I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching these past few days. Mostly because I spent Wednesday morning in an orientation for faculty and staff who are teaching First-Year Seminars this fall. If you’re not familiar with the concept of first-year seminars you should know that they vary from institution to institution, but have a lot of commonalities.
- they’re small classes, at my university they are capped at 20 students
- they tend to cover topics that are fun or trendy – social media, reality tv, scientific topics around a certain theme like dinosaurs or the chemistry of cooking
- they are designed to not only teach the students about whatever the topic is, but also (and in my opinion more importantly) about life as a college student
- how to add and drop classes
- how to contact your professors
- how to navigate a heavy workload
- how to connect the the academic community through student organizations or support systems
- they give students at large universities like mine an opportunity to have one-on-one contact with a faculty member – many student take all large classes their first semester and this may be the only class in which the professor knows their name.
The session presenters talked a little about the history of the first-year seminar. Apparently they started around 1910, then faded around WWII, and all but vanished in the 1960s. There was a revival in the 1990s. (No, I don’t have sources. If you’re writing a research paper you’re going to have to look this stuff up. I can’t point you toward some lovely databases.) She remarked that most of the people in the room went to college during the years where they weren’t popular, but I’m a so-called next-gen librarian so they existed when I was in school. I also spoke with a colleague whose college days were just outside the FYS time frame, but she also had one. We both attended small, private, liberal arts colleges and think that has more to do with it than the years of our respective first years in college. My first-year seminar didn’t create a unique opportunity to have one-on-one contact with a faculty member because the largest class at my school was around 50 people, and I had a class with half the number of students as my FYS. BUT! I do think that my FYS was amazing. At my school the FYS classes were largely experiential and many of them focused on service learning. I honestly don’t remember exactly what the in-class topic/theme was, but do remember watching Dreamworlds, Roger & Me, and reading Ain’t No Makin’ It. What I gather from that is that our class was mostly about class and socioeconomic status and the privileges that lie therein. Apparently there were dashes of race and gender as well. We volunteered at a group home that required us to leave our campus full of the privileged and head to the neighboring town. Again, I don’t remember all the specifics of the home, but I do remember the residents were mostly adjudicated youth, but I think other kids in need of transitional housing were there as well. We did some office work, read books to the kids, and helped with homework. I come from a family that values service and volunteerism and from a community much like the working-class town the center was in so I can’t say that this experience was shocking, but it was a much-needed reminder of how lucky I was to have the educational opportunities I did and that I was morally required to give back. A few years later when I was leaving this school in the middle of my degree program these morals and values lead me to my two years of service in AmeriCorps, but I digress. (Really really digress)
The point of all that, is that first-year seminars are an experience, not just a class. They connect students with the community – both academic and sometimes life *off* of campus. At our University, we’re encouraged to take students on a field trip. I’m trying to think of something relevant to our course content, but I might just try to take them to a local restaurant or community event. We’ll see.
My class won’t have the students volunteering in the community, but we will be talking about important social issues and concepts that affect both their academic and personal lives. I will also offer extra credit for students that engage with our campus resources like the writing center, student assistance services (like the counseling center), and attending office hours for a professor that isn’t me. I might make that last one mandatory. This, along with research and library basics is what they’ll *really* be learning. As well as current issues in gender studies and the interactions between sex, class, gender, race, and sexuality.
Our topic is women in tv sitcoms. I’m ridiculously excited. Be on the lookout for posts on tv in the next few weeks. I need to put together their syllabus of required reading and watching. I’m also going to try my hand at some video editing in hopes of making a decent clips video to play on the first day of class. I’m excited and nervous about that.
I didn’t realize how nervous until I had a stress dream last night where on the first day of class this other woman came into my classroom, announced we were co-teaching, and presented her own syllabus that was full of typos, AND the point totals for the assignments DIDN’T EQUAL A MULTIPLE OF 100. “YOU CAN’T HAVE THE ASSIGNMENT POINT TOTAL EQUAL 74! THAT MAKES NO SENSE!” I woke up furious . . . I think I need to do yoga or not eat Doritos before bed.
I know I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m excited. It’s going to be a blast. Let’s all hope at least 10 people sign up for it!
Jhally, S., & Foundation for Media Education. (1990). Dreamworlds: Desire/sex/power in rock video. Amherst: MA.
MacLeod, J. (1995). Ain’t no makin’ it: Aspirations and attainment in a low-income neighborhood. Boulder: Westview Press.
Moore, M. (1989). Roger & me. Burbank, CA: Warner Bros. Pictures.