Looking forward to learning as a community with freshmen

by Anne Merline

 

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When I first started teaching in the Honors Program 10 years ago, I always enjoyed my first year students. I always think of them as “bright-eyed and bushy tailed,” which is an aphorism that comes from “I don’t know where.”

To me, this means that my first semester students are eager and willing to learn. There is always positive and exciting energy in my first semester seminar. The students come in and are wondering what college classes will be like, and they follow the culture of the classroom well. They do their reading, they participate in class and they are a joy to learn with.

This year my two first semester seminars on community are giving me that renewed faith in the new academic year. They are having some great discussions just as we get into the content of the course.

The discussions are already rich with thoughts, observations and debate about our experiences, opinions and facts about communal human life.

There are similar traits about first year students that I have noticed during the course of my teaching career.

First year students have to transition to the idea that they are an adult. No more parental units to make sure their curfew is met. No more teachers hanging over them for their assignments. No more thinking that they are girls and boys. They are women and men and they need to own that.

We are all adults in the classroom and if I don’t have to call you “Miss That,” or “Mr. This,” you don’t have to “Dr. me.” We were all born with beautiful first names that our parents struggled to think about for many months.

The first-year students still think that they cannot use “I” in the written responses required by the Honors Program. In our case a response is a personal reaction to a written piece which is a part of the content of the course.

Yes, I want their opinion. They need to use “I.” Students need to get used to being an integral part of the conversation, not just the audience or those called upon to regurgitate what someone has told you is the truth.

The first semester course that I teach is about the ideas and expressions of community. This is a great first semester course because it makes the students think about their own lives as an example of human organization.

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We also talk extensively about where they came from and where they are going. I like the life lessons of making yourself useful while we are on the Great Blue Marble. I encourage them to make  personally authentic decisions about what they want to do for an occupation, and what type of community that they want to live in after they leave campus.

Their first assignment is a narrative called “My Community.” Their assignment is to write a narrative of their lives using community as the central organizing theme. They relay the story of their lives using people, places, and events to chronicle their experiences and thoughts about community in their lives.

I read about parents, family, friends, teachers, leaders in their communities of faiths and community members who have mentored and shaped these young souls for years.

Many students write about their new community here on campus. Most wonder what CSU will have in store for them in terms of community. Most of these students look forward to the challenges ahead of them.

I get excited about their enthusiasm about being on campus. One of my frequent comments on their papers is “I look forward to learning with you.”

Over the course of the semester, students learn how to learn, and teachers learn to teach. We all learn how to  live and learn well together. I do look forward to learning with you!

Anne Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.