I hate the way some professors and especially graduate student teaching assistants talk about their composition students. Don't get me wrong, I do my own complaining about their unwillingness to invest in their writing, about their lax attitudes, about the way they try to negotiate their way around my assignments. But ultimately, I realize that they're only 18. I wasn't particularly invested in anything 18, much less my college career. I was sleeping as late as possible and barely dragging myself to class. I groaned about conjugating French verbs and having to read "Madame Bovary." I cursed my Biology teacher and the 50 lb book we used for lab. I didn't see the point in Gen Ed classes when alll I wanted to do was write. I'm sure my teachers talked about me as lazy. I certainly was in many respects.
I guess because it's only been 10 years since I was an undergraduate student, I feel as if I get it. I get their struggles, their flakiness, their absolute terror at writing, at failing Physics. I never took 101 but I feel as if I would have done mediocre at best. I might have barely passed especially having to write a paper every 2 weeks.
I love freshmen writers. They seem more willing to try something new, to joke around, to try and make me laugh. They seem more excited when they discover something interesting or when some new idea clicks. They make teaching fun and adventurous to me. They're also frustrating. But without the frustrating times, I wouldn't enjoy the better moments. Perhaps I am naive. Perhaps I am idealistic. But I think my attitude about my students makes a difference. I try to be realistic about my expectations while at the same time, challenge my students with new perspectives and approaches.
I can't stand when colleagues call freshmen, stupid, lazy or treat them as pitiful creatures who are lucky to be graced by the presence of greatness in their teachers. Give me a break. I am bothered when colleagues act as if teaching composition is beneath them, somehow dirty. And at the same time, I relish in my own enjoyment of getting my hands dirty with students' work, their writing issues, fears etc.
This post started as a response to complaints about students causing more work for a teacher because they ask for extensions or don't include everything in their unit folders. I have forgotten to attach Works Cited pages to my papers more than once. I have asked for extensions almost every semester. I realize students may have trouble getting their shit together. I am one of the students, sometimes. I know that PhD work is different. I realize expectations are different but if I hadn't gotten extensions and incompletes, I would have failed many of my classes. I can't ignore that when I get irritated at my own students. I can't be that hypocritical. I'm very careful about extensions and incomplete folders, however. But I don't treat students as a burden. I guess that's the difference in my teaching, attitude and life.
I do this because I want to, not because there's nothing else I'd like to do. I joke a lot about school being the only thing I'm good at doing, but I know I could get a job managing a retail store and excel at it. I know that I could do other things, that I'm interested in other things that aren't academic, but teaching writing thrills me. As a Creative Writer myself, I feel as if I can offer students innovative approaches to their writing processes and a unique perspective on their work. I know that my interests in technologies and writing can offer the field ways to look at composition in ways not yet considered. Somewhere at the core of me, beyond my insecurities and guilt complexes, and chaos, I know I'm good at what I do and that I wouldn't feel as excited by doing any other work. At the same time, I am also overworked, underpaid and exhausted by the demands on my life. But it would always be that way, no matter what I do. I am realistic about my place in the academy but I try to temper that with a bit of idealism and love for what I do.
Perhaps Oren was right in his assessment, some people do this because they can't do anything else. They're disillusioned artists with very little other alternatives. That saddens me. A lot.