Almost all incoming students are required to take Writing 2. I don’t mind teaching it because it’s part of the Freshman sequence, and the fall quarter is particularly nice because the class is usually full of students who may have never seen a college teacher up close and personal before. Perhaps they are not overcome with joy at the prospect of learning, but they are at least excited to be in college. Also they don’t quite know how college works yet, so I have the opportunity to act in my person as an introduction to the university, most especially to its intellectual standards and challenges.
But when I walked into my first Writing 2 course of the new school year (I am teaching two this quarter), I felt something was off. The room was dead silent. In the first quarter at college some students don’t know appropriate student teacher decorum and one of them might do something odd like ask you how you are doing or are you the professor. And usually too they are at least whispering to each other trying to make sure they are in the right class and the right room and at the right time.
But not with this class. As soon as I sat down to take roll, I saw why. The class had only a sprinkling of Freshpersons. The rest were sophomores. In the Vietnam War, people wrote about soldiers with the thousand mile stare. These people had been through hell and back and seen it all. Sophomores have the two inch stare. They have seen just enough not to want to see anymore. They slouch, they fidget, they yawn, they stretch, they put their heads on their desks for a few winks, and they don’t want to meet your eye. Sometimes, they lapse unconsciously into grooming behavior and sit there breaking off their split ends.
Sometimes, I think I could drop dead on the floor, and they would just ignore me. And then somebody would ask, “How long do we have to wait for the Professor till we can leave.” Then they would wait the requisite 15 minutes and step over my dead body as they went out.
You might think it takes a year for a Freshperson to become a sophomore. Actually it takes just two quarter or about one semester. Teaching Assistants who start teaching Writing 2 in the fall come up to me in the spring quarter and say that they don’t know what they are doing wrong. Things went well the first two quarters, but now… I say, hell, you are doing fine. It’s those sophomores.
So felt a bit disappointed sitting there in front of all those sophomores. “Damn, I said, you are nearly all sophomores. I am sorry Freshpersons but you are at a disadvantage. What happened? This class is supposed to be for Freshpersons. Did you put it off? Couldn’t you get in?”
I might as well have been talking into thin air. But I got into taking roll and trying to pronounce these amazing names that I can’t pronounce at all and pretty quickly forgot, for the moment, the sophomore problem.