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Foghorn Leghorn and I

By ROEETHYLL LUNN

roeethyll lunnRoeethyll Lunn is currently a Developmental Writing Instructor at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro, NC.  She declares herself to be "an experimental writer" of essays, short stories, poetry, and articles about people living in the "Pee Dee" area of rural South Carolina just before desegregation.  She was  Born in Darlington, South Carolina,  has a BFA in Broadcast Media from Morris College, Sumter, SC, and an MFA in English and writing from Southampton College, LIU in New York

I am a Pre-Curriculum English Instructor at a community college in the eastern “Down East” section of the United States. I teach English 090(grammar, paragraphing and the five paragraph essay) to both traditional and non-traditional students. Traditional students in a pre-curriculum setting are just out of high school but have tested into our department because they either have doubts about their success in a four year college or have taken a juvenile approach to their studies in high school. Our non-traditional students are “everyday people” from the community who for one reason or another had to abort their educational journey some time ago because of:  drug usage, imprisonment, childrearing, early and or destructive marriages, leaving high school to go to work or military service because their families needed the income in which they could  generate to help out or also having  taken a juvenile approach to their studies when they were in high school or college and have never bothered  to have gone back. Then imagine me, trying to teach in the midst of this live educational organism, and my only ally is Foghorn Legghorn.

Every semester, for a particular writing assignment, I ask each student to create a writing plan and subsequent writing products for both a part-to-part and a whole-to-whole comparison paragraph. The clincher is, for this assignment, I also asked each student to compare his or herself to a cartoon character. Their instructions are to first, choose a cartoon character in which everyone in the classroom will recognize. If they have difficulty narrowing down which particular cartoon character matches them perfectly, they can go to Google and just type, “What type of cartoon character am I?” or something equally simplistic in the search engine block. Google will provide a menu of possible sites that will ask a list of personality questions and then determine the most suitable character after the student submits them.  Believe it or not, these queries are usually quite accurate, and they can use the three most prominent characteristics he or she and the character have in common as primary supporting details.  Secondly, because I consider my classes writing workshops, I designate days on their semester calendar as open forum  peer review or reading days after every writing assignment is completed. Upon entry into the classroom on these set days, each student is to give me two sheets stapled together.  This submission includes a copy of his or her writing plan—the copy we agreed upon earlier and I signed—and the final draft of that particular  week’s writing product. They are not only to give me a copy of their final draft and writing plan, but also give a copy to each of  their classmates. Their fellow student’s copy must be a single sheeted draft which has a  9 font writing plan on its top half , their final paragraph draft on the bottom, and a small icon of their cartoon character’s image inserted somewhere on the page’s very bottom.  

Turn around is only fair play, so I have to read my paragraph about my comparison character also.

“Foghorn Leghorn and I”
Because we both seem to be out of sync with the times, I can see a lot of similarities between the cartoon character, Foghorn Leghorn, and myself. First, Foghorn Leghorn and I have similar ideas when it comes to parenting.  Foghorn is a single parent who strongly believes that his only role in life is to serve as a protector and advisor to his child; the humor of this is only the audience can see that the child is annoyed by all of this parental care.   Even thought  my daughter and her family laugh at me for  playing the over protective, single parent, I find humor when the  very thing that I warned her not to do or get herself involved in, turns on her, and I’m the only one she feels she  can call to help resolve the problem.  Second, Foghorn and I lose focus when we talk because we tell too many side stories to prove our point.  Foghorn feels that he has to mentor or lecture other people because he cares deeply about their welfare, but the only thing his listener can see is that he uses too many homespun side stories to try to get his point across to them.  I earnestly care about my student’s welfare and want them “to get it” and reap the benefits of my instruction, so when I lecture, I give too many corresponding side stories and sometime have to ask my students “where were we, or how did we get out here?” Finally, Foghorn Leghorn and I seem out of sync with the times because we believe in   upholding social mores that people today choose to disregard. Foghorn’s biggest irritation is that he finds himself in a cross between the strong moral values that his generation revered and the total disregard of these same values by the younger generation of today….”

I am old fashioned, and like Foghorn Leghorn, I believe some of the older teaching methods and classroom managements should not be so easily discarded.  I become irritated  when today’s  students  think they can disregard rules educators have revered for  centuries  and not  suffer  any harm for doing so.  I do not like the idea that grammar is embedded and not drilled. I have difficulty believing in the success of four week math modules instead of elongated sixteen week face-to-face courses.  I believe the internet should be used in the classroom daily, but access to it should not be by means of an individual student’s cell phone. Until some wise one can officially figure out how to use a cell phone as a legitimate and beneficial aid to instruction in a pre-curriculum classroom and not as a vehicle for student undercover texting, I believe it should not be allowed inside of a classroom. Moreover, just like Foghorn, I have to keep myself from wanting to give a parental lecture to students who believe an instructor’s assignment is not a serious matter but having a chipped nail, a stray hair, or an unevenly colored lip is a serious offense.   

I take offense to students whose frequent behaviors belie the fact that they believe the word “face” should take precedent over the word “text” when it comes to where they should focus most of their attention. Only at the last minute will they transfer their writing assignment to an emergency status which qualifies a hurried visit to a writing center for someone else to practically write their entire paper. Instead of taking the time to go the old route of planning, drafting, revising, editing and rewriting until a presentable writing product comes forth, they declare themselves to be a poor struggling student who has difficulty understanding.

I don’t want to give the impression that I am mean because I am not, nor am I near becoming postal. I just believe the significance of my errant traditional students’  infractions  demands  me to speak to them in Foghorn’s parental  like tone. I caution them to get a grip of the magnitude of the life opportunity in which they are being given and could possibly let slip through their hands. I remind them that they have to read their way through college when they submit an assignment for which they obviously have not read the instructions. I  have to wake the sleeper to remind him or her  that a college is not a motel. I have to separate them like I would first graders when I find two who seemingly cannot stop talking while everyone else is completing an assignment. I lecture like Foghorn  for them to put away and stop trying to sneak usage of their iPads, iPods, and iPhones when I turn to write on the whiteboard because I know the person who is sitting beside them, the real non-traditional student, is in a quandary. 

The non-traditional student is the primary reason I chose to work in pre-curriculum. I am familiar with their struggles on a first hand basis.  In the late nineties, I was among the ones who were forced to enter into the realization that  we  were  now in a place where the  edge we thought we  had in life, based on trivial premises such as youth, beauty,  family backing, marital status, or high paying employment,  seemingly had come to an end, and the things that use to fall into place so excellently before did not anymore. 

At a distance, something yells, “Go back to school.” When these students go back to school, however, things are so different. There is so much to contend with.  Family members, whose opinions have always been revered, say, “Come to say your senses. You have no health insurance. You have no job. School will take too long, and you have a family to take care of.” Some of them ask humorously, “Who is going to pick you up from the old folk’s home and what color wheelchair do you want us to roll you across the platform in when you finally get your degree?”  Friends leave because they do not have time to spend with them, and spouses leave because they no longer have extra money to spend on them.

Aside from family pressure, non-traditional students also have to deal with a classroom that is unfamiliar to them.  They find it intimidating or difficult sitting beside young people who they believe are smarter than they are because they are fresh out of high school. They are puzzled,  irritated, and  sometimes complain to the instructor when  students who may be younger than their grandchildren  do not know how to come into a class, sit down, and wait for instruction instead of being loud and kidding around. Critical thinking exercises annoy them because they are accustomed to a work world that was automaton based and did not require them to think.  They become agitated when they find all written assignments must be generated on a computer that was not in the classroom the last time they were.   For them I can only offer Foghorn’s sound tidbits of encouragement.  
 
Pre-curriculum departments, in the overall community college setting, function more like induction units. A close comparison would be the predicament of a first grade teacher before pre-school became so popular. That person had to teach inexperienced learners from diverse neighborhoods (plenty of whom had no idea of  how to conduct themselves in an educational environment and had little or no previous history of how to configure effectively numbers or alphabets) how  to  behave,  read, write and do math within a nine month period.

Student skill assessment tests can be inaccurate due to student guessing or not doing well on test day because he or she may not have been feeling well. Therefore, the most disconcerting thing the instructor faces in the classroom at its beginning is that she or he has no concept of  his or her  students’ skill level or how little  they may know.  No matter how low they may have scored originally, surprisingly,  students who  attend regularly, do their assignments on time, or seek assistance from their instructor when they do not understand the particulars of them, may have a rough beginning, but they usually end up doing very well.   One student  who scored four on her assessments , dismayed me by asking, “Ms., what’s a verb?  She ended up writing a paper that made her classmates applaud during an open forum read before the semester was over.  

I live for moments when they come to tell me of their successes. Some hail to me in the hallway after they have done well in curriculum English. I get calls from former students when they get the job I told them they would get or when other teachers tell them they write well or have submitted well written assignments.  I was in  a Wal-Mart in another part of the state one day when  a student called me from Iraq. He told me he was going, so I had told him to keep in contact. A student insists  on calling me “Machismo”  every time he sees me simply because when I told him it was an actual word, he didn’t believe me. I get to see the family members that were the subjects of their writings. Small photos of the children they have had since line the shelves in my office.  One has gotten her master’s degree and is now teaching across the hallway,  and an Asian student, who told me her name was pronounced, “Tan,”  told me in her last semester that  after her graduation, she was going to a nunnery and would be married to Christ.


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