This should have been an easy post to write. Who doesn’t love a back to school special? Yet, so many of us, students and teachers alike, experience contradictory emotions as August begins. Although summer doesn’t end officially for more than a month, August commences the season of longing. The summer—apparently endless by mid-July— seems so short. Even in those summers when I was involved in teaching, service, or looking for work, the arrival of August gave me pause. Whether we are teachers or students, we have begun the season of transitions. Time to take a deep breath. Time to take on the back to school specials–or in this case, to take a look at sites that might prove helpful as we start this new academic year.
Advice from Students
Last spring, I invited students to create multimedia sites for the class of 2018, the incoming class of first-year students. Since this assignment was an option for the final writing project of the academic year, the mood was reflective and also celebratory. Because we were also reading The Myth of Sisyphus, our conversations focused on persistence and resilience. We discussed why the class of 2018 would be the most difficult audience yet: “For years, people have been warning this audience that college will be ‘different.’ The audience might be tired of these warnings, and may be past the point of wanting to hear more advice. They may believe that the warnings do not apply to them and that, since they are invincible, they can easily overcome any difficulties that arise. How will you speak to them? Why should they listen?”
While some of the advice the students offered remains specifically applicable to our large state university campus (“join a sorority or fraternity,” for instance), other suggestions addressed some of the most difficult points of transition. One student focused part of his site on coping with the unexpected challenges and stresses of the first week of college. Another student concentrated on several different aspects of how to handle independence, which this student identifies as learning that “we must push a boulder up our own hill.” A third student created a Twitter page offering tweets best summed up by the phrase “stay determined.”
Advice for Students
Sarah Juliet Lauro, blogger for HuffPost College and visiting assistant professor at Clemson University, offers “Ten Things to Do in College (Probably) More Important Than Going to Class.” Lauro ends her list with what she considers the most significant advice: “go to office hours,” and she also touches the significance of developing intellectually by urging students to learn about political views different from their own, and by following and speaking with others about the news and current events.
Advice for Students’ Parents
Claire Potter, a history professor at The New School in New York City, writes the Tenured Radical blog for the Chronicle of Higher Education. In her post, “Bye-Bye Birdies: Sending the Kids Away to College,” she offers no-nonsense advice about common issues that students face in the transition to college. Potter provides a bulleted list of “the differences between college and high school as academic environments,” including “READ THE SYLLABUS OFTEN.” She also suggests having a conversation with students in which parents “address alcohol and drug use concretely, not as a moral, legal, or family discipline issue.” For Potter, the emphasis is helping students become aware of the consequences of breaking the rules, and understanding the impact of substance use on attendance and performance in class. As my students’ multimedia work indicates, “partying” can be an issue for students of all ages, whether they are living on campus or commuting to class, and Potter hopes that students will recognize the “links [of] poor achievement to excessive partying.”
Advice for BW teachers
This summer’s global, national, and local struggles remain deeply connected to our own lives and to the lives of our students. When these struggles become reflected in students’ essay drafts, and part of our online and classroom discussions, words may become heated—or conversely, may generate silence, as when students feel disrespected or frustrated. For these moments, Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Democratic Deliberation offers Deliberation in the Midst of Crisis, a website created in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked Penn State in 2011 and afterward. If the twelve Deliberation Guidelines are geared toward students, teachers also can find support for negotiating difficult moments in classroom or online interactions. The third guideline, for instance, emphasizes respect for everyone “by ‘being present’ and listening actively.” Further guidelines illustrate best practices for active listening, which can lead to more engaged writing, as students learn to collect their thoughts. As teachers, we benefit from active listening as we learn to hear our students’ concerns and work actively to find points of connection.
Advice from You
What advice websites would you recommend to your students in BW that would help to ease transitions to college? What do you like about these websites? Please leave your responses in the comments below.