Back in the Goodle Days of Teaching Freshman Comp

As many people know, I was once an English teacher. I taught composition, critical thinking and business communication. Once in a GREAT WHILE (like twice in two decades) I was “allowed” to teach summer literature. I spent 35 years of my life reading student papers. What’s more (and possibly strange) I liked it. I liked teaching post-adolescents and I never got tired of it. Everything I ended up hating about “teaching” really had little to do with teaching or students.

There is a thing about college freshmen and sophomores, it’s a good thing, but it’s also challenging, funny and annoying, they think they’re VERY VERY VERY smart and that they created the world and everything in it when they hit 18. I thought this, too, at that time of my life, so I have and always have had total sympathy with the hubris of youth. Now I know two things about it 1) their frontal lobes are not completely grown, 2) if we didn’t feel that way as young people the world would never change.

They wrote papers and they confused words. They confused words because they wanted to use big words. They had a few things going on in their minds. 1) they wanted to use big words because they were smart people and smart people use big words, 2) they wanted to impress their English teacher and everyone KNOWS English teachers are impressed by big words, and, 3) you get good grades by impressing your teacher. The advent of “spell check” made this problem even more interesting. :p

I think “plethora” is probably the favorite big word of college freshmen to use in their English essays. I’ve read that word almost exclusively on freshman English papers. One student even said, “Did you like how I used ‘plethora’?”

They also liked to get on their soapboxes. In order that they learn to be logical in presenting their arguments, they were required to write a PERSUASIVE PAPER on a controversial topic. I made rules. They could not write about legalizing pot, capital punishment or abortion. “Why, professor?”

“Well, here’s the deal. I don’t want to read a bunch of papers about legalizing pot, capital punishment or abortion. You gotta’ see this from my side. You’re going to write ONE paper. I’m going to take home 30 papers from each of my 3 freshmen comp classes. I don’t want to read 90 papers on abortion, would you?”


“All right then. Come up with something YOU really care about.”

“I care about that.”

“Find something else.” If a student were too invested in one of those three topics I was pretty sure they already had a paper and works cited page, probably from high school. There was also the reality that there are  9 million freshman papers available for sale on those three topics… I hated dealing with plagiarism.

If you have never sat down to a stack of freshman level persuasive papers, you have not lived (huh?). 🙂 Usually they were pretty OK. Occasionally they were abysmal, often they were cliché, sometimes they were inspiring. There was always at least one paper that took it upon itself to defend Freedom and the American Way. Almost always that paper told me that it was my right to peruse happiness.


8 thoughts on “Back in the Goodle Days of Teaching Freshman Comp

  1. I’m glad I never had kids. )For a plethora of reasons, but primarily to peruse sanity.) God knows how you had the temperament for this….

    • I’m a case of arrested development, so it was both easy and fun. I just look like a little old lady. I didn’t have kids (or want them), either, probably because I already had 10,000 teenagers to contend with and didn’t want to come home to more.

  2. I am also surprisingly supportive of teenage “rebellion.” This is what they are supposed to do. It’s part of the breaking away from childhood thing and moving into adulthood, hopefully with ideas that are new and different (to you, anyhow). Because without that, we all grow up little robot.

    But I never taught the youngsters. I taught oldsters whose lives needed retrenching. Surprise — there were a LOT of similarities. Maybe it’s the “my life needs to go in another direction” thing that brings different ideas into the luggage room?

    • My community college classes had a mix of post-adolescents and older people coming back to change their lives. It was easier to teach the older ones because they knew why they were there. A student’s internal motivation is a big help to a teacher as well as to the student. One of my treasures from teaching is a HUGE book of poetry edited by Longfellow and dedicated to Goethe given to me by one of my older students who came into my literature class the first day and said, “If we gonna’ do potry I’m NOT gonna’ like it.” I said, “Give me a chance.” She did. She was amazed I knew “pomes” “by heart” and would write them on the board. Anyhoo, she found the book at a yard sale, saw Goethe’s name and picture, and bought it for me. Her 7 year old son came to class with her and sometimes participated. I loved the “non-traditional” students. ❤

  3. Thank you for writing about the upside of teaching, the things that kept so many of us going at it and enjoying it for many years. Your words triggered memories. I tell people that in my many years of teaching I had mostly good days, some bad days )usually caused by something other than my students) but always interesting days. I don’t remember being bored or watching the clock. Teaching fit me. And you last sentence made me laugh aloud.

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