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...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?"
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 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?