This semester I’ve been teaching 2 sections of English 100 and one section of English 101. It makes me realize how much I enjoy 101. Not that my 100 kids are bad, it's just a different level of writing. It’s a real challenge to get them connect with the material and keep their attention through class. (And now that the semester is over and I’m reading their final exam essays, I’m seeing lots of small sentence structure issues we should have spent more time on. why didn't I notice this before?) But my 101 class this semester was overall more advanced than sections I’ve taught in the past. There were a few kids that lagged behind, but no one was a really awful writer. And they all grew. The students who struggled on the first essay stepped up leaps and bounds for the rest of the class.
One of the reasons I like teaching 101 is because I feel it's the most important class any college student will ever take. Learning to present yourself on paper in a clear, concise manner will lead to better grades in other classes, and more importantly, can help you get a job or succeed at your job later in life. If you can't write an essay, how can you possibly survive college? Get into graduate school? Get your resume noticed?
There was one student in particular whose first essay was... scatterbrained. I could tell she had a lot of passionate ideas about the world, but that was just it - all passion. No structure. No clarity. Her paragraphs were long and unfocused. Her syntax was trying too hard to sound smart. Her topics were much too broad for the length of the assignment. Heck, her essay was a few pages longer than I asked for!
So I told her to focus. To scale back. To try to explain one point as in depth as possible instead of skimming the surface on twenty points. Her second essay was worlds better. And when we started working on the third (research) I looked over her ideas and warned her against that old problem of too much information to present a clear, focused essay. When we met for a one-on-one meeting to discuss her draft, she listened thoughtfully and wanted to make sure she was staying on focus. And as she got up to leave, she thanked me and told me I was a good teacher. (Keep in mind, this is a student who sits in the back corner, is easily annoyed by chatty students in class, and who I might have thought was bored). She had just gotten back an essay from another class and received an A. she told me she applied what I’d been teaching her about focus to her other subjects.
This last week of class, she told me she'd received another A on an essay in yet a different subject.
This is what teaching English is all about.