I recently had an opportunity to teach again at a local community college in Central Arkansas. I’m never a fan of the grading, especially essays; but the fun I have with my students always outweighs the obligatory grading. I love being in a classroom and forming relationships with my students. They are usually from rural communities in Arkansas, so I like sharing my own story in hopes of motivating them to achieve their goals.
Some of the students I encountered during the fall 2013 semester made me incredibly sad. I was teaching remedial courses in Language Arts (basic writing and reading skills) and College Success (a two-hour class that offered strategies to students to help them be academically successful). Some of my students probably never dreamed of going to college. I can only assume that they had no other direction and that maybe a parent “encouraged” them to do something – anything – other than nothing. However, no matter how they arrived in my classroom, some of their efforts were underwhelming. Most were so incredibly bright and quick-witted, but some did not seem to care if they passed or failed. Well, let me correct that. They all wanted to pass. They just wanted to do the least amount of work possible and still do so. I was told by other teachers that some were only there to collect a check from their Pell Grants or some other form of financial aid. As discouraging as that sounds, I now believe it to be true.
When I initially enrolled in college after graduating high school, I totally underestimated the effort required to be successful. I did well my first semester, but my grades slowly declined over the next two semesters. After my third semester, I was facing academic probation. Considering I had never received anything lower than a B in high school, I was mortified – and completely and utterly embarrassed.
So before anyone thinks I’m being judgmental of lackadaisical students, I feel as if I’m entitled to do so because I actually understand their mentality. I understand what it’s like to be directionless, apathetic, and bored. I did not get serious about post-secondary education until I was 26 years old, and it took six years to complete my BA. I graduated one day after my 32nd birthday.
I’m actually quite proud of my accomplishments thus far, but I truly did not intend on being a non-traditional student. All of my high school friends stayed in college, received their degrees, and started their careers early in life. They were done and working before I ever started. It’s true that I landed a good job without a degree. That job was the only thing that allowed me to pursue my degree. I just wonder how my life would have taken shape if I had taken college seriously the first time. Did failing college the first time make me appreciate it more later in life? Did the failure necessitate success? I know the answer to both of these is yes, but I still can’t help but feel like a late bloomer at times.
Regardless of their effort, I still loved my students this past semester. I enjoyed getting to know them and allowing them to know me. I can only hope that I imparted enough of my own college failures and successes to encourage them to keep pursuing their degrees for the right reasons. I hope they find that one thing that stirs their passions and that they can find a job that allows them to experience that passion daily. And for those who were not successful, I hope the failure prompts them do better the next time.