of the teacher, the students are still a powerfully important element in the classroom.
And, boy, oh boy, does it take a lot to convince some of these students that they need to be in these required classes. In my experience, it takes time, effort, and, most importantly, me modeling my passion for the subject.
But tired, y’all.
I didn’t realize how tired until this very week. This week, I got to skip the song and dance.
I got a class that involved student choice.
Why am I so dazzled?
Because, like most Composition teachers, I’ve been a little stuck in my groove these past few semesters. I’ve been teaching remedial and 101 classes, which are all very, very required.
Especially for the remedial courses, class usually must start with an explanation and defense of why the students are in the class. They have been placed in that class by the powers that be. It wasn’t their plan; it makes their graduation date stretch further away; they don’t even like writing, and now here’s some “extra.”
Some students take it well.
Some students take some time to take it well.
Denial. Anger. Resignation. Acceptance.
I can do it. I’ve been doing it for years, and I am so ready to tell them what they need to hear in order to understand the value of their education in the class. I am proud to say that most of my students, by the end of the semester, get it.
But I didn’t have to do it this week. I’m teaching a class that, while still required, was chosen based on student preference. They could have gone the literature-based research argument route or the research-based, classic rhetoric route. They chose what suited them, and their majors, best.
It feels like I won some sort of lottery. I came in, ready to overcome the groans by sheer force of will and my love of writing.
I gave them work to do and choices to make right away, and they started talking as a class. After a bit of debate about topics, they reached consensus from back row to front.
I stared at them.
I’ve had my share of good classes, but it’s been a while since I’ve walked in on the first day to a class full of students who already knew why they were there- and didn’t mind.
This was the necessary refreshment my teaching needed. It is a completely different feeling to monitor and support discussion, instead of leading it (I could have included some metaphors about bulldozers, kicking and screaming, or pulling teeth, but let’s keep things light. I’m in a really good mood).
Composition Instructors, like me, need that balance of required, yes-of-course-this-class-is-important, classes with student-chosen classes.
Just like it would weigh heavily on students to only have required classes, it can weigh on teachers, too.
I didn’t know I needed a reprieve. I didn’t even request it. My boss-lady just handed me a schedule like it was no big deal.
It turned out to be good medicine.