I am not James Franco

What’s in a name? Confusion.


I teach college classes in Southern California. James Franco also taught some college classes in Southern California – UCLA, USC and CalArts to be exact.

A friend once mentioned to me that he had heard about a student who signed up for a class taught by a “J. Franco.” According to my friend, that student thought it was James Franco, the actor turned college professor. She was confident. She was so sure of it, my friend said, because she had heard that he teaches classes at local colleges. (Acting and film classes, I teach journalism classes, but whatever.)

On day 1 of class, she surely showed up to the classroom at 8 a.m. and it wasn’t the Academy Award-nominated Franco, but rather, the highly-rated and well-respected, Jose Franco (me) instead.

I don’t know who that student might have been, whether or not she remained in the class, or how disappointed she might have been. Such is life.


A pat on the back is a good thing

Being a college instructor isn’t something I thought I would be doing. But here I am, just recently completing my fifth semester as an adjunct.

At first, the job was a bit overwhelming. You need to keep young people’s attention for about an hour and a half about writing … at 8 a.m. You also need to read many, many (sometimes really bad, sometimes surprisingly good) articles from students who, in some cases, don’t follow news or don’t read news online or in a newspaper. So their understanding of what makes a story interesting, informative, and well-written is lacking. Sometimes you really just have fresh blocks of clay.

You also need to provide feedback on ways to improve that writing, or to best tell that story. You also have to do it in a way that isn’t insulting, that is understanding, and most importantly, I feel, that is mostly encouraging for the student. You need to have students that are interested and engaged. Students that can see the benefit of what you’re looking for if you are a reader and an instructor. If you’re first trying it, like I was, you’re in for a total shock.

Basically, I view the job as part coach, part instructor, part mentor. I wasn’t really sure about how well I did that job until the end of this past semester.

In previous semesters, my course usually ends with a thud. There is no intricate final. There isn’t a massive, caffeine-fueled final assignment to dominate my students’ time. My final is a multiple-choice test that requires the minimal amount of note taking and attention throughout the semester to pass. After about 20 minutes, students sheepishly turn in their exams and head out the door to cram for their next final. It’s the best I can offer for those who stick it out through the entire semester for an 8 a.m. class.

This past semester was different though.

When students turned in their exams to me, several of them said, “Thank you.” Some shook my hand and told me how much fun they had in class and how much they learned about writing, about media, about absurd things that I would sometimes bring up in class. It made me feel … appreciated. It was weird. It was an odd feeling to have, because I didn’t expect it.

I had made an impact in their lives. What I did was important. I hope I inspired them to write interesting things, that makes people happy, makes them sad, makes them want to learn more, makes their reader understand something they didn’t understand before, or makes them want to help other people.

Sometimes, that pat on the back is a good thing and is just some much needed affirmation that you’re doing those students a great deal of good by giving them your full effort.


Starting and ending a class session

Don’t you hate it when you don’t know what to say or how to say it?

You notice a girl. You want to talk to that girl. How do you start the conversation? You need to talk to someone about a problem you’re dealing with. It’s important that you’re heard and want to say it just right.

It’s strange. You want to say what you want to get across but have zero clue on how to get there. I go through this at the worst possible time and place – Mondays at 8 a.m. in the front of a college classroom.

In all the time I’ve taught my class – seven months – I still don’t know how to begin a lecture or end one.

It’s just so odd. I tried jokes, I tried asking questions I would think my students could answer. “How are we today? Tired? Excited? Sleepy?” are the go-to questions. I end up getting some strange, bewildered looks. I wish, just once, they would tell me that my hair actually is on fire or that my fly is unzipped.

It is one of the more unusual things I have to do; I didn’t realize I was my own opening act. I don’t have that much time to warm up the audience. I jump right in … to the shark tank. It’s so abrupt. I ask my canned questions, take in the silence and jump right into whatever I have planned for that day. From there, I usually have a handle on what I say. It may be in bullet point form, but I can get ideas and lecture notes across that way. I’m able to storm through about 30 to 45 minutes this way, occasionally asking questions or even answering them.

By the end of my lecture, I’m all talked out. When I reach the last bullet point or PowerPoint slide, I run out of things to say. When I run out of things to say, I just say, “Goodbye class.” My students awkwardly make their way out the door.

Similarly, I’ll just end this post right here.

Update: The esteemed Louis C.K. also has some thoughts on this. He essentially says what I wish I said:

“I don’t know how to start shows. It’s just a problem that I have. I never figured out to come out and just start talking, because the first thing you say onstage always feels stupid. Because there’s no REAL reason for me to talk to you. I don’t know you and you don’t even know each other, you’re just facing the same direction and that’s all you have in common. It’s like talking to a girl at a bar because you’re attracted to her and the first thing you say is just going to be dog shit coming out of your mouth.”