Professor / English
"I see the classroom as a mini-version of society: people from different backgrounds with diverse experiences sitting together and having to co-exist and find a way."
How do you help students develop more confidence in their writing skills?
From the first day and throughout the semester, I take the position of “anyone can do it.” One of my first lectures, especially in ENGWR 101 and below, is about how writing is not simply a natural born talent, that it is a skill anybody can develop through practice and hard work. This gives many students who have for such a long time believed they cannot write and therefore hate writing a slight hope that maybe the class won’t be so painful. What they find out is that it is a difficult challenge if taken seriously, but most of my students tell me at the end of semesters after they took my classes that they learned more in my class than in most others. These testimonies are passed on from student to student, which gives many students the confidence they need to succeed. Throughout the semester, many students have panic moments; this usually hits around mid-term time. Many students come to my office, which I encourage them to do. This is part of them developing the confidence they’ll need throughout college. They need to connect with their professors, and when they do, they often grow in new ways. They are taking initiative to help themselves, and this is them taking responsibility for the outcome of their goals. Many students go through their trials on their own, and while many find their way, there are also many who sink in isolation. As a result, I encourage students to talk to me during office hour. In my developmental writing classes, I actually schedule one-on-one conferences with each student for a chance to connect with each student individually and give them feedback based on their individual performance. These meetings also allow me to help guide the students so they can move in the direction of progress for the remainder of the semester. One option I give my students in all of my classes is the opportunity to revise any one essay for a better grade. This also gives students confidence that they didn’t have to get it right the first time, and just in case it didn’t all sink in on that first try, they have some recourse. This often makes some difference in their grade, and ultimately makes them feel like they made these choices for themselves, which in turn gives them a greater sense of self.
What advice would you give to a new college student?
A new college student has a daunting transition to make, and there are several things a new college student can do to ease that transition. First, at the college level, it would be wise for the new student to attend college orientation to find out about college resources and programs that he or she might qualify for. Most students are fairly unaware of all of the things they can do to improve their experience and outcome. Hence, in my class, I am informative in my syllabus by listing contact information for the Reading and Writing Center, DSPS, EOPS, etc., just in case the students didn’t learn about these outlets in another context. Fortunately, because I teach mostly basic skills classes, I have been working closely with the counselors, who have visited the class to further guide and direct students, talking about survival skills and whatnot.
On a personal level, I encourage new students to see college as life-changing and allow the experience to give them new insights and perspectives about their lives and those of others. This requires some commitment to independence and being an individual, as this is their lives, not their parents. They are no longer children, and since most incoming freshmen are around the age of 18, this advice is significant because they are claiming their lives as their own. For re-entry students who are new to the campus, the personal transition is much different, as these students are torn in many directions. A good schedule is necessary for all students, but especially for re-entry students who have families, work full-time, and are trying to get a college education. Set aside time for your studies everyday, but don’t forget to sometimes have time alone for just yourself. Balance is key for all.
What’s the favorite part of your job?
There are two things that make teaching a career I could not replace with anything else. First, I love being in the classroom, facilitating students’ ideas in group discussion, answering questions and clarifying ideas, and generating connections between students from different backgrounds. I see the classroom as a mini-version of society: people from different backgrounds with diverse experiences sitting together and having to co-exist and find a way. Even though it is not always a happy ending, something positive can come from this situation, as it forces each individual to pause and listen.
The second thing I love about teaching goes hand-in-hand with the first: seeing students’ growth. Even though most students learn something and change in some way by the end of a semester, it is rare that there is a significant transformation. But, every now and then, I get to work with a student whose transformation is profound, and this is one of the most rewarding experiences as a teacher.
What was your proudest moment working with students?
I have had many proud moments as a professor, and what they all have in common is a cohesion in the classroom between the students and me. We are all bouncing ideas off of each other, expanding our ideas as individuals and as a group, learning from each other, being challenged in new ways, considering new ideas genuinely, sincerely, and in the end, walking out with a feeling of fulfillment and energy. This is what many teachers call the “aha-moment.” But, I’d like to extend that to the entire group because when our students have that experience, somehow we do too. That is what makes me proud to be a teacher. There aren’t too many professions that instill that kind of growth and understanding, and I’m proud to be in a profession that does make a difference sometimes.
Also, can you include a list of any awards you may have won or published papers you have authored.
As a grad student, I was awarded several awards/publishings for various things:
Zora Neale Hurston Forum 2002- 1st place award
Sally Cassanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar 2003-4
English Department Award for paper on 18th century letters
Graduate Dean’s List Honorable Mention 2004
Lisa Sapra has her AA from Orange Coast College and B.A. and M.A. from CSU, Long Beach.
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