Teaching First Year Seminar at Hostos

Lisa Tappeiner, Associate Professor, Library
Christine Hutchins, Assistant Professor, English
Andrew Connolly, Assistant Professor, English


What’s new about teaching this class

LT: For me, teaching a semester long, credit bearing class is a new experience. I’m used to one shot library workshops where I never really get a chance to know the students or see their work.  The First Year Seminar (FYS) gives me the opportunity to get to know Hostos students better and understand my colleagues better.


CH: I hadn’t realized until teaching FYS how set I had become in my thinking about skills, content, expectations, and grading for my classes in writing, reading, and literature. In FYS, I am not only aiming for students to acquire specific skill sets or particular content, but also teaching the “whole” student, aiming for a wide range of habits and skills for personal and professional development. Planning and grading the coursework can be a little dizzying because it raises big questions, most without very clear answers, such as how we each define success in balancing personal and professional lives or motivating ourselves to get work results even while juggling more work than fits in a life.


AC: My first semester as a FYS instructor has provided me with an exciting and rewarding new venture in teaching. FYS offers an interesting opportunity for students and instructors to approach the academic learning experience from an integrated liberal arts approach. The course is refreshingly innovative and unique in so far as it steps beyond the traditional boundaries of separate disciplines, while at the same time incorporating various different areas of study into a variegated and highly productive ensemble. By thus stressing an interrelated, cross-disciplinary approach, FYS challenges and inspires students to view their education in terms of a broader humanist experience. As such, it brings attention to the intimate relationship between college-level study and the experience of living in a modern world. This lively connection between scholarly discipline and broader worldly experiences is made all the more firmer by the FYS syllabus, which is neatly structured by topics that look at the educational, historical, infrastructural, and artistic aspects of life in New York City.


What’s interesting about teaching this class


LT: FYS students are always interesting. They bring rich experiences, great personalities and so much optimism about starting college to this class.  Also, New York City, the theme of the class, is such a fascinating, constantly evolving place.  I have learned a tremendous amount about the history, culture, and social conditions of the city from teaching this course.


CH: All of us bring our skills and experiences to our course meetings and we all share in creating course materials, assignments, and strategies. I have learned new content and strategies from FYS colleagues, for example about engineering feats that went into building the Brooklyn Bridge and new materials for teaching gentrification in the Bronx.


AC: I quite enjoy the opportunity to move somewhat outside my immediate discipline by serving as an FYS instructor, and how it allows me to re-think, re-model, and enhance my approach to teaching critical thinking and writing skills. As someone who has newly begun to teach this course, I have had the benefit of sharing with my students the excitement of thinking about our immediate urban environment and how it can serve as an energetic theater of study. The dual emphasis on academic content and learning processes that the course prioritizes makes for a lively and fluid classroom experience that throws up all kinds of welcome surprises in relation to teaching and learning. Ultimately, there is a refreshing reminder for the FYS instructor of the productive and thrilling ways in which students and their professor can all learn from each other.


What’s challenging about teaching this class


LT: The class tries to do a lot – help students build academic and social skills, help orient them to college life, teach students interdisciplinary concepts about the city – and sometimes I think it tries to do a bit much.  A challenge for me has been finding a balance between getting through the content and helping students through the very difficult process of adjusting to college life and academic expectations.


CH: In this class, we are all fully focused on making that transition from where students were to where they want to go. FYS puts full focus on helping students make necessary changes, develop new habits, and meet higher expectations. Even more than in other classes, in FYS, I have to reach back into my memories so that I can stop, ask, and discuss those things about being a new college student that might be long ago for me.


AC: Interestingly, the biggest challenge of teaching FYS is somewhat the key to what makes it such a pleasurable and career-enhancing activity: namely, the need for the instructor to revisit the long-distant experience of being a first year student and, in doing so, to be able to teach content and skills with such a fresh, wide-eyed perspective in mind. By sharing in the students’ new journey at college while also trying to shape and nurture that experience at the same time, the FYS instructor is faced with a challenging role of being alert to a diverse range of student needs and requirements. However, once alive to this complex task, the professor can find a real stimulant to teaching new students and helping in their development.


What’s rewarding about teaching this class


LT: Teaching the First Year Seminar has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life.  The students are so thrilled to be starting their first semester of college, and I love to take in their energy and enthusiasm.  Also, as an FYS instructor, I find myself part of a supportive community of faculty from many disciplines who share strategies and experiences to improve their pedagogy and make this class the best it can be for our students.


CH: Always, it’s the students. In this class, I really get to know students, even more than in my writing classes. Students are remarkably energetic and enthusiastic about this course, and respond with so much positive energy. Even on days when I leave my FYS classroom thinking “Did I do that right?” students come back next class with “I really got this from that last class day.” It’s humbling and motivating.


AC: As hinted already, both the academic content and the approaches to learning that are stressed by the FYS syllabus combine to make for an invigorating teaching experience. With this wonderful framework in place, it is the students themselves and how they respond to the course that really brings FYS to life. I have been fortunate this semester to have shared a classroom space with a seminar group of students whose enthusiasm for their new start at college has been accelerated and found a real sense of purpose through their studies in FYS. Through office consultations and classroom discussions, I have had the pleasure of noticing how the FYS experience has had a decided cross-over effect in other areas of study for my students. In addition, as an instructor I have found the cohort of professors who teach FYS to be extremely helpful and collegial. In this regard, teaching FYS has not only furthered my sense of connection to the learning environment of students but also has helped to foster a deeper sense of my involvement within the Hostos community.




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