I met that first class in January 2011 with a little fear. I had planned it so they would spend most of the time writing in class, an exercise called diagnostic writing where I could assess their strengths and weaknesses and address them as a class. I went over the syllabus, had them all introduce themselves, and then set them to writing for the rest of the hour and fifteen minutes we had left.
They were an interesting bunch. I had a few older non-traditional students, but most were freshmen one semester removed from high school. Some were very competent writers, and others were a little below average. I had some veterans of Gulf War II. I had a mix of races as well, some white, some African-American, and some Hispanics also.
As far as my teaching went that semester, let’s just say we were all learning together. I had to reacquaint myself with the routine and the classroom management while dealing with a different type of student than I had taught at Mississippi State. This school had students who did not have high enough college entrance scores to go to a four-year college, and they were much less versed in the literary tradition than the students I remembered. I had to go over concepts in more detail in class so they could understand them. By the time I got their first papers analyzing fiction and saw how they were struggling, it was over a third of the way through the semester. I tried to catch them up, but my style of teaching kept some information just out of their reach.
I remember teaching one extremely funny play that depended on the students having at least a passing knowledge of Franz Kafka, John Milton, Jonathan Swift, William Shakespeare, and the infinite monkey theorem to get all the jokes. A fellow named Chris just looked at me and said, “All I know is they’re talking about a bunch of books that I haven’t read,” while I was trying to explain the play. That was humbling for me—I couldn’t assume they were getting the material if they didn’t ask questions since at times they were too confused to know what questions to ask. Somehow we all stumbled through the semester without anyone failing the course due to my inadequacies.