Me and the Stick: A Tale of Fear and Learning

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So I recently leased a new car before my old one died. It’s a Fiat 500 Pop, it’s red, it’s adorable, and it’s a manual. Funny thing is that I’ve never driven a manual transmission before—I’m an automatic kind of guy. But manual meant the best deal and the dealer was more than happy to spend some time giving me lessons until I got the hang of it.I’m doing okay. I’m getting better. But there’s still a part of me that tenses up before I have to drive. There’s a part of me that’s actually afraid of my car. And the truth is that I don’t think I breathe until I’ve shifted into fourth gear.I was thinking today that it’s funny how something so familiar (driving) can suddenly become so terrifying (driving a manual). I was thinking about how my students might feel the same way when they come to my FYC classroom. I mean, they’ve been writing for most their lives but suddenly I am demanding that they use new skills. I wonder if they tense up before writing a paper the way I tense before driving the car. I wonder if what looks to me like apathy is really just a thin screen covering a deep layer of fear.With each drive I make, I get a little better. Same with writing, of course—the more my students write, the better they get. But what about the interim? Do you feel your students are sometimes afraid of writing? What do you do to address this fear?
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.