5 Mistakes College Freshmen Make

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Hello there! It’s your favorite professor! I noticed you signed up for my composition class and that you are a freshman. Welcome! I want you to be successful! I want you to like school! I want you to thirst for that fresh water from the Fountain of Learning!

But–I have my worries. I’ve seen it before. Sadly, many of you (as many as a third of beginning students) will not make it past this semester.Why do some students thrive in the freedom college presents and others simply sink? I have a few theories I want to share with you. Here are 5 students who will probably not survive their first semester of college.

  1. Students who don’t understand financial aid. This is a huge problem, especially among first generation college students. The FAFSA (the federal financial aid form) is long and complicated, and it’s difficult the first couple of times. The solution: ask for assistance from your financial aid office, or better yet, from someone who has filled out this hellish thing. It’s really important to get it right the first time. Best case scenario if you make a mistake: you have to submit a correction and then wait approximately 100 years for the government to correct it. When you’re waiting to pay for classes, every day counts. Don’t fill it out half-heartedly.
  2. Students who are unprepared for the amount of study time needed. Many students simply do not set aside enough time to complete assignments and to study. College is NOT high school–most students can’t simply absorb the information in one sitting. Good students know that each class needs prep time, study time, and homework time. It’s a lot of time. This is just how it is.
  3. Students who are late or miss too much class and get behind. For the first time, Mama isn’t there to wake you up–it’s all up to you.Sometimes, that bed is so comfortable, so inviting–and before you know it, class time is over. Missing even one hour of valuable instruction can be enough to cause you to be behind for weeks–even the whole semester. I tell my students to think of college as a JOB. Not just any job, but a job they care about. You wouldn’t be late or miss work because in the real world, you would be fired and out the door.
  4. Students who don’t understand social graces. Many students who wouldn’t dream of being rude to their pastor or auntie don’t think twice about sending a rude email or texting through class. Manners matter, and impressing your professor with being polite and respectful might mean a letter of recommendation later on when you’re competing for a job, internship or scholarship. People matter.
  5. Students who don’t talk to peers or the professor. As social media explodes, our world is becoming increasingly isolated. Many students don’t want to leave their comfort zone and talk to their fellow students. They don’t want to open up to their professor when they are struggling with the material. Instead, they suffer in silence and quietly give up. They stop attending and fail or drop. It’s sad! I force my students to talk the first day of class. I make them introduce one fellow student, and I have them  exhange contact information with their neighbor. I pair them up frequently so they get used to one another. Studies show that successful students network. They work together. They form study groups.

I’m really glad you’re in my class. Put your phone away and look me in the eye. Let me help you get used to academic writing, surviving in college, and how to interact with others. Welcome to college! Let’s do this!

 

A Letter to My Daughter on Her 25th Birthday

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25 years ago (and nine months), the pink stripe unmistakably proclaimed my suspicions that I was pregnant. Lee Bausinger and I had been married about six months, and we had about $5 to our name. If I remember correctly, we were living at a hotel in California (not THE Hotel California, just so you know), working for a few weeks until we would move to Winter Park, Florida where Lee would be attending Nuclear “A” School for the Navy.
Needless to say, I was worried. I worried about the pregnancy, I worried about gaining weight, I worried about moving so far from my beloved Arkansas. I worried about what kind of mama I was going to be. At 18 years old, let’s just say I knew diddly squat about parenting, and had in fact proclaimed to anyone who would listen that I wasn’t going to have kids. They are expensive. They do disgusting things like pick their noses. They go through a period where they don’t even know how to use the toilet! I shuddered to think of the implications.
But God knew better, and pregnant I was. If the test didn’t confirm it, my inappropriate consumption of bean burritos and Little Debbie snack cakes would have been a tipoff.
There were a few scares, as Miss Jody doesn’t like to be kept waiting. I was hospitalized and put on medication to stop premature labor. It was terrifying, and for the first time, I realized how precious this little life was. I realized there were no guarantees.
The labor took a long time, and I was young and dumb and didn’t know to ask for an epidural. When Jordanne Bausinger was born (it only took 18 hours), it was well before the due date. Jody likes to say she doesn’t like to be late. She was 8 pounds and had a gorgeous head of black hair. I took one look into those baby blues and lost my heart forever.
Those baby blues have long since deepened into a lovely green, much like my mother’s eyes, and her mother’s before her–a reflection of our stubborn Irish-Scotch ancestry.
Jody, I love you. I love your protective heart, your perfectionist attitude, the way you take on too much and don’t know when to stop (wonder where you get that?). I love your loyalty and your witty sense of humor. You are one of my greatest accomplishments. Happy birthday, Sweetheart. Next month, you graduate with a double major (Music Education and Performance) and the world will be set on fire when you storm the scene.
I can’t wait.
I know I will miss you when you leave to embrace your future, but I can’t be selfish anymore. It’s time to share you with the world.
I love you.

***

Want to read more like this? Check out Tina’s best-selling book on Amazon:

Tina Bausinger has published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, IN Magazine, and the Tyler Paper. She's working on her Ed.D at A&M Commerce.

Tina Bausinger has published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, IN Magazine, and the Tyler Paper. She’s working on her Ed.D at A&M Commerce.

Cold Coffee and Speed Limits

What I Wished They Would Have Told Me When I Went Back to College

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When I went back to college full time at the age of 34, I was clueless about what to expect. Being what I called “The Elderly” student, I avoided making friends and wanted my focus to be solely on making good grades. I had a family and a full time job. I didn’t have TIME for anything else. Here’s what I wish someone had told me.

  1. Study buddies help your GPA. Get to know your classmates. Our society is gravitating more and more towards social media, but away from actually being social. Making friends in your classes gives you someone to call if you miss an assignment or don’t understand something. Of course you can always ask your professor, but just having a peer back you up can be invaluable. English majors can sometimes be awkward around others—we live in our heads and in books and because of this we sometimes have trouble talking to others. Take the leap. Make a friend. Having a community of others who are going through the same thing can really help you stay in the fight.
  2. Ask for help. Sometimes with work and school and family—the task of finishing school can seem insurmountable. It’s difficult, but not impossible. Share your struggles with your family and those closest to you. You will be amazed how people will support you if they just know that you need help.
  3. Take a moment to count your blessings. This is difficult in the thick of it, when you have finals and essays and projects all due at once. Those of you with kids at home, this is even more important. I always felt a bit guilty about not being able to attend every ball game, every meeting, etc. but I made a point of verbally and physically demonstrating to my family how important they are to me.
  4. Don’t be afraid to show your kids/spouse/parents your struggle. My son is a junior in high school, and I’m constantly checking with him to see if he has homework, what his grades are like, etc. Last week I didn’t do so well on a quiz myself and I told him that too. I don’t want to hide from him the difficulty of college—he needs to know it’s hard—but I also don’t want to paint a false picture that it’s easy and effortless. He also knows what a difference having parents who both have degrees has made in his life. His older sisters did not benefit as much as he has, and he is aware. If he ever forgets, they are sure to tell him.
  5. Take a moment to smell the roses. When I was attending college I used to work night shift at Trinity Mother Frances and then drag my tired self to class until noon. One morning, Tyler had an unexpected snowfall that simply blanketed the area, covering everything with a sparkling white frosting. Everyone was relieved to get a snow day, and all I could think of was YES! I GET TO SLEEP.

When I came home, my son was running around the yard playing in the snow. He asked me if I wanted to have a snowball fight. My first answer—not really. I want to go to bed. I have homework. I’m exhausted.

But that look of excitement stopped me. Yes, let’s have a snowball fight.

That is a memory we both have stored in the back of our minds. When he was 10 years old and he chased me around the tree house pelting me with snowballs. The tree house is gone now, and so is my little boy.  Now he’s 16 and 6’4” and driving his girlfriend to the homecoming dance. I’m working on my doctorate and he’s about to graduate. Time moves so quickly…so it’s okay to take a moment sometimes.

Keep studying. Keep writing. Keep living. Play in the snow occasionally–so all your hard work is worth it!

Read more in Tina’s new best-selling book Cold Coffee and Speed Limits, now available on Amazon!

Tina Bausinger has published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, IN Magazine, and the Tyler Paper. She's working on her Ed.D at A&M Commerce.

Tina Bausinger has published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, IN Magazine, and the Tyler Paper. She’s working on her Ed.D at A&M Commerce.

  What I Want My Daughters to Know: Part 2

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But I will win and give her my spirit, because this is the way a mother loves her daughter. Yin Yang. –Amy Tan

Note to the reader: Part 1 was published in a previous post. If you want to read it, click here.

What I Want My Daughters to Know: Part 2

My sweet girls,

I am so very proud of both of you. You have both worked so incredibly hard, sometimes through outrageous hardships and complications, to follow your dreams and to become successful women in your right. You both have giant hearts as well as the ability to recognize need in others and to try to help others.

I will never have the time to tell you everything I want you to know–there aren’t enough hours in an ordinary life. God only gives us a terminable view of eternity–and it’s fleeting at best.

I know I’ve told you much of what I want you to know already, and sometimes I have done the direct opposite of what I preach. I’ve had wrong priorities; I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. But I hope you know above all how much I love you both. Here are a few more things I want to pass on to you.

1. Don’t make anything (or anyone) your whole world. People are only human, and will inevitably let you down. It’s unrealistic and unfair to make a mere mortal the center of your universe–and doing this will rarely lead to happiness. This goes for spouses, parents, even your own children. Children SHOULD be the most important part of our lives when we are raising them, but they too will move on one day. They are only on loan to us, and the time with them is fleeting, but balance is everything.

In the same way, jobs are only temporary pieces of who we are–important pieces, yes, but merely fragments–and there will come a day when we can’t go to work anymore. The only thing that can make us whole is our relationship with God, and that’s not always easy either.

2. Nobody can take away your education. Whatever training or schooling you earn will only help you succeed in life. If you want that master’s degree–GO FOR IT. Want a Ph.D.? You can absolutely have one. Going to school is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but it’s worth it to pursue your passion, but it’s time consuming and there’s always a cost, financially, emotionally, and with your relationships. That old saying that nothing worth having is easy is absolutely true.

3. Always save for a rainy day. It’s almost a law of nature that the worst things will happen when you don’t have a penny to your name. The one who controls the purse strings controls you.

4. Never let anyone break your spirit. This can happen suddenly, like an unexpected thunderstorm that leaves you breathless, or bit by bit, so gradually you don’t even notice until the day you wake up with an emptiness you can’t name. Always, always keep in mind your own worth. Your opinion–your happiness– matters. You are beloved by me and God. If you wake up, dear one, and find this has happened, it sometimes takes the help of others to heal. Don’t be too proud to ask for help.

5. It’s so important to have good friends. Always foster relationships with two kinds of friends: those who admire you and those you admire. It’s important to be an example to others, to teach what you have learned, to help other women find their light. It’s equally vital to find a mentor for yourself–someone you wish to emulate, who can teach you and advise you when your own view is cloudy and hard to navigate. There have been several times when you both have became my beacons in a cloudy harbor when I was too weak to swim to shore. You’ve stood by me in difficult times when I felt I couldn’t talk to too many people about my problems. In this way, you’ve both become my best friends, and this is the best gift you could ever give me.

I love you, my sweet girls.

You make me so very proud.

For more of Tina’s writing, get Cold Coffee and Speed Limits on Amazon today!

Tina Book Cover

Teacher Tips: 5 Steps To Sending an Email to Your Teacher

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Example of a terrible email: 

hey i was absent last week and i dont understand the work i need ur help 

–anonymous student, writing from his bustamove.gmail account 

Do you need to send an email to a professor or teacher? STOP! Read this helpful guide first.This blog post is dedicated to all my instructors I may/may not have sent horrible emails as a student.

1. Don’t skip the greeting. Even though you are in a hurry, take the time to say hello before making a request or asking a question. Dear Professor, Professor Jones, etc. are acceptable greetings. By taking a moment to address your teacher, you are establishing the culture of respect between you.

2. After a polite greeting, take one sentence to wish your teacher well. Something like, “I hope you are having a good day so far,” or “I hope your week is going well” goes a long way in establishing goodwill on your end. You’re not just jumping in with what you need. Teachers get dozens of emails a day, and almost everyone needs something. It will be worth your while to demonstrate to your teacher that you regard him/her as an actual human being with feelings.

3. Politely state your question/request. Here are two examples of the same question.

A) This homework is crazy! Do you think we are graduate students or something? I can’t do this assignment!!!!!!

B) If it’s not too much trouble, may I see you after class to get some clarification on the homework assignment? I’m struggling quite a bit and want to do well.

Same question, different effect.

4. Don’t end your email without using some kind of “complimentary close.” This means to add a “Sincerely,” or “Many Thanks” etc. before you sign your name. Under no circumstances should you not sign the email (that’s just lazy).

5. Don’t forget to use proper grammar and spelling. An email is not a text, and your professor is not your bestie. Keep it formal, and don’t use “text speak” ( i cu). That’s unprofessional and discourteous.

Last but not least, don’t forget to say “Thank you” to your teacher. She’s probably reading your email at 11:00 p.m. before she falls asleep. After all, she’s a person too.

Tips From Your Professor: 5 Behaviors of Successful Students

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Whether you’re just beginning college or going back to earn an advanced degree, most people begin with the best of intentions. Who wants to drop a ton of cash just to fail? Nobody! Bad behaviors can sneak up on you, and before you know it, you’re on the way to a failing grade. If you want to be successful in college, here are 5 habits successful students know.

1. Good students are on time and don’t miss class! This is so important. They know that strolling in even a few minutes late will cause them to not only miss valuable instruction, but they might also miss deadlines. Good students understand that being late and missing class convey one thing to the class and the instructor: you just don’t care. Students who commit to attending and being on time do better than students who don’t…it’s just a fact.

2. Successful students are attentive and engaged. They know it’s not enough to simply show up. It might have been enough in high school, but college classes are more challenging and require participation. Engaged students remember more content than students who simply warm seats.

3. Good students stop by the professor’s office even if they’re not having trouble. They know making an effort to meet their professor can go a long way to making a smooth semester. Good scholars make a favorable impression on their professor early in the semester, knowing she might be willing to help them out later in the semester when they are struggling. She might even write a letter of recommendation for you later. They know college isn’t just about getting grades. It’s about making connections for the rest of your life.

4. Successful students complete their assignments on time. Many capable, intelligent students don’t get the A’s they deserve because they struggle with this one issue. They always expect the unexpected (the printer WILL jam at the last second, they WILL run out of paper, the library WILL be closed, there WILL be a tornado) and they give themselves plenty of time.

5. Good students talk to their fellow classmates. They know it doesn’t pay to be a loner. They exchange contact information. They form study groups. They know the more social they are, the easier the class will be. In the short hours right before the big test, they’ll have someone to send panicked texts to.

So show up, be on time, be engaged, be polite and communicate! These steps will go a long way to helping you have a successful career as a student and beyond.

From Your Professor: 6 Things To Consider When Registering for a College Class

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You know you’ve been putting it off–and who wouldn’t? Registering for classes can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know the ropes. The best thing to do before you ever begin is to see your advisor. There are better strategies than just choosing a class blindly and hoping it works. Having been a student (and now a professor), I have seen both sides of the registering process and I’m here to help! Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing a course.

1. Do you need this course? Is it in your degree plan? Every degree plan should be listed on your school’s website. Check it out first. Don’t see the class? If not, don’t sign up. Unless, of course you are a gazillionare and have money to burn. Sure, the pottery class seems fun but it’s an expensive hobby. Who wouldn’t be impressed with a “History of Beyonce” class? Sign me up! Ok not really. Make sure the class is needed!

2. After deciding the course is necessary, look at the time it’s offered. For core classes like English and Math, they are usually offered multiple times.Decide what day works best. It might be your first instinct to sign up for a Tues/Thurs class or one that only meets on Monday nights. For working students, this time frame works well. It’s a long class, though, usually lasting at least 2 hours. That’s tough after you’ve been working all day.

Once a week classes might be great for some students, but before you choose this option, think about it. If it only meets once a week, there’s going to be a lot of material covered and if you miss, you could be behind the rest of the semester. When I taught composition that only met Monday nights, we had an essay or major assignment due almost every single class time. There’s not much choice here.

3. Now it’s time to decide what time you want to go to class. If you stay up all night playing Call of Duty (no judgement!) then it’s probably not the best idea to sign up for an 8:00 class. Early classes work best for morning people with no obligations at that time. For example, some students sign up for this class time without keeping in mind morning traffic, parking issues and errands they might have already committed to (taking their own kids to school). This becomes stressful.

If you are not a morning person, don’t do it. You’ll have trouble being on time at the very least. At worst, you won’t be able to focus at all and you’ll sit in the back, the only meaningful contribution you’ll give is a glassy-eyed zombie stare and morning breath. It’s not enough to just warm a chair. To learn you must participate, and night owls don’t do well in the early morning.

The same goes for morning people in night classes. While it might seem tempting to take that 2:00 class, students mentally check out after lunch. I can’t tell you how gross it is to see down your throat as you repeatedly yawn, attempting to keep your eyes open unsuccessfully.

4. Ok so we’ve got the day and time narrowed down. What about finding a good fit in a professor? Professors are just people, after all, and we come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. You can check Rate My Professor if you want, but take it with a grain of salt. Many bad reviews are written by students who never showed for class and then were surprised when they failed. Of course, if everyone gives the professor a good review, that should mean something. It’s the same if they all give a bad review. Try to read between the lines. If someone writes “She makes us do too much writing” and the class is a writing class, well…that seems like a crazy complaint. If all students say about a professor is “He’s so HOT!” and don’t remark about the teacher’s actual ability to teach, there could be a problem. Think about what you want from your college experience. By skating by on basic classes, you may feel that you are getting away with something, but when you get to the upper level classes that build on your previous experience and you don’t have any…this can catch up with you.

5. More and more, online options are available. While it’s tempting to sign up for all online classes, but be sure you are ready. Some students think that online classes are easier and take less time. This is not always the case. Many students sign up for these classes without the necessary computer knowledge. You have to be pretty computer savvy to take online classes. If you want to take online classes, it’s best to take a computer class first. If you are naturally good with computers, then go for it!

6. Read the syllabi. Teachers post them early, and you can usually read past ones as well. You’ll get a good feel for how they grade, how many assignments are due, and what’s important to the instructor. If she writes “Attendance is a must” and you tend to miss a lot, this instructor is not for you. In fact, college might not be right for you at all.

Remember that college instructors have our jobs because we were once students. We love our subject and are not here for the pay. We do want you to succeed in our class, and we love giving As. But it’s got to come from you!

See you on the first day of class!

Just Breathe: 5 Tips for a First Time Professor

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You just landed your first professor job. Congratulations! Now that the euphoria and fist-pumping have slowed down to a minimum, that slow-simmering terror sets in. Holy crap, you whisper to yourself. Because, chances are, though you love your subject, you probably know diddly-squat about actually teaching it. I know, my friend. I have been there.
I was asked by a friend if I had any tips for surviving that first harrowing semester. I’m happy to share. It will be ok, I promise.

 Please enjoy this clip from Elle’s first day of class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZIonnMTLUA

1. Just breathe. That’s right. Take a deep breath and remember why you wanted to do this. YOU LOVE THIS SUBJECT. You studied it, took tests, wrote papers like nobody’s business, and worse yet–tortured people with the grisly details of obscure topics, knowing fully well they didn’t give a rip and now it’s your turn. Now, you are the expert. You’ve got this, Prof.
2. Fake it till you make it. I mean this sincerely. My first class I taught was terrifying. Picture this: 36 students, many of them sitting in their desks with their arms crossed. Nah, that’s not intimidating. And to add to the pressure? Two sign language interpreters, one on my left and on my right, poised and ready to physically elaborate on every “Um…uh…” that I uttered. Yes, this happened. So I decided right away that I had two choices: go down in a blaze of glory, or pretend like I have done this a million times. I took choice B. I put on an air of confidence and soon it was legitimate.
3. Wear lots of deodorant. However much you think you need, DOUBLE IT. I don’t know what it is about classrooms. Students are bundled up in parkas, wearing mittens and starting small fires in the back to stave off the frostbite and I’m sweating like a politician in front of St. Peter. Every single time.
4. Do an ice breaker. Have each of the students introduce themselves, and ask a question that will get them talking. This has 2 purposes: first, you don’t have to pronounce unfamiliar names (you can make notes to yourself when they say it) AND you can connect with the students. I usually ask fun questions like “What’s the worst movie you ever saw, and why?” People will usually open up after the initial shyness.
5. If you feel strongly about something, put it in your syllabus. Then, if problems come up later in the semester, you’ve got the law on your side. You’re like the freaking Sheriff in the Wild West of Academia. At least in your own class.

Don’t worry, Professor. It will be ok. You will make it through this and live to tell about it. Until then, stock up on Secret.

The Southern Woman, Imposter Syndrome and Self-Censorship

Lippi-Green’s writings, English With an Accent: Language, Ideology, and Discrimination in the United States expresses the importance of studying dialect, not only for academic purposes, but also as a means to further equality within American culture. Discussing language variation as both a geographic and social identity marker, Lippi-Green looks at dialect discrimination not only in the workplace but also within American pop culture and the judicial system. By exposing these specific prejudices within the United States, Lippi-Green aspires to make the same strides for language as “others have done for race and gender” (Preston, Introduction).

Another powerful work regarding silencing within the composition classroom is Sandra Gardner’s piece. Of her experiences as aworking-class woman in the academy, the author, now a composition instructor, explains:

“I was also unprepared for the marginality and estrangement I would feel as my “dream” came true. These feelings initially surfaced during college and only intensified as I moved up the educational hierarchy. Thus, the more “successful” I became, the more marginal I felt” (Gardner 60).

            Such a student experiencing feelings of inadequacy may often lead to a deeper problem of self-repression. After fighting so hard to both learn the language of academia and to at least portray the guise of assimilation, women with working-class roots (especially those with poor Southern roots) often feel it necessary to repress their own voice in order to maintain their newly found “status.”

              One teacher explains, “My dreams often play out the dilemma I face coming from a working-class background and now, late in life, finding myself in a middle-class enemy camp of academia” (Langston 60). As a professor in a university setting, the Southern academic might never fully abandon the feeling of alienation, that of “outsider.” Referring back to the Oxford English Dictionary’s example of “inhibition of emotion” as well as the notion of an audience remains objective and does not identify with the actors” is clearly displayed in this context (OED). While the student may on the surface be accepted by her peers, she may never feel like one of the actors on the academic stage. I still struggle in this area–I believe I will suffer from imposter syndrome all my life.

Valerie Miner, in her essay “Writing and Teaching With Class” clarifies: “Self-censorship in working-class art exacerbates the effect of outside censorship. You think you are a poor writer. You think you are crazy for wanting to describe such people, your people. Self and outside censorship make you aware that class denial is seamed into the American cultural psyche” (Miner 76). The notion of self-censorship as a result of alienation is widely recognized in female students from working-class roots in the classroom, especially when attempting creative works in composition. Add the additional southern drawl and the effect multiplies. Miner clarifies “The very content—descriptions of waitresses and secretaries and construction workers—is passing family codes to middle-class outsiders” (77). The worries of betrayal or desertion mentioned by Miner can be deep-seated fears, especially for the southern female student.

An Open Letter to Students from Your Professor: 10 Tips

An Open Letter to Students from Your Professor: 10 Tips for a Successful Semester.