Before I go off and elaborate about who inspires me right now, I'd like to give you the official student paper mistype of the day:
"An arranged wedding was underway for the weaver and her husband-to-bed." That's really more clear and appropriate than husband-to-be, so I am actually thinking we need to adopt this new phrase...
The part about my job as an instructor that I love the most is the students. Once in a while you get a real ass who makes you wonder if you should continue onwards or just go ahead and accept that jail term that will follow the murder you are about to perform...and then you have the ones that melt your heart. Each term, I have a few students who just change my own life as much as they are changed by their time in my classroom.
This Fall 2004 Term, I have taught six classes (as usual). Three of my six classes are English 101 classes. I loathe the amount of grading that is necessary for 101. I never had so many papers due in one class in my entire academic career. However, after seeing how many of my students write, I have to agree that they need the practice. Anyway, in one of my Eng 101 classes, I had an older student approach me after the very first class. Brenda is around 40 years old, and she was very intimidated by the age of the REST of her class. She told me...Miss Kira, I just think I probably should drop this class. I can't do my papers on the computer! I've never USED a computer. I've been out of school forever. These other kids are coming right out of high school, and they KNOW what they are doing. They've been writing. They'll be fine. I'm going to fail this class and so I'm just not sure I should stay in! As she talked, I smiled to myself because this attitude was not uncommon in a lot of my older students. Typically, though, I loved my older students because they cared about their education so much more than my 18 yr olds. They've had the crap jobs that have inspired them to further their education, so when they return they are determined to give it all they've got in order to improve their lives. They know the value of that degree, and they put in three times the effort of the younger kids. So, when Brenda finished her panicked monologue, I just reassured her that I'd help her as much as possible, and that her caring to come back to school was all that was necessary for her to do well. I gave her the pep talk about how older students fare better a lot of the times because of their determination, and that I'd show her how to use the computer if she came by the Writing Center, etc. It took about 10 min of chatting, but she decided to give it a go.
Brenda fretted about that first paper. I'll be honest. When I first saw her rough draft, I grimaced. The woman had one of the most abusive use of commas I've yet to see as an instructor. I saw life in her writing, but it was hard to find beneath the technical errors that littered her words. However, we worked on it together, and I explained to her all her mistakes and how to fix them. When she went to type up her paper, I gave her a crash course on Word. It was at that moment that I realized something special about Brenda: she's brilliant. No, really, she is. For a woman who had NEVER been exposed to a computer, I expected about an hour of repetitive, droning "Click this...no, THIS...yes, this is the mouse...no, don't X that out..." as that is the typical scenario for a person who has never touched modern technology. Brenda, however, picked it all up instantly. Nearly every time I showed her something, she knew how to do it after the first time. I think I only had to repeat myself twice. I was flabbergasted at how quickly she absorbed it all, just like a dry sponge never exposed to water would be if thrown down into a puddle.
The first paper she wrote had probably 25 errors on each page. Her first set of journals were worse. The second paper had maybe 8 errors per page. Her second set of journals had barely any errors in them. I can't even tell you how shocked I was that she picked all of what I taught so quickly! Every day she showed up to class, took notes meticulously, asked me questions during and after class, and then showed up several times to the Writing Center for more tutoring and more assistance. It wasn't just her motivation that endeared Brenda to me; her energetic approach to all of her assignments made me constantly grin. This woman wanted to learn like no other student I ever had.
And then, as the term unfolded and I did my usual babblings at her about my own personal life, she opened up to me. I found out a lot about Brenda that made me respect her more. She had come from an extremely poor family. Her family members are uneducated to an extreme--most of them don't even have a high school degree--and they are not supportive of Brenda AT ALL. She came from severe poverty, family that never helped her nor encouraged her, and then married an abusive man who almost killed her in the end. One day, after fifteen years of this hell, she found the courage to leave. Taking her two children, she did what she needed to do to make life better for them all. Unfortunately, since she had no healing from that first relationship--and because her family would never be able to provide for her the support one would need to recover from such a traumatic experience--she repeated her error but in a different way. She found a man she thought would treat her right, got married, had a son...and discovered that he was an unsalvagable crack addict. Feeling the need to stick it out as she didn't want a second divorce (plus they had a baby together), she put up with more than she should have. When it all came to a head again, she steeled herself and did it once more: she left him.
So now here is Brenda, 40 yrs old and returning to school after many years out. Her family tells her she needs to work rather than go back to school and tell her she should quit college. She has two older children to raise plus a baby, all by herself. She HAS a full-time job and is in school full-time to be a nurse. She then gets a second job. And...she's doing it! How??? How does a person keep herself together through all of this adversity? Because she has no choice!
Believe me, this particular situation is one that I live. You do what you have to do because your children rely on you, and you don't have the option of sprawling out on the ground and dying.
I've done my best to be her cheerleading squad throughout the term. I've told her repeatedly how brilliant she is, something I know she was never told throughout her life. I've reminded her of her goals: to be a nurse so that she can help out others, be a good role model for her children, and never have to worry about money again. We've talked about why things happen; we have talked about things she should tell her lawyer or do or not do; we've talked about how some days you wake up crying because you just don't know how you are going to drag your carcass through the gauntlet one more time. She told me last week, "Kira, you have taught me what I'm really worth." It was all I could do to not cry for joy in front of her when she told me that simple statement. And later on...well, I did cry because I was so moved. You just have to meet this special woman to understand, I suppose. I think that the amazing part of Brenda is that despite poverty, a non-supportive family, bad relationships, two jobs to work at once, no real previous education, three children, and being kicked in the teeth repeatedly by life, she still smiles. Not only is she a cheerful person by nature, but she still has some of that childlike wonder and innocence about the world that too many of us lose. I look into her doe-brown eyes, and I know that she still thinks that mankind is good and that God is there for her. She is exhausted. She sometimes feels alone. She sometimes wishes she just could go to sleep and never wake up. However, Brenda WILL make it. She'll get her nursing degree, and she'll make the lives of so many people better because she will be loving and compassionate while doing the 'intelligent' thing to help them through their stay in the hospital. She'll get a nice income due to being in that field. Her children will see the value of the education despite that nearly all of their relatives on both sides don't even have a high school degree, and they will try to better themselves as well. She won't be running into the arms of another man who will hurt her simply because she knows now that she can make it on her own and be fine. She can take care of herself. Truly, she inspires me.
And I suppose it's moments like this one that make me unable to leave this profession, even though I'm broke!