Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Important Job



Yesterday was one of those days when I looked at the clock at 7:00 a.m. and already felt behind.

My mind filled with all the things I had to accomplish. I had paragraphs to grade, e-mails to answer, lessons to plan, data from last semester to total up and get in, and I had a batch of essays I needed to go through and mark thoroughly. I hustled around, threw my briefcase into the car and drove to school, plagued with the list of things to do circling in my brain like a loop tape.

I got to campus, and started in. I was going to be a machine. I was going to get things done. I would focus, concentrate. I would conquer the pile of papers that sat before me. I shook my fist towards the heavens a la Scarlett. As God as my witness, I’d have an empty desk by nightfall. This was my one and only goal.

I worked for about ten minutes when there was a knock at my door. I spun around, ready to dispatch the intruder. There stood a student I hadn’t seen much of lately. He had come to ask to make up his missed assignments. Teacher Betty does not allow late work unless students let her know ahead of time they will be out of class. Still, I thought, I’d give him the handouts I had distributed in class and get him on his way. It would take five minutes at the most and then I would be back to my Very Important Work.

He sat on my couch and I started yammering on about how he had missed an entire section on organization, and it was up to him to get caught up with the material.

As I was yapping away with my Teacher Talk, I caught a glimpse of something in his face that made me stop. He was nodding and accepting the papers I was giving him, but there was a look of pain in his eyes that had nothing to do with missing the class and the work.

I have taught at community college long enough to know that our students are complicated. Their lives are complicated. Along with the traditional students are the nontraditional. The student who looks sleepy in the back row has not been out partying all night. He has been working in the strawberry fields since 6:00 a.m. and comes to class when he gets off at 2:00 p.m. The single mom is not missing my class because she is home watching TV. She is waiting in line at the free clinic for help for a sick child. My student who wears the tracking bracelet is trying hard to make a new life for himself by attending college for the first time and is finding it takes courage to fit into this new landscape and not fall back on his old ways.

I put the handouts aside, and asked him why he had been absent.

Now, maybe it’s because in English class we deal with words, with narratives, and with the emotions that come with them, but I’d be willing to bet that students feel more comfortable talking with their English teachers than, say, their chemistry or math teachers.

His story came out. It was a painful one and he needed to talk. He needed someone to listen. I couldn’t do much to help his situation, but I could listen and be supportive of him. I could let him know that he wasn’t alone and things would eventually get better.

After my student left my office, I glanced at the clock. Thirty minutes had passed by and yet, I suddenly felt like I had enough time to do all the things I needed to do. I looked at the pile of papers on my desk and I knew I’d get them all done in due time.

I felt a total shift in my attitude and outlook.

The anxiety I had worn like a heavy cape all morning had slipped off my shoulders. I felt a peacefulness and calm come over me.

I had the rare and wonderful sense of knowing that at that moment I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing in my life.

It made me think. How many other times I had plowed ahead with my own agenda, blind to the opportunities that life presented to me to help a fellow human being?


I'll still make plans, and lists, and vows to clear my desk, but from now on I won't just concentrate on the work I plan to do.

I'll be more aware of the opportunities to do the real work that I am given.

54 comments:

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

You did a good thing. Sometimes it takes five minutes of someone else's problems to put your own into perspective. I wish I'd had a teacher like you. I pretty much got every bitter, burnt out harpy that ever cracked a book.

Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds said...

I hope your listening ear gave him some extra strength to conquer whatever it is that stands between him and his education.

Mamma has spoken said...

Sometimes, it's not what we do in the classroom that changes a student's life but what we do outside.
Good job Betty!

Lori said...

Thank you for seeing him and taking the time for him. It is a beautiful thing when we are able to see what is before us instead of what is on our agenda. Every day I pray that my eye's are open so that I can be present in what is before me. There are day's I get caught up in thinking, "This is not what I planned to be doing or where I am suppose to be." But then something happens and I know without a doubt, I may not be where I thought I should be but I am exact where I am suppose to be in this moment. Very cool that he knew he could talk to you. I pray that whatever is going on with this young man that the weight of it was less after talking to you. Teachers like you really do make a difference! Thank you. XX

Lin said...

Your student had to feel comfortable enough to share his problems with you and that is part of the equation in listening and helping others. We can only be so perceptive--the other person has to send the "listen to me" vibe as well. Apparently you are open or he wouldn't have shared.

Good job, Betty. Nice to know you are on duty taking care of others. :)

Catherine said...

Wonderful post Betty!

We too often forget that everyone has struggles and that we should have more compassion for each other. So often 'big issues' that we are having really aren't that big at all.

Thank you for sharing this story ~ very inspiring!
xo Catherine

Madi and Mom said...

BB this is a very powerful and inspiring. Oh my goodness...what a reminder that a truly good teacher is more than a lecturer. Walking in the shoes of your students for a moment makes it easier to know how/why they learn.

As always a pleasure to be one of your readers,
Hugs Madi and Mom

Leah J. Utas said...

The Universe was with you--and him--on that one.

Old Kitty said...

Lovely BB!! I'm so glad you were there to help this student. Sometimes it;s so hard to put things in perspective when you are up against the clock and so it's always important to see the big picture and to be able to prioritise what really matters! Take care
x

baygirl32 said...

being a non traditional student myself, thank you - for helping him. You did a great thing :)

Out on the prairie said...

Support can come in a variety of ways, and sometimes it is that little bit that can help save someone.I babysat for 5 kids of varied ages yesterday while their mom's made arrngements to bury a lady I had worked with at Hospice. The house was trashed and I also became a housekeeper as well. I have someone come in each week at my home, and wished she had been free, this isn't a normal routine.

Flartus said...

An easy-to-forget benefit to the work of teaching. Grasping onto those moments are what makes all the papers, grading, data entry and jargon-filled memos worth it.

Daisy said...

Bless your heart, Betty. You're such a good soul. I bet that student will always remember you. Keep up the good work. :-)

Brian said...

Sometimes the learning happens when you least expect it!

Jules said...

Amen, Ms. Betty. The teacher became the student and sounds as if you passed the test. :) Sometimes time is all we are asked to give and it is enough.

I know you do not do awards but check out my post today ;)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Baby Sister said...

Sometimes it can be so hard to just stop focusing on something and pay attention to what is going around us and look for opportunities to help and serve. That is something I try to do better with every day, and I end every day feeling like I have failed. Hopefully today will be better. Well done Betty. Thanks for your example. :)

Cheeseboy said...

I sometimes forget the good that college teachers do. The greatest teacher I ever had was in college and she sounds a lot like you.

Joyful said...

A very poignant reminder to live in the moment and recognize we need to just be. There is a purpose for being right there, right now. Blessings. xx

jenny_o said...

Well done. Thanks for another thoughtful post.

LittleSilkDress said...

Bless you for taking the time to listen. We all need someone to do that every once in a while. Sounds like you both were blessed in that moment.

Happy Wednesday!

Linda Myers said...

Yes, you were exactly where you were supposed to be.

I'm glad you're a teacher!

Hilary said...

This is precisely why you are a good teacher.. because you're so open to learning. I'm happy for you and your student.

Marlene said...

I've always thought you sounded like a great teacher....and now you've proven it. :)

Cricket said...

Hm. I think too often I come to this sort of awareness after the opportunity has passed me by.

Hm.

The Green Streak said...

A good lesson for all of us community college teachers. I've always thought that community college is where the REAL teaching happens. It's not an easy job because of the complicated lives of our students. But it's immensely rewarding.

Pat Tillett said...

Wow! What a great and thought provoking event (and blog post). I've always thought the world of you and now, you've even moved up a little higher on the scale.
I've got more than one report card with teacher comments like "seems distracted" or "has trouble concentrating." It might have changed a lot of my life if I'd run across a teacher like you when I needed it...

Sara said...

I love how helping someone makes me feel. It's both calming and exhilarating at the same time. And it makes me feel like my focus has shifted to what's important. Hurrah!!

Sara said...

I love how helping someone makes me feel. It's both calming and exhilarating at the same time. And it makes me feel like my focus has shifted to what's important. Hurrah!!

Liz said...

You are an incredible teacher and person. What a big heart you have to help him out!

Ami said...

So glad you're where you need to be. It makes such a difference.

And so do you.

blueviolet said...

Chills, Betty. I hope I'm paying attention the next time I'm needed too. That was wonderful!

Carrie said...

Love, love, love it
We must be related or something.

Noelle said...

You have a beautiful heart Betty, and every day I feel like I learn something from you.

Thank you for sharing this.

Jimmy said...

I'm proud of you Betty, sometimes a person simply needs someone who will listen to make their burden feel a bit lighter, and by doing so you also lightened your own.

Excellent Post my Friend

Peggy K said...

I truly believe that our angels come in all shapes and sizes. One never really knows whether the interactions they have with others are "angel encounters". I choose to believe they all are. There's a whole lot of people out there who are able to teach me a whole lot of stuff. And I'm so grateful for all of them.

Ann said...

I would say just about anyone could hand out assignments, read from a book and call themselves a teacher. It take someone special to give a student their time and notice when they need a little something extra. You my dear lady are a special kind of teacher. :)

faye said...

You touched so many lives today.
The student first and then blog-land.

My Big Secret Blog :) said...

Betty, I just wish every teacher were as amazing as you were today. :)

sherri said...

wonderful post and way to be a great teacher, betty, you rock.

jcohen7523 said...

You are an unsung hero. You listen to their pain. That to me is well beyond any teachers I've ever had. Wish I could've benefited from your guidance. :)

A Tale of Two Cities said...

Taking time in the midst of our "busy" schedules to do what really matters is one of the greatest ways we can give to others. That student was one of the lucky ones--having someone like you to just give him the gift of an open ear and heart!

Linda said...

You're the kind of teacher everyone hopes their children will have. Someone coined the phrase, "the tyranny of the urgent." I'm glad you were able to set aside the "urgent" in favor of the "important."

Joanna Jenkins said...

And THAT'S what being a good teach is all about.
High five, Betty.
xo jj

The Adorkable Ditz said...

That was very sweet of you to do that. At my community college at least I see a lot of parents going back to school and older people who either worked or messed up the first few years out of high school.

I personally haven't seen anything different, doesn't mean it's not there. I just hope that whoever is going through struggles like that will pull through and come out on top in the end.

The Adorkable Ditz' Missteps

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Zuzana said...

Oh, this was beuatiful! I feel this happening often to me. At times we get so caught up in the stress of our own lives, in the petty things that needs to be done, but often serving no purpose. Then, only a fraction of our day can be given the right way and can change someones life around.
What a beautiful realization of a thirty minutes spend that way. And being in the right occupation - not many of us feel that way.
Congratulations also on POTW mention with one of your previous post, which I too enjoyed reading.;)
xoxo

slommler said...

Great lesson!! And one lucky kid that you were paying attention and saw his pain. This could be the turning point in his young life. Good for you!!
Hugs
SueAnn

Lydia K said...

You have a beautiful soul, Betty.
A great reminder for us all to have some perspective!

Gigi said...

He has a very lucky teacher. Kudos to you for stopping and listening. :)

Chris Phillips said...

Great story. I've had those same feelings before, but with 8 year olds.

Leanne said...

Can it be that this is now my favorite Betty post, when I have a list a mile long of other posts that touch my heart and make me smile and cry at the very same time?

My dear Betty - as always, I thank you for sharing this moment with us. I needed it now more than ever.

The Chicken's Consigliere said...

Hi Betty. I hope your student is ok. I know exactly what you mean about those moments. When I used to get them, I used to think, oh, and now my life is going to change and I am always going to feel this way. Now when I get them, I think, oh, there you are, you precious moment. Thank you. Because I know it won't last, but I am so grateful each time I get to spend a little while feeling at one with the universe.

Nicolasa said...

Great post. I know exactly how you felt at the beginning of the post. It is tough to get things on the to do list done but what a wonderful reason to be "off task"

snippets of thyme said...

A REALLY great lesson for a yapper like me. I am always wanting to hush my mouth and really listen to the glimpse of pain in someone's eyes. I really enjoyed your essay about your student. Thank you for giving me my daily reminder to LISTEN. The world is probably weary of hearing what I have to say...