Friday, November 22, 2013

Freshmen: Lost in Transition

Freshmen...this seems to be the talk amongst both high school and university educators.  Regardless of the institution the conversations usually begin with the phrase "Those freshman..." and often follows with something like this:
  • "....don't know anything!"
  • "...have no idea how to study!"
  • "...cannot write to save their lives!"
  • "...are clueless!"
Those same cries are usually followed by blaming the prior institution, their faculty, their parents, society and the list of complaints go on and on:
  • "What in the world are those teachers teaching them?"
  • "Why aren't those teachers...?"
  • "I can't believe they actually made it to this level!"
  • "Wonder what those parents are like!"
  • "I can't believe they actually graduated!"
  • "What is happening to education?"
  • "It's that NCLB, CCSS, and those government...(blah, blah, blah)."
  • "I'm afraid for our future!"
Whoa! Slow down!  How quickly we digress!  Remember what we are talking about here? Freshmen. They come to us, not underprepared, but simply lost in transition.  

Now, I am not a certified freshmen expert nor am I parent of a freshman, nor a leader of any political party, I am simply a high school teacher of 16 years. During this time, I can safely say that the needs of freshmen have not drastically changed; nor have educator complaints changed much regarding freshmen struggles.  If the saying "time will tell" rings true, then it is safe to say that in another 16 years freshmen needs will look close to the same.

After much reflection I came up with these parallels between high school and college freshmen.

Notice, The Freshmen 10 solely focuses on freshmen thus eliminating all causes.  In my years of teaching, these are the top ten struggles I have noted for freshmen learners. It is why they begin to believe they are not smart enough to survive in their new surroundings; thus eventually giving up.

I believe we have a choice as educators to either:  1) continue pointing the fingers of blame and shame or 2) start meeting the needs of students in their transitional years.  As you can guess I am interested in the later of these two. As an invested, connected educator, I have some thoughts as to how we can better support struggling freshman in high school and college.  It all begins by addressing what The Freshmen 10 need in order to adapt and evolve in their new learning environments.

Even when these needs are met in high school, they need met again for traditional college freshmen. I find it interesting how our society has deemed holding hands appropriate for certain life events such as helping a toddler to walk, crossing the street and much later in life in marriage when we repeat the vows "to have and to hold"...yet there is a huge gap where our society frowns upon holding hands.  This large gap occurs from approximately middle school on until one finds a life partner.  Why do we do this as a society? Why do we let go of hands during the most critical developmental stages of the mind and why for so long? Why is okay for adults to hold hands with someone for the rest of their lives, yet we want students to stand alone? Mark Ryan, Darius Rucker, and Jim Stonefeld (1994) from the band Hootie & The Blowfish offer powerful words as to why we should continue to hold hands in supporting one another:

Yesterday, I saw you standing there
Your head was down, your eyes were red
No comb had touched your hair
I said get up, and let me see you smile
We'll take a walk together
Walk the road awhile, 'cause
I've got a hand for you

It is up to educators to meet freshmen students at the intersection to help them cross. When we finally let go, we do so knowing we supplied them with the support and tools needed to move forward on their own.  

Bryan M., Rucker D. & Stonefeld J. (1994), Hold my hand (Recorded by Hootie & The Blowfish) on Cracked Rearview Mirror Atlantic Records (1994)