As many of you know, I am adjuncting this semester. Composition 101, a Gen Ed requirement. And generally speaking, I enjoy teaching this class. I like the challenge of asking a classroom full of 22 disaffected 19-year-olds who really just want to get an engineering degree so they can make a lot of money to explore literature and their own creative expression. Maybe I'm a sadist.
This semester has been particularly trying because I am teaching two sections of the class. This doesn't sound like much and frankly I know people who are teaching double and triple my load. It's not the work load that has been frustrating - although, trust me people, it hasn't been a cakewalk either - it has been student attitudes. Allow me to explain. While I have noticed an increasing trend in college students acting more entitled than back in the day when I was in college, it is one thing to show up to class unprepared one day and another to consistently come to class having no idea what the rest of the class is doing.
My two classes fit into the classic angel versus devil dualism: 10:00-ers are my angels; 12:00-ers are my devils (with a few exceptions in both classes). I have complained to my husband about my 12:00-ers often and he assures me that I should have known what I was getting into with a 12:00 class. "They didn't get their acts together to enroll in an earlier class so they took whatever was left." This, he thinks, speaks volumes about the class dynamics. Maybe so. Here's the dynamics of the 12:00-ers I have documented thus far: disrespectful chatting while I'm talking; asking me to repeat what I just said because of not listening; texting; eating; showing up 15-20 minutes late; showing up 15-20 minutes late reeking of pot; distracting other students; distracting from group discussion when student hasn't read the assignment; 6 or more unexcused absences (which is a means to an "F"); failing to turn in one single homework assignment.
As the semester has progressed, several students have disappeared. Some for days or a week and others permanently. I'm usually a bit guarded when students ask for exceptions. I've heard that students will use "death in the family" repeatedly. Once, a colleague told me, a student gave birth to her child three times in one semester. (I'm guessing she did not provide a note from the obstetrician.) But, as I have met with my 12:00-ers individually, or read through their often intensely personal essays, I realize that they are not a group of slackers. These kids have problems of a scale I could not have imagined at their age. The problems range from sad-but-under-control (emotional distress, low self-esteem) to difficult to handle (multiple kids to support, car accidents, 3rd shift jobs at UPS) to oh-my-god-please-tell-me-you-are-gettting-medical/spiritual/emotional counsel (critically ill siblings, mentally ill parents, physical abuse). I don't think I'm alone in reporting that students confide more to Humanities professors than any other discipline. We assign personal essays; what do we expect? But here's the thing: we are not trained to help these students. I'm not saying, don't talk to me. I love listening and trying to help. I love love love my students, even the fuck-ups who reek of pot every class. I just wish universities provided more training for us sensitive Humanities types, especially we adjunct profs who get paid a nickle an hour.
In the mean time, my heart goes out to my students - to all teenagers - who are dealing with life-changing, life-threatening crises, who need support and don't know who to ask, who to trust, where to turn. Keep going to class. Keep doing your work. It will transform you. You will find community. It will open doors for you. You will live through this and you will be stronger for it.