21 May 2007

first year students

Tomorrow I'm going to attend a workshop on campus given by Betsy Barefoot, a national expert and researcher on first year university students.

She is the Co-Director for the Policy Center on the First Year of College, and Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Brevard College in Brevard, North Carolina. Prior to her current position she served for 11 years as Co-Director for Research and Publications in the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina.

My teaching involves almost only freshmen, four sections each term in philosophy. The philosophy courses I teach are in a program called "the Doubles" in which each of my philosophy sections is paired with and thematically linked to a section in another disciple. In the autumn, I also teach two sections of what is called "First Year Odyssey" (FYO) a one credit course designed to orient students to the university and to help with transition from high school to college.

Teaching freshman does pose special difficulties, especially at a moderately selective university with small classes, which emphasizes relationships and teaching, and is trying to increase retention. I'm rated by my students as an excellent teacher, but even so, I still feel a lot of room for pedagogical improvement and more effective classroom practice, particularly with our student population.

I sometime get frustrated since I know I made it through college without all the helps and support that we provide our students. Then again, I was my high school's valedictorian and attended an Ivy League university. So I suspect I was probably better prepared than a lot of my students and probably more motivated and more willing to take intellectual initiative.

In addition to the challenges of the classroom, there are also institutional pressures, particularly with the FYO. While FYO is only a semester-long, one credit course, it takes up a lot of different roles: orientation to the campus and available services, instruction about the Core Curriculum, pre-registration training, visits with the alumni association and career services, health and safety issues, awareness of support services, advising on time and stress management, orientation to the neighborhood and city, building of relationship, discussion of diversity and values, and so forth.

That's a lot to accomplish in one semester during approximately 15 hours of classroom time - especially while also trying to build community, monitoring students' progress, and trouble-shooting any problems that inevitably crop up.

So I'm looking forward to Dr. Barefoot's talk tomorrow and discussion among the faculty who will be there and share many of the same pressures that I face. If nothing else, these workshops are always motivating and help recharge my batteries after long semester.