I teach at both a community college and university. There are distinct differences between each school. The university students are the best of the best; it takes almost more than a 4.0 gpa to get into this school. The students are a reflection of this. While having a unique and sometimes annoying sense of entitlement, they are extremely motivated and come to school with excellent skills acquired from their high school years. Probably the most annoying aspect of these students (besides the entitlement factor) are their incessant need to come to my office hours to check on their grades and to constantly bug me for help.
The community college, on the other hand, has a different type of student. Sure there are motivated students who are making a wise fiscal decision to complete their GED courses before paying more money at the university level. And sure there are students who are taking GED courses in order to figure out what they want to do in life and are still motivated to do well. But then there are the other students: the students who are there because their parents are making them attend, the students who go to keep their insurance, the students who feel they should be in college but really shouldn’t be. These are the students who are not motivated. They rarely show up, turn in work sporadically, never come to office hours, do not have the skills to be successful in college because they didn’t pay attention in high school, and generally waste not only their time, but their instructors as well.
And these other students are the ones I usually have in my classes because I generally teach remedial classes at this particular community college. Needless to say, the teaching can be draining–both physically and emotionally. This semester, I took a Tuesday & Thursday remedial evening class. This is a class I have taught before and swore I never would again. These night courses are often mostly filled with this other kind of student. I can only take so many empty seats, lame excuses, and terrible assignments. I often leave feeling rejected, uninspired, and even bitter at the education system in general.
However, this particular class has risen above all my standards. While yes, several students have already dropped, the 15 or so students who have stuck it out work hard, care about the quality of their work, and are really, really nice students. The class is a mix of different people, from the working mom to the ex-drug addict to the uber-Christian older man. And they all get along and respect each other! It’s been a pleasure to teach this class.
So imagine my surprise when I sat down today to grade their first essays. Instead of assigning the usual C’s, D’s, and F’s, I gave out all A’s and B’s. Their essays were just that good! The assignment was simple: a basic narrative essay that recounts a moment of their lives when they learned something. It’s a great starter essay prompt that requires little more than knowledge of their own lives and no in-depth research.
I read amazing essays: an essay about a father who almost lost his daughter and how he survived this almost tragedy; an essay about a sister who lost her baby brother to SIDS; an essay about a man who crashed his beloved motorcycle and after spending 2 weeks in ICU, got back on his bike; and an essay about a young man who traveled across the United States to find himself. These essays, and all the others, had depth, did not rely on cliches, and moved me in ways that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I feel like I learned not only about them as writers and people, but about myself–and not in the usual instructor “look how much I taught them” way. I learned about life, and love, and heart break, and adventure, and maturity.
Tonight I am thankful for this very different, unique, hard-working class and the essays they wrote.