After teaching several years of Introduction to Public Speaking, I have seen a sampling of freshman students enter the university. During this time, I have noticed several trends among the incoming groups of students that I think both reinforce and resist stereotypes associated with this generation of college students. I do not aim to generalize to all freshman students in all universities. Instead, I am simply discussing some of my personal observations of the students I have taught and interacted with over the past three years.
They are not as apathetic as people may think. When I first began teaching, I heard several accounts of why I will hate teaching freshmen. Mostly, I heard that freshmen do not care about college, and they expect it to be exactly the same as high school. While there are some students that I would say fit that bill, the majority of my students (after some time adjusting to college life) embrace the opportunities to do or think differently than they did in high school. Especially in a speech class, the students are given the chance to experiment, learn new things, and take chances. And while some students may take more coaxing than others, I have found that once you can get them to try, they realize that they are capable of many new things. Then they are excited at what else they might uncover.
The comma is a complete mystery for many students. Even the students that I classify as competent writers tend to either over-use or never use commas. Every semester, after hours of painful grading and editing, I have to give my students the “comma talk.” We discuss when a comma is appropriate, when it is not, and how they might be able to correct their comma problems. Some students get better, some stay the same, but every semester comma conundrums are a common issue.
Not all students text in class. I have been to several instructional conferences that discuss the terrible problem of cell phones and texting in class. Here is my philosophy; as long as I keep the material interesting, the work challenging, and the students engaged, I do not have a problem with my students texting during class. Period.
The combo of socks and sandals is making a comeback. I was prepared for the sweatpants and yoga pants to make an appearance, but I had an overwhelming number of students rocking socks with sandals! When I was in school that was definitely a fashion statement that we ardently avoided. Now students are embracing the look without hesitation, which is an interesting turn in this age of fashion. I guess if that is the worst fad in my classroom, I can deal with that.