Monday, January 12, 2009

First Day of School

Today is the first day of classes at the small community college where I teach.  Teachers  love the first days of the semester.  The campus is alive with activity; students are eager and enthusiastic, carrying new notebooks and textbooks.  There's an air of new beginnings, new possibilities.  

At a community college you'll find a diverse group of students--the eighteen and nineteen year-olds fresh out of high school, the returning students in their 60's, 70's and 80's, the ESL students there to learn English, the 20 year old transferring to Berkeley in the next year.  One of my classes is a night class where the majority of my students are working adults, mostly in the 30's and 40's finishing up that degree they never got to when they were younger.  They come straight from work, juggling baby-sitters, relatives and kids from their cell phones in order to be there.

When I look out at the faces in my classes that first day, I keep in mind that I may be the first college teacher they've ever had.  To some, my words, my attitude, even the way I walk around the classroom can either give them hope, or can reinforce negative feelings about education and themselves they may already have.  For some students, coming to college at all is an act of bravery and may even be an act of defiance.

By mid-semester, a great number of students will have dropped out.  It's sad but true.  Some find they can't handle balancing working, family, and school and school is the thing that has to go.  Some discover their skills weren't good enough; some discover their interest isn't high enough to push them to do the work that's required.  

Ah, but we have today when all is new and the possibilities are endless.

On Friday, I was up on campus, preparing for my classes.  I spotted a woman, probably in her late 30's, who looked like she was searching for a classroom so I stopped and asked her if she needed help.  "Yeah, I wanted to find my classrooms before my classes on Monday.  I've never been here before."  I took a look at her schedule and quickly saw she was in Drug and Alcohol Studies.  It's no secret that 98 percent of those who major in that are recovering addicts who want to now help others break addictions while understanding their own pasts.  

I went down the list of her classes, pointing out where she could find her classrooms.  "So this one is by the parking lot?  And this one is over in that building?" she asked, somewhat nervously. I nodded, "Get here early because parking can be a problem."  Putting her schedule back in her purse, she said "Thank you," and then added, "I've never been to college before."  I smiled and said, "Well, you're off to a great start."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'm glad you wrote this. i think it is often easy to lose sight. you do good things. small kindnesses keep the world afloat.