Seeking Your Advice

Well, the first days of school have passed fairly well, with one notable exception: Developmental Writing. Our class was at 8:00 on Monday.

When I walked in the room, there were seven of the fifteen enrolled students there. Not an auspicious start. A girl came in about fifteen minutes into the class; she was a fine addition. She sat and stared off toward the side of the classroom and occasionally made remarks to the person sitting next to her (followed by snickers--and not the delicious chocolate kind). The other kids were more polite, but it took dynamite to make them respond to anything. Of course, non of them had their books or paper to write upon.

I did find that most of the students in the class had failed dev. writing last semester. With attitudes like that? I am shocked.

Anyway, we need to get a handle on this--AND FAST. Ideas? Suggestions?

I meet with them tomorrow morning. Wish me luck!


Melanie said…
I think you should re-enact the "sweaty-toothed madman" scene from Dead Poet's Society, and don't stop until they're all panicked and crying. Those students will be eating out of your hands by next week. (And also standing on desks, clapping real slow, if you should get terminated.)

I wish I had advice, but I'm sure, as a college professor, you've heard all of mine. Good luck!
anne said…
Maybe you could just grade their MySpace pages?

Maybe bring a pot of coffee to class? Vodka? For you, I mean.

I don't know. I learned how to write from the nuns. They used the Write Or Die! method of teaching.
Rima said…
Shock them. Can you walk in about fifteen minutes late (you know, for the air of mystery) and then launch into a totally unfettered swearing session? That's what my fiction workshop professor always did and people worshipped him. He also wore a baseball cap and wrote bad sports fiction, but that's really neither here nor there.
Claire B. said…
I volunteer to be a plant (not the leafy kind--the fake student kind). I'll be upbeat, cheerful, very polite, and respond appropriately to teacher's questions. Just the role model you need.

Seriously, discovering who wants to vs. who needs to be in the class and focusing on the objective (getting them to the next level) seems like a joint effort they could buy into.

And after a week or so of that, it's time for a smack-down.

Vodka is also a great idea.
Mrs. G. said…
One of those large boxes of Starbuck's gesture and nonthreatening ice-breaker.

And if you can work it into the syllabi, introduce the writing of David Sedaris. I have NEVER had a teen (though mine are younger) who didn't respond to him.

Good luck. I have often likened teaching to stand-up comedy...some crowds are better than others.
Mrs. T said…
I agree with the David Sedaris idea - Starbuck's isn't bad, either. David Sedaris is hilarious and could definitely get a reaction- esp. if you have a recording of some of him reading some of his selections.
Misty said…
you make me laugh! I say go to Costco... Buy a case of the delicious chocolate snickers, toss each student one in the AM and say "well, now that we have each taken a morning to share our snickers, why don't we actually value each of our times and take this class."
K. said…
Ha - I was totally going to say that this is your big Dead Poet's Society/Dangerous Minds/Take the Lead moment! (Though the last one only works if you can dance.)

I think all of the suggestions are spot on (especially the ones involving Starbucks and Sedaris) but I think the really important thing to remember here is that this could be an opportunity for you to try something, anything new. These kids are already on a downward spiral for the most part, and I think there is a certain freedom to walking in there knowing that nothing is probably going to work, so why the hell not try anything?

I specialize in putting an optimistic spin on pessimism, though. It's a gift.

Good luck, and try to have fun with it!
Professor J said…
Thank you all so much! I think there are some great ideas here. I love David Sedaris (and coffee and vodka)! I also love the idea of swearing and writing bad sports fiction, but that would involve vodka, too, I suspect. And I would have to learn something about sports.
How about just giving them each a journal and making them write? Every day no matter what.

Tell them that they have to write for 15 minutes straight. Then everyone just writes.

They can read what they wrote to each other
They can start writing their memoir
They can be shown photos and write about it
They can be given a word prompt and write about it
They can look in a mirror and write
"I remember...
I remember ...
I remember..." (it's a great writing prompt)
Look out the window and write about it...
Get some pen pals for these kids (volunteers anyone?) and have them write letters to pen pals.

And if you write with them and read what you wrote, then you can show them how it's done.

I never learned how to write until I actually started writing and also when I learned that I had something to say. (I was a late bloomer)

Go on Professor J!! Make it happen!! I bet you can inspire some writers in that class.
Following on all the coffee suggestions... I had an 8 AM on Friday my first semester of law school for which my section was always late/hungover/both. The prof said he'd provide coffee and a gallon of OJ every single friday at 745 but the deal was that if anyone in the class traipsed in late more than once thereafter, no more coffee. We bit, and even got a pool to take turns picking up bagels or doughnuts every other week. People started showing up at 730 just to chat before class, including the professor.

In addition to Sedaris, you might ask them all to write down the names of their favorite writers, and promise to work one of them into the discussions. I'd suggest Chuck Pahlniuk if I didn't find him odious, but maybe there's some other cutting edgy writer they might respond to. There's always Hunter S. Thompson.
slouching mom said…
Heh. rima's suggestion made me laugh. Seems to me as if you could do almost ANYTHING with this group!
Mark A. said…
I find that waving a gun around demands attentions.
JCK said…
The comments and ideas are great. I'm ready to come to class. Please keep us posted on what transpires. Probably better not to mix vodka with coffee. OJ much better.
Mary Alice said…
So? What happened this time? I am waiting to hear how it went.
TX Poppet said…
I'm thinking the small class size will definitely work to your advantage. Anxiously awaiting an update here, too. are tagged.
Zenmomma said…
I never really enjoyed writing until I began writing for a real purpose. Writing something that someone else assigns is always a tough job for me. I can't get inspired that way.

What if you had them start blogs? (Appropriate suggestion here, no?) Is that possible? Rather than journals maybe. Blogging can been really helpful as a writer because you are writing for a real audience. And you can get immediate and really varied feedback. Their assignments can be sort of like memes. And they can surf around reading lots of other good writers on their own blogs.

Good luck! It's hard (or impossible) to teach someone if they aren't interested in learning.
Mike Golch said…
I got a suggestion but the aclu won't like it,you need to have a john dear tractor available to pull their heads out of a certain body,if you ask me.

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