Why I Can't Give Up
So, before I go off to France, I thought I'd share with you the reason why I do it: because I know it's what I'm supposed to do. I never felt that way about any other job, so of course I'm reluctant to abandon this one.
A prime example was today. I had my two final exams to administer before the term officially ended. I have to get grades in by tomorrow morning so I can go on my trip. This day was probably the last day I'll see some of my students. So, what happened?
a) Three individual female students came up and hugged me, describing various items about English and life that they are now convinced they can do despite being told that they couldn't do it previously. Their backgrounds were varied--an older student, a minority, a girl from a devistatingly poor background. The story, however, was the same: I was thinking of dropping out of school or that I'd never be able to get through an English class until you came along, showed me you cared, taught me what I could do, and helped me whenever I needed it. Job satisfaction score=10 plus.
b) One student I had in English 101 manipulated his schedule so he could have me for English 102 this term. He's had a rough week. His grandmother had a stroke, and she didn't even recognize him when he practically was living in the hospital with her. Anyway, after everybody had left (except Alex who came with me to school that day), he handed me a very, very long note which described how much I had 'saved' him by being supportive, helping him, and making him feel like he belonged at school. He then opened up to me about all that was going on his life, even crying a bit because he's just had that crappy of a time lately. I hugged him while Alex smiled. I know I'll see him again.
c) I had another student hand me a lovely hardback book of poems today, say thank you, and scamper out of the room. I read the inscription. It stated that I really helped her improve her English writing skills and that she was thrilled I had convinced her that 21 was too young to be getting married (long story...I didn't debate the issue with her; however, I pointed out to her the possible problems she should consider and stated that if the relationship were meant to last, it would hold out until she could get her college degree and get set up on her own two feet...she definitely had "southern belle paranoia" of "I must get married now because without a man, I am nothing!").
See, and this list was just from ONE day of the four days of exams. There's more. I allow teaching to use all of my strengths: creativity, big heart, intelligence, knowledge of writing and (early Medieval and Renaissance) literature, my sense of humor, and my background in social work. Heck, I even use my cooking skills because I bake 'em all a goody at least once a term...haha! Believe me, at a community college there's a great need for teachers who will set FIRM boundaries and have no problems letting students get the F's they deserve if the students won't get off their asses and learn the material, yet also teachers who encourage and LISTEN to the kids. These students of mine aren't Duke students--and by that I don't mean intellectually. I have some kids whose intellectual capacity matched or surpassed many of the kids from my class there. I mean that your typical Duke student comes from a more priviledged background. They HAD encouragement and some sort of stability in their lives. They KNOW they are smart and can do it. My kids...don't know any such thing. A lot of times they had roadblocks thrown up that other people can't even imagine. They just need somebody, anybody, rooting for them and telling them they can do it. I'm good at that. I regularly talk kids out of quitting school, convince them they CAN complete the degree program, and just damn well listen when they need an ear. I'm not an easy teacher. You have to know the materials when you get out of the class or you fail. In fact, I had three--count 'em THREE--kids in one class this semester who already failed with me before. And guess what? They all requested me again. HAHA! All three of them are going to pass this time around, too. Why? Because I finally got through to them and now they are DOING the work instead of goofing off. I want them to learn because for so many of them, learning to write competently is part of that bigger picture of being able to escape poverty or a bad situation and succeeding at their choice of job. It hurts to have a student I adore make an F...but that's part of being a good teacher too...letting them fail when they need to fail.
Maybe one day I'll get burned out and hate this job. Maybe one day I'll want to earn money like the rest of my family. Maybe I'll find another job somewhere that fulfills me enough. Maybe!
But not today.
Today, I clutch the folder of the letters my students have given me over the last two years and know why I'm here.
Today, when I eventually finish up the grading and manage some sleep, I will rest my head on my pillow and be able to sleep, knowing that what I did made no money but what I did couldn't be done by most other people. I will dream of those students who are now doing so well because they finally had that voice behind them, that teacher who was willing to listen and shout for them, and I will realize: starvation sucks, but the long list of jobs I tried before teaching sucked even more. My kids are happier because I get more time with them than I'd get in other jobs, PLUS Ariana is so proud of me that she is about to explode. Can't beat that! I told her once that the reason why money was tight was that my job choice didn't pay well. She told me that she was thrilled I was a teacher because she loved HER teacher and she just KNEW my students needed me like she needed her teacher! Wow. My little daughter even wrote a snippet that she got to recite on stage about being a college professor one day like mommy...not a lawyer like daddy, but a teacher like mommy who helps so many kids...*sniff*
I just hope I made sense when I explain why I make decisions that seem so senseless! haha! I know that Angie understands what I mean. I know when Amanda doesn't have Stephen Flashbacks, she understands what I mean too...haha!
And yes, Amber, I'll eat some cheese for you. And I'll eat choccy for the rest of ya! Hmmm I should probably bring back some French chocolates and offer them to the first two or three folks who visit me when I get back. That'll get some company over here at Chez Kira! Hmmm should also up the ante with a bottle of French wine too or something...
Ok, folks, I will try to post sometime when I'm over in France, but if I don't, I'll be back late May 14th. YAY!