You are not supposed to have favorite students.
Almost every student is my favorite student.
What does that mean?
Often people ask me why I teach. I think people approach community college teachers with trepidation. How come they aren’t at a university? Why are they teaching here? Did they do something wrong along the way? Perhaps some great offense in a past life made them wind up here?
It’s hard sometimes to reiterate to people that I chose to be a community college instructor—on purpose. Why? Because I was a community college student. I know what it’s like to be in that chair, to have other things on your mind, to constantly have to be your own cheerleader because you aren’t sure if anyone else cares about what you’re doing and how you are trying to better yourself. I get that though. I’ve been there. And when you should be reading your homework, you are busy working the night shift.
I teach community college because this is where I’m from. There are still more of us not from here than there are those of us from here. So I keep going. I’m the first on my mom’s side to graduate from college and the third on my dad’s side to graduate (my dad being the first).
Tonight I had a great night of teaching. It was one of those nights when I knew that they understood and that I told them just enough, and that they read, and that their minds were taking them their own places that they needed to be. It isn’t a The Matrix type system where pertinent information is simply downloaded into the brain. Instead, I’ve lead them to the water and they’ve decided what and how much to drink and how that liquid of life will change them. The conduit, if you will. And that’s where I like to be.
I like knowing them and knowing what makes them tick and knowing what reading is going to make them want to read more. I have no agenda except to be the person that doesn’t fail them. The one that shows them the way out.
But because I was there , I don’t always have patience. I was the kid that took a job at the student computer lab in college because I couldn’t afford to buy my own computer and/or didn’t have money for print outs. I spent the night on my campus on Wednesday nights because I needed to take a class to graduate and took a PE class Thursday ams so I could shower. I had a professor who took me and a friend in and fed us once a week. For these things I am grateful. And something in me had the tenacity to finish and not give up when things didn’t go my way.
I do everything I can to help those students with that same tenacity. And with the others I try to make them see that not giving up is worth something. That perhaps they should grow their own version of tenacity. That it’s possible and that sometimes, we need to learn how to help ourselves as much as depending on others to help us. Community college can do that.
Last week a student complained about me. And that’s always its own version of depressing. It doesn’t matter how many people you’ve helped. There’s always going to be someone not satisfied.
But tonight there was a student who I remember from her first day of class with me two years ago. She was unsure she should be there. She’d lost her job. She was overwhelmed. And she was returning to school a mother of four and not sure what she was doing there. But tonight? Two and a half years later? She’s about to graduate. She’s doing well. She knows what she wants out of the rest of her life. She’s amazing and outspoken and I’m glad I am there in my small way to see her through. That’s when it all comes together.
An old friend of mine, who is now a professor, belittled my decision to teach and write at the same time. Don’t I want to be a writer a bit too much? Am I just biding my time until I hit it big with a novel in my desk drawer? He was missing the point.
Teaching is just as much a part of me as writing. Why can’t someone have more than one calling? Community college students get this. They are always doing more than one thing at a time to keep their lives going strong.
I’m here for the student who is not typical, who is not easy, and who others have over looked or looked down on. We perhaps , see ourselves in them. Still , the best of community college teachers are the ones that have this hunch and see it in just this way.
That’s why we are here. That’s why I’m here: to watch it all come together.