Classes began a week ago, and so far, so good. I’m only taking one class (two if you count dissertation hours), so my life is substantially easier than before. Both of my assistantships are going really well. My lab gig is its usual: uneventful and at times boring. My mentoring gig is quite the opposite, and I’m most pleased about that. Give me a couple of months and I may feel differently, but this job is going to prove to be very rewarding.
I led an orientation class for one of the groups of mentors and WOW are they young! I can’t even imagine what I was like at their age, although I know it really wasn’t all that long ago. I am really beginning to see generational gaps, even though most of these kids are at most 8 years my junior. However, when I remember that some of them were still in high school when I started grad school, or that many of them were in middle school when 9/11 happened, I begin to appreciate the value of one’s college years and the changes that occur during that time. I’m sure we can all name a few people in our lives who never moved beyond a collegiate mentality well into their 20s (and even 30s), but the amount of change one experiences in all realms between 18 and 23 is nothing short of astounding to me.
One issue that concerns me is that of the helicopter parents and the overall coddling culture that I’ve seen developing on campus over the past few years. When I attended orientation before my freshman year of college, I can’t think of a single person I knew who had a parent along with them. Further, I can’t imagine the amount of ridicule one would have faced had he/she brought a parent to stay for the first few days of classes. Now it seems that these sorts of things are commonplace, and I wonder what sort of impact they will ultimately have on the students’ development. So many kids today are raised to let other people handle their problems, or to pass the buck on to someone else, absolving them of all responsibility. At some point, though, you have to own yourself. If your parents are constantly running your life, you never learn to do that for yourself, and that seems dangerous.
A friend of mine who taught an undergrad class last year recently shared some of the choicer moments she she had with students. Some students got their parents involved when they received a grade they didn’t like. One student was even brazen enough to tell her that it was her (my friend’s) responsibility to see that she (the student) passed the class. An upperclassman, no less. In-freakin-deed! People skip class, don’t study, IM their friends during class, but they call Mama crying when they’re staring down a failing grade. Had I done that, my parents likely would have hung up on my sorry ass, as well they should have. I’m not going to say that I did everything right, and there were bumps along the way, but I feel like I came out of all that a much better person. Being able to make your own mistakes and then figuring out how to deal with the consequences is an important part of becoming an adult, and that seems to be happening less and less these days. (Now hand me my Geritol, whippersnapper!)
All that said, my initial impression of my students is overall pretty positive. They’re all honors students who chose to enter this program, so already that says a lot about them. These first few weeks will be trying for all of us as we adjust to a new group of kids, figure out what makes them tick, and lay a good foundation for the rest of the year. Thank God for a long weekend before chaos ensues!