There are so many cool things about working at a community college, and I’ve gotten to meet students and faculty from all sorts of learning, cultural, family and economic backgrounds. But there have also been far more moments in the past few months of beginning my work here when I have found myself distraught, sad, mad, and frustrated in finding out how behind some of my students are, and then seeing my own limits in being able to be patient with and support them in ways they may need. If I slow down for some of my students who have trouble keeping up, my other students who are keeping up are disappointed. And if I go at my usual pace, I lose some students. There seems to be no pleasing everyone.
Several weeks into class, I found out that one of my students did not even know how to sign into canvas, had trouble reading and writing words that should have been mastered in elementary school (I am not exaggerating), and struggled with a learning disability that he didn’t know to tell me about until I asked him to visit the access resource center. I would be lying if I said I was always hopeful, patient, encouraged, and able to give him the support he needed. In fact, he totally bombed his first group presentation with the final product looking something like him facing the wall and stumbling over reading each sentence on the powerpoint (that his partner made entirely without his contributions) line by line. I’m pretty sure I went home and cried a little.
But today was one of the days I was reminded that all students deserve a chance. And while not all students might make it, I’ve learned that gosh darnit…who knows? Maybe they will. We had another presentation coming up in the class, so I grabbed the same “face the wall and read off the slides” student for about 10 minutes after class to remind him about the presentation and guidelines, showed him how to use powerpoint which he told me he didn’t know how to use, and basically looked over his shoulders to make sure he finished working. I told him it was unacceptable for him to face the wall and read each line off the slides, and that he had to practice and memorize exactly what he was going to say. And come presentation day, guess what happened? He came to class dressed up in a nice dress shirt (which I didn’t even ask him to do), he memorized the darn presentation, and presented like his other classmates!
After experiencing this today, I feel both elated and confused. I have the same questions I started with, but with even more intensity. What do I do for the countless other students like this one who may need that extra individual push and support? How do I balance having high expectations for my students, offering them the support they need to get there, all the while being realistic about what I can offer as faculty and as a human being? So many questions…so little answers. But for now, I think I’m going to take a sip of tea, and cry a little, as I celebrate what sometimes feels like a rare teacherly moment. And then, hope and pray for more in my future years to come.