When you teach at one school for any length of time, you inevitably run into students wherever you go. This past Friday I was on my way to Greektown for a gyro and encountered a former student from my First Year writing course two semesters ago.
I don’t know about you but I always find these situations a little awkward at first. Most of these students I don’t see after they take my freshmen level courses. They go on to their various fields of study and I don’t have the opportunity to see them again. Consequently, I’m never really sure what to talk about.
In this case, I gravitated towards the predictable. “So what classes are you taking this semester? Are they going well?” As this student answered my utterly banal questions, she eventually blurted out “Thank God I’m done with English. Now I can get on to what I want to study.”
Being a long time teacher of the core curriculum at this school, which is universally required and almost as univerally reviled by students, I’m used to comments like these. I just laugh them off. What made me sad, however, was the grain of truth in what she was saying. My course would more than likely be the last “English” (i.e. writing) course that she would take in her college career. Admittedly she will have classes that require her to write, but never again will writing be a deliberate part of her instruction.
Perhaps this is just the English teacher in me speaking out, but I find this reality disgusting. Without any meaningful iteration, First Year writing courses are indeed what students claim–a waste of time. They jump through the hoop to make those in power happy and then go on their merry way. This attitude will not change until writing or more appropriately COMMUNICATION at ALL LEVELS of the curriculum and in ALL DISCIPLINES becomes a subject worthy of sustained attention. When we write, we communicate our ideas with others. If we can’t do this effectively, our ideas may as well not exist. If we can’t do this effectively, it is not the English teachers that have failed our students but those who feel that effective communication is the problem of a selected few.
Let’s hope that sometime in the future, students like that young lady mentioned above will see the global value of good communication and not cringe in fear of the “English” class.