This week I also met with all my 101 students individually in my office, to discuss their writing samples, move some of them into other classes, and generally get a feel for where they are all at.
I think I may have put out a couple of small fires. For example, one young woman, who arrived in full-on sulk, eventually revealed that she was angry that she’d been placed in the ESL-level class when she is an Anglophone; by the time the interview was over, though, she was laughing and agreed that she’d do everything she could to make the experience a rewarding one. I transferred a couple of a*%&$les to a higher-level class (I feel a bit uneasy about this; was I inflating my opinion of their writing abilities just so I could get rid of them?) but not without first addressing their a*%&$leness with them and receiving, not quite an apology, but at least an acknowledgment. And I transferred a couple of students with serious writing problems to a lower-level class, and the relief on their faces was palpable.
I used to try to wing it in these interviews, but have learned from experience that fatigue sets in quickly and I really need at least a minimal script, so I’ve settled on five topics to address:
1. Discuss any information that seems important on the personal info sheet they filled out the first class. Such info might be:
a) They are repeating this course (What happened?) or did a preparatory course first (Who was your teacher? How did it go? What did you learn about your strengths and weaknesses?)
b) They are older than 17 or 18 (Did you take time off before coming to CEGEP?)
c) They have hobbies or interests that I share or that I know nothing about
d) They have made a comment in the “Is there anything else you’d like me to know about you?” section.
2. Discuss the writing sample they did and point out what I think are the areas where they need the most work, or, if appropriate, whether they would be better off in another class. Also, if any sensitive issues or funny stories came up in the sample, I have a chance to discuss them. (I missed this opportunity with one student: he wrote me a rather oblique story that seemed to make reference to some sort of parental mistreatment, but I forgot to tag his story at the top where I would be immediately reminded to talk to him about it, and didn’t remember until he’d left. I will have to find a way to pull him aside at some point.)
3. When we talked about the course and went through the course outline last class, was everything clear? Do you have any questions or concerns? (If they’re repeating the course: Does it seem generally similar to what you did last time?)
4. Do you have your books? (If not: Are you clear on which ones you need? Are you going to have them by next class?)
5. Do you know how to use the online classroom/messaging system? (If not: brief demonstration.)
These interviews are always exhausting, but entirely worth it. The students get to express some things that are on their minds, they get to interact with me face-to-face at a very early stage, they learn where my office is – so more of them come to see me later – and they get to see me paying close attention to work they’ve already done (their info sheet and writing sample.)
Invariably, though, I get a few first impressions that turn out to be inaccurate, and this is the challenge of the first few weeks – to not immediately tag students with expectations based on a few minutes of conversation in my office.