Gathering Places


Monday, April 2, 2001

Students enter college
without skills to succeed

PERIODICALLY, I encounter a student with a special quality that touches me and reminds me why I teach young adults. One such student compels me to appeal to the public to take heed of our plight at the college level.

This student visited me one afternoon very upset. She had come to realize she was paying a price for not having received the education that would have given her the basic writing skills she needed to pursue a career as a teacher.

She hesitated to put her thoughts into writing because she didn't want others to see how she writes. After we discussed it, however, she was willing to override her anxieties because she wanted to share her thoughts in hopes of making a difference. (Editor's note: The student's essay appears below.)

This student will probably become a teacher because she has the motivation to improve her skills. How sad, though, that she has had to spend the extra time and money to pursue her dream.

For me, it is troubling because this student is not unusual. The lack of basic skills among beginning college students is reaching epidemic proportions. They are unable to perform in "core classes" that are required before taking a major. Many are shocked by how much they must improve even before they can apply for a major.

I am not an English teacher; I teach courses on human development to prepare students to enter health care, education, or human services. But I am spending more and more time grading papers because I cannot understand what the student is trying to say.

In some cases, students are functioning well below the level needed to survive in higher education. Many instructors have files of examples like mine. That is the scary part, for where will these students end up? Some illustrations:

>> "I believe my parents, they are always thinks about me and support. My parents also believe me, too. The reason why, we are comprehend each other, so they can help and believe each other."

>> "I found out that this is interesting because I always wonder the purpose why and how people live. This three chapters that I choose really understand and amaze me on every stage of our life has their own learning and meaning."

>> "Chapter 13 is about older adult where physiological have change such as hearing, taste and vision. They even loss their memory little by little. In order for them to live they have to do some activities. Based on the video that I saw, some widow women have to accept if there love ones are gone and they rather live on their own."

Surprisingly, some students who write at this level claim to have graduated from high school with honors! I really wonder what are the criteria for honors these days. Too often, students seek out easy classes that require minimum skills, so they never work at improving those skills.

Many might chalk up this poor English to "pidgin." I disagree. The problems I see stem from a failure to understand the rules or structure of language. Students able to use a bridge language like "Pidgin" understand the rules of that language. A bilingual student is able to translate both ways, using appropriate grammar and syntax.

This problem just won't go away. Resources have been continuously cut for the past several years, which is why student are having difficulty in finding help to build up language skills. Students who lack basic skills in reading, writing and following directions have been "passed on."

Many become the technicians who service computers, electric appliances and cars or become nurses, lab technicians, or paramedics. Do you want to trust your life to someone who can't read instructions correctly to service your car, your plumbing or electricity, or to provide your health-care needs?

Someone will pay in the future for the lack of skills in our students today. These students will be in the work force in the next two to five years. As my student indicated in her letter, we need the best and the brightest teaching our students at all levels because mediocrity breeds mediocrity.

Laurie Hirohata, who holds master's degrees in education
and social work, teaches at Kapiolani Community College.



‘So who will teach me
what I need so I can
teach your children?’

Editor's note: This essay has not been corrected for spelling, grammar or punctuation. At the request of the author, it is reprinted here exactly as it was submitted.

I ALWAYS KNEW I was never the brightest person in class, but I never realized how important it is to have the basic skills of spelling and grammar. I was basically an average student in elementary school. At that time in my life that was okay with me, but now that I'm in college it has caught up with me.

I have been at a Community College for a little over two years, and because of my less that average skills. When I first entered college I placed in remedial classed because of questionable skills. This meant I had to take two remedial English classes, which I didn't receive credit for toward my Liberal Arts Degree, before I could even step foot in an English 100 class. In addition to this set back I wasn't able to take some of the classes that I needed for my intended major because the prerequisite was English 100.

MANY OF THE CLASSES that I was able to take still demanded a lot of papers to write. I would receive comments on my papers from the instructors such as, "need to improve spelling and grammar techniques, or you should take a grammar class to brush up." I should have been getting A's and B's on my papers but instead I got mostly C's. It wasn't that my papers weren't good they just had so many grammar errors I loss points.

The most upsetting thing about not having these basic skills is the fact that I should have had these skills by now. I have gone to three private schools in my entire life. From that alone, I should be able to spell words without even thinking twice about them. My mom and dad spent a lot of money for me to have a good education. I could have gone to a public school and they could have brought two Mercedes by now with the money spent on my education. I feel as though I have fallen between the "cracks" and it's catching up with me now.

Don't get me wrong I'm not trying to belittle private schools. I learned a lot of great things like Shakespeare in English class and Geometry in Math class. But if I don't have the basic skills down first then what is the point of learning Shakespeare if I can't spell even his name properly without looking it up first to write a report. Till this day I'm embarrassed to write something in class and have my classmates read it.

So now almost three years out of high school I need to take grammar and spelling classes. Which means I have to spend more money on what should have been taught to me when I was in elementary school. Therefore not only do I have to pay my Community College tuition, but I have to pay for a grammar class beyond my regular classes.

I want to be a teacher when I graduate from college but it will take me longer that it will for other people. To be honest, I'm not sure if I will be ready to teach third grade effectively if my skills don't improve. However, I know that I could probably graduate with my existing skills from some of the education programs in Hawaii due to lack of the teachers shortage. When I lay down at night I find myself asking the question of, "where does this leave me?" How will I survive if I don't try to fix my problems with spelling and grammar? I don't want a mediocre job and that's just what I will get if I don't do something. I need to feel that I am doing something productive with my life. I don't want to just get by anymore. I want the satisfaction of saying that I am a capable educated person. Also, as a teacher I want to teach my students well.

So who will teach me what I need so I can teach your children someday.

R. Zablan is a student at Kapiolani Community College.

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