Monday, August 30, 2010

Learning on the Job

Today was the day to meet our first year special classes, beginning with breakfast with our mentors, and then meeting our classes, just in a "get to know you" way, with no "content" allowed. That stuff ended at 11:30.

So I did that. And during our class, the students had some questions. One of the questions was about where a meeting for majors was. My ears perked in terror. A meeting for majors? I haven't heard about it, but if there's one for English majors, I'm probably supposed to be in charge. OOPS!

So I asked the chair, who didn't remember hearing about it, and then I made a call and found out where we were supposed to be at 1pm. I found out from my colleagues when organizational meetings are happening and so on. And then I spent the next hour figuring out what to say to our new majors.

It went pretty well, at least the overview part did. But the questions, boy oh boy, do I feel unprepared. And partly, of course, there's no way to be prepared.

For example, there's an international student here for a year who wants to know how our courses will transfer to his/her school. No way I can know that on the fly.

And then there's a student who took AP, and wants to know exactly how the credits work. And someone else who took some college courses while in high school program, and how does that work?

I spent the next several hours after the meeting talking to individual students, trying to figure out how to solve problems and send them in a good direction. I didn't get much of the other work I'd planned to do done at all.

Our students are good, but they're understandably anxious that everything go perfectly in college. I sympathize, because I've been known to get pretty anxious about new things, too.

But here's what I'd like to say to new college students:

1) It probably doesn't matter what your major is this week, or what it is next week. If you're like most people, you'll change majors a couple of times during your college career. That's perfectly healthy and normal. But, if you can hold off on doing the actual paperwork, so long as you can take whatever courses you need, then you'll save yourself some paperwork.

2) It probably doesn't matter what your major is. Few jobs have a specific major requirement. It's more important that you learn critical thinking, data analysis (in the broadest sense), research, communication, leadership, and how to learn.

3) Most people in your generation will change jobs/careers a couple of times. It's quite likely that one or another of your jobs will be something that doesn't even exist now, except as someone's dream. (If it's your dream, yay you!) Your job in college is to learn the skills I mentioned in #2, especially the "how to learn" part, so that you can go in whatever direction(s) work best for you.

4) And finally, I'd like to say, welcome to college. I hope you love learning in college and through your lifetime, develop wonderful friendships, and change in ways that seem totally unpredictable. Good luck to all of us this semester!


  1. I love that after doing this for so many years you are still worrying about your students and taking each new year of students with a fresh eye and interest. YOu must me an amazing teacher!

  2. Wow! What a way to start a year!

    YMMV, but at the campuses I've worked, some of those student questions would actually be the province of either a dean's office or a registrar's office or an international affairs office--which is to say, remember that part of what can help you get on your feet in Big New Job is networking with other offices who can help you out. You don't need to know everything!

    But your hard working friendliness will really be an asset for your students. That kind of friendly help is so important.

  3. What great advice for new students!

  4. (This is the other Susan) I say (1) and (2) all the time -- but I haven't combined it with (3), which makes it that much more powerful.

  5. love the advice you'd like to give students -- why not go ahead and say it like that? i think my first year profs did, actually, or at least a couple of them.

    as the first susan said, there are probably offices on campus to answer those questions -- but it might take some asking around to figure out which one. very nice of you to help the new ones navigate.