The Matadors arrive to the FYE Rodeo: Emmanuel Sabaiz’s on the First Year Experience Conference

April 10, 2012

It was a cloudy day when we arrived at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The building was massive and the halls felt as if I was walking down a small cathedral and if you looked outside the window you could see a river going through the convention center! Needless to say it felt a bit intimidating, but I quickly realized why it was so important for us to be there.

Not the only one at the rodeo

As soon as I walked into the right section of the center, I was surrounded by a mass of professors from different institutions. I walked into my first presentation, introduced myself and quickly began to have conversations with many of those professors. I met professors from the East Coast, from private and public schools, younger and older than me, and even from different countries. I quickly realized we all had one thing in common: we want to help our students.

There is more than one way to ride a bull

As that first day came to an end, I had an epiphany. As a professor you plan your lessons ahead of time and think of ways to engage your students in many different topics. You want them to understand that you want them to succeed in their academic careers, and the information you are giving them will help them. That does not work all the time, and we are left wondering how can we reach our students more effectively. Through out the day I kept hearing things like “I want to show my student how to read critically” and I thought “ME TOO!” or “I want my student to understand how important it is to know all the resources in school” and I would be saying “I have the same question!” Then it hit me. If we are all having the same problems, maybe it is not the students that are not getting it, maybe it is us that are not getting it. So I started taking notes at how other professors were addressing their own problems and finding solutions.  I had so many “aha!” moments during the first day; it would be impossible to list them all. Needless to say, I now have so many new ways to approach my students in the Fall.

Even the best riders fall

I plan for everything, and when I say everything, I mean everything. It is a thing most of us do, we want to be prepared for our students so that when they come to us with questions, any question, we are ready. We have this ethos that we want to build so that students can trust us and allow us to guide them. This is one of the reasons we read journals and books on many subjects; we attend developmental meetings and workshops, to be prepared and ready to help our students. And yet we always have one, or two students that are doing great and suddenly disappear from class, or begin to do less work in class. You talk to them, you email them, you set up conferences, give extra credit and at the end they either fail or get a very low grade. I feel responsible for these students because the “What if?” sets in and I feel I have failed them. What if I had given them more time? What if I did had noticed the problem sooner? What if I did not ask the right questions? As I talked to different professors this idea kept coming up, but a clear understanding came about our conversation. Students need to understand the WHY before we can teach them the HOW. Students must understand why they are there and have a conscious investment in their education. If they do not, even the best student will ultimately lose that passion for education and leave. We need to encourage our students and guide them, but it was clear that we can not do it alone.

The horse will not saddle itself.

It was a great opportunity to talk to so many professors and writers about how we can help our students. Many ideas were shared, from lesson plans, computer programs and even mentor and SI programs. All geared to help our students. And yet one question that was in the back of most of the professors was “I love your lesson/idea/program, tell me how you did it?” The answer was simple and yet complicated. “We didn’t do it alone. We had the help of our students and our schools.” This rang true with the keynote speaker, Dewayne Mathews, who spoke about higher education and what does that mean to our country today. He reviewed the data that showed that in the US less and less younger students complete their degrees. He called for a complete re-thinking on how we help our students and explained that it has to be a community effort, meaning we all need to have the same goal. From the president of the university, to the parent that sends their children to school everyday, we all need to be on the same page. If at any point we are all not in the same page, then what is the point? We are all in this together and if one falls, we all fall because our students without a doubt will be the next leaders of this amazing country.

And the winner is…

Our students. They are the winners because here is a massive gathering of professors who deeply care and want to see them be successful in their lives. Whether we do it this way or that way, we were all there to become better educators for them, because at the end they will be the ones benefiting from all of this research and education. We already had our chance, we had our college days, and now it is our students’ turn.

I walked away into the San Antonio sunset, heading back to Northridge, with a deep understanding on how important and precious our students are, and how I have this great reasonability in my hands. I am not the only one; we have a great community here at CSUN of FYE professors that are ready and willing to help. If anything I left that conference knowing that if I reach out, not only will my fellow professors help me out, but I can bet a Texas steak dinner, that our students will be there as well, ready to reach their full potential.

Emmanuel Sabaiz is a professor at California State University, Northridge teaching Freshman Seminar English courses. Sabaiz has been instructing at California State University, Northridge for six years.