Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Starting Now

Every day I get to walk into a classroom and teach is a gift. I am fortunate to have the awesome responsibility of educating those who want to learn. I am a community college adjunct professor and it is, by far, the best thing that has ever happened to me. Tonight was an amazing night in class and I need to share it with you.

My night class consists of mostly non-traditional students who work all day and come to class at night. I do have a few younger students, but they carry their share of burdens as well. One particular student is returning to school for the first time in seventeen years. She came back to school for nursing, I believe, and this woman is a natural healer. We will call her Alexander. (I know this is a man's name, but it's my blog and I do what I want.)

Alexander has endured many losses in her life. For her first paper, she wrote about one in the context of what fitness meant to her. After reading her paper, I went to the gym. It was that good.

Tonight, I helped Alexander with the planning of her second paper and I saw something in her that someone once saw in me. Alexander is a writer and she has a hell of a story to tell. As she talked to me about her paper, I organized her thoughts on the white board. What I saw before me was the makings of a self-help book that could help millions of people cope with devastating losses. Most importantly, I saw in Alexander that she has a gift that she has been stifling and for years. Loss after loss is just shoved into the corners of her mending heart. She didn't have an out before she found it in this class.

Alexander told me that she thinks so much at night that she can't sleep. I told her to get a notebook and put it by her bed and write everything she has in the notebook when she can't sleep. I guaranteed her this would give her the most gorgeous sleep she'd ever had. I told her that writing can be the one thing she does for herself in her hectic life. I also told her to make sure I get a signed copy of her book when it's published. She laughed and thought about it. She she'd stop and get a notebook on the way home.

I spent an hour with Alexander and I am excited about her paper and about this new chapter in her life. I know she will feel so much better when she begins to write. Her words and thoughts have the power to help millions because she is so strong and resilient. I know she has the power to transform her silence into language and action. I will be there for her every step of the way. Starting now.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On Work Ethic

I am planning on writing a post about comfort zones that wll formally introduce what I have been doing for the past month and a half, but for now, I must write about work ethic.

I am currently teaching at a couple community colleges in South Jersey and Southeastern PA, respectively. Though the two schools are like day and night, one thing that is constant is how the work ethic of my students differs greatly from my own. Yes, this is a generalization - most of my students' work ethic is just fine, but others are a complete nightmare.

I had a student email me today and ask me, his professor, to print his paper for class tomorrow. This is the exact same student who sits in my class and talks to the person next to him the entire time. When I told him that he needs to print it on campus, he asked me where. I referred him to the library. Hours later and still dissatisfied with my answer, he said "It would be gratefully appreciated if you receive this before class and print it thank you." [sic] Really? I don't know about you, but I am not 100% in love with his tone. I wrote him back and reminded him that I am his professor, NOT his buddy, and that there are several ways around getting a paper printed out when you don't have a flash drive.

I have another student who has not purchased the required text for my class and who will, most likely, fail the comprehension quiz I am giving them tomorrow. Likewise, she told me on Friday that she would not be able to type her paper or print it out. I, again, referred her to the library. Naturally, she had some sort of retort for that and I told her I didn't know what to tell her.

The problem here is the lack of a strong work ethic in these particular students. The one is clearly lazy and the other would like to hide behind poverty. Here's a little antidote about work ethic and poverty:

My first year of college, I went to the bookstore and purchased books. I spent $550 on textbooks. I spent all of my savings. Dazed and confused, I thought there had to be a better way. There was. I got a job at the library and learned that the library is required to have every book that is sold in the bookstore. I worked there for 5 years and never bought another book. I emailed my professors weeks before classes began and requested the list of books. I read them all and took copious notes then returned them to the shelves before classes began.

True, you aren't supposed to do that, but the books were REQUIRED. I knew that getting an education was the only chance I had to make it out of the hood and to secure my future. I did what I had to do.

I have always been the kid who had to work her ass off for everything. I have been working since I was 14. I often had to walk to work and back because I didn't have reliable people to come and get me. When I got a finally car, it was a piece of crap, but it was what I could afford. For the most part, the six lemons I purchased got me to work and back.

The point is: I never stopped. I never gave up. The horror stories I could tell you would stop a normal person dead in their tracks. I am not sure how I made it through all of the shit I've been through, but I did.

My life right now is not perfect, but it is damn near close. I have a job that I love and I got here because I worked hard and sacrificed for my education.

Why can't ... why won't some of my students do the same?