It's the last week of the semester, so I thought I'd go off on my semi-annual teaching rant. I teach at a community college, where students fall all over the spectrum, from very very bright to not so bright at all; from single mothers of six (!) to 16 year old Post-Secondary-Option students to nearly 80 year olds. Many of them cheat, or don't try very hard, or expect me to hand them an A just for showing up 51% of the time. I was all ready to tell you how exhausting it can be, semester in and semester out, to try to motivate people who are here because they believe it will help them get a better paying job, but beyond that they don't see the point in learning much. "Why do I need to know this?" "Will this be on the test?" Ach.
That part is true. It is exhausting. But on my way down the hall to write this post (from my classroom halfway across the college), two things happened that made me change my mind. First, I bumped into a former student, one who is very bright, just naturally. He's graduating next week, and looking forward to doing work besides bar tending for the first time in five years. He has grown so much, since I first met him, and completely understands the joy of learning. He'll go on to get his Bachelor's degree, and I know he will do well. A few minutes later, I passed a student from three years ago, a solid C writer who worked hard on every single paper, and moved herself up in just one semester to solid Bs. She told me excitedly that she's been chosen as this spring's student speaker for commencement. "I had to write an essay, you know. That's how they chose me. You have no idea how much you've helped me."
And so, I come to tell a different story. Many of my students are first generation college students, and many have challenges in their lives I can barely imagine. Many of them don't know anyone who's read Shakespeare, ever. And many of them come with open hearts, to try to learn, to grow as humans, to see the world in new ways. And they do. They learn and their minds expand and sometimes even when they don't want to they learn to like Shakespeare. This is why I teach, why I try semester in and semester out to motivate students who aren't even sure why they're here.
They have no idea how much they've helped me.