Thursday, November 30, 2006

Students

Yesterday, Professing Mama wrote the following about one of her students:
I have received another student's email that has made me cry. This one is quite different from the first one; it came from a student in my intro course, a student who is in some ways quite typical of the MSU student body--a returning student, first-generation, "underprepared."As teachers, we say we don't play favorites, and it's true that I work very hard to treat all of my students fairly. I would be lying to say that I don't have favorites, however, and this student is my favorite student in this class. He is not a great student; he works hard for Cs. But that is what I love about him: he works hard. He frequently participates in class, he really tries to improve, and he wants to learn.That is the type of student I enjoy the most...

Another thing I love about him is that he has missed several classes the past few weeks, but he has never made any excuses... he told me that he knew he had "failed in his responsibilities" and that he knew he deserved whatever grade he received. I have never had a student own up like that.

I just received word that he is dropping the course; one of his parents died of cancer on Thanksgiving Day. Apparently the reason why he was missing so much class was because he was helping with caretaking in his parent's last few weeks. He told me he'll start over again next semester, and he thanked me "for always being so kind to me."So I'm crying again tonight. I feel so sorry not only for his loss, but also for mine.
And it made me think back to the last test date in our class, when the kids were hastily dropping their bluebooks into the correct boxes, and my fellow TA and I were sitting on the stage answering their questions or simply saying hi. She leaned over and asked me, "Don't you just love these students?"

And I realized, for all my hard talk and skepticism, I do. So many of my students are like the one Professing Mama described and my heart just goes out to them. How they add college to their list of responsibilities, I'll never know. I was a traditional student--started at 17, on full scholarship, finished in four years. Don't get me wrong, best friend Texas, who was my friend from freshman year on, and my roommate our junior and senior years, and I were perpetually broke and hungry, but we didn't have the experiences these students have. We had jobs, but they were on campus, part time. And no one ever doubted, for one moment, that we'd finish. My students now have children and car notes and electricity bills and 40 hours+ per week jobs. Some of them don't have the luxury of meeting us after class or for review sessions--they have to work or go to the daycare or do myriad other things.

And I find that I respect, admire, love them fiercely for what they're doing. I want to see them do well, see them finish. Somehow, over the course of this semester, I've invested my heart right along with my mind in these young people.

Before I started teaching, even on the elementary level, I always assumed that the "A" students would be my favorites--I'd identify with them and be so excited to challenge them. And that was true to a point. But you know who pulled my heartstrings? The ones who hug me and tell me they love me now when I go home (my first class of fifth graders are seniors this year!)? My "bad asses." Those who came in with looks on their faces that let me know off the bat we might have a long day. Those who got frustrated with the work and wanted to sulk and pout and got mad when I wouldn't let them. Those for whom and with whom I had to do the most work. Those who made me lay my head down on my desk and sigh sometimes before I tried something else.

They appreciate me, it seems, for my efforts. And I appreciate them for taking my preconceived notions and blowing them out of the water.

And I've found it much the same in my college classrooms. Some of them try so hard, work so hard, but their grades don't always reflect that. These are the ones for whom we have special reviews, extend our office hours, have long e-mail chats. It's not about feeling sorry for them; it's about respecting them as people beyond their student status.

So yes, I love my students. Do you?

5 comments:

JULIE said...

Thanks for the comment - 26 to be exact :) And yes, I love my students. They are masters level and they definitely irritate me sometimes, but they also make my day a lot of the time. I can't imagine how much joy your little people give you - especially when you see them graduating from high school!!!!

Zan said...

My favorite class, when I was teaching, was my non-traditional class at Fort Polk. Oh, gods, those people were awesome. I was younger than most of the people in class, but they were by far the most respectful to me. They really, really wanted to be there. They had jobs and kids or grandkids or spouses in the service or they were in the service, but they showed up every damned class or they called me and told me why they weren't there -- they were honestly worried about their status in the class. Unlike the waves and waves of just-out-of-high-school classes I was teaching in Natchitoches, who really just wanted me to leave them alone and give them a grade already.

I had so much fun with that class, because they were so up for anything. They asked questions, they were really engaged. My crazy ideas weren't crazy to them. (I taught English, so I would come up with all kinds of nutty stuff as writing prompts. Like aliens have landed in your backyard and want to know about Earth. You've got 15 minutes to make a case for humanity. Go.)

And I loved the ones who really tried, who were always there, who did the assignments without fail, even when they weren't getting the best grades. They always got the benefit of the doubt come grade averaging time.

If I'd had classes like that all the time, I'd still be teaching ;)

Quinn said...

Love 'em so much! Love the ones that start out with a D and work their way up to a C or even B. Love the ones who have a solid A and come in just to chat even though they are in no danger of losing their grade. Love the ones who are international students, never had American history before, and try (so hard!) to master both the language AND the history despite their disadvantage.

nubian said...

iono, my students seems so blazay (is that how you spell it?) about college.

Femi said...

girl--you tickled at a tender spot for me--I love my kids so much too--they're all going through the same stuff you're talking about--and you're right, the ones who make me work the hardest--the ones who look at me like I'm insane and who tell me "I don't get it" after we've been working on something for three weeks--whooo---they piss me off, but boy does it mean so much to me when the walk in with this amazing assignment. One kid just put a note on one of his assignments saying that this assignment was the hardest thing he ever did, but he feels like he can express himself in a way he never could before. I could've hugged him.

(btw, your thing keeps calling me "femi"--so this is bfp. I really kinda hate that I'm called femi--sounds like a slang for "feminine hygiene" or something!!!! haha!! :p

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