It has been an interesting year for a number of reasons. But this post is about what I’ve learned from my students over the past year. Some background information, last year was my first year teaching a regular lecture college course for Central Community College (CCC). This semester I am teaching an online course for CCC. In the past I have taught the early entry courses for seniors taking dual credit courses through CCC. Even though I taught a college course, my everyday teacher life was centered in the high school routine. There is a difference between high school students and college students at CCC. This is what I’ve learned.
Even though I lost students over the year to a wide range of issues (I’ll talk about that in a few lines), students understood that gaining an education was important for them to reach their professional goals. I had one student who used her lunch break to attend my class. She would arrive a few minutes late, in her nursing outfit from work, and was raising a family. Another student had worked construction for almost two decades and loved it. But an accident kept him from returning to that job. He was studying business in hopes that he could return to the company in a new position.
My students understood that getting an education was going to help them reach their goals. But it is not easy.
Life Can Be a Hurdle
In high school, life is school. Football games, dances, school, they are all part of the everyday experience. For many of my students at CCC class was just a section of their life. I had students in class that ranged from 18 to 63 years old. I have a student right now who is traveling the world and taking my course online to get some general education credits handled before he comes back to the States. I had a young man at the age of 21 who had already gone through rehab twice.
I am proud to be a part, however small, of their lives. But life did cause some hurdles that challenged my approach to teaching. One aspect was the workload I expected from them. It made me think about what was really important for them in my course. This was hard for me because I love sharing extra material, to try to foster learning beyond the curriculum. I had to consider what I asked of them regarding assignments and homework. Not that I took it easier on them, but it forced me to align my course work according to importance and expected time spent on it. A simple example is that I used class time to handle small assignments and tried to give feedback on those right away because many of the assignments connect to their essays (which are the major assignments for the course). This allowed my students to work on the essay at home with more confidence in their ability to accomplish the writing.
Education versus Learning
This area is still challenging me, and maybe it always will. But not in the way you might think. I know many of my students only take my course because it is a general education course that all programs require. I actually lean on that idea to emphasize the importance of taking the course. I repeat, over and over, and over, that the number one goal is to help them become better writers for this course, for upcoming courses, and even for life. I present them with a WHY. Many of my students just want the credit, I know this. But their learning is their education which is their life, their goals. My battle is in creating a course, an assignment, or developing content that aligns to that WHY. And yes, I believe it matters.
The student who used her lunch hour to attend my class has two children and she revealed why it matters. During one session on writing with tone/voice, I was discussing how this characteristic of writing was the reason we like certain books, songs, and other media. I continued to expand on how important word choice was in creating that tone or finding their own voice. Unbeknownst to me at the time I connected the WHY to her life when I lead a discussion on how hard it can be to write a personal letter to someone expressing our feelings (word choice/tone). I shared a personal example of writing a card for my son, and even how hard it was for me to get that card right. I happened to then share that that type of writing was just as important as an essay for my class, which I believe. At the end of that semester, which ended in December, that student sent me an email to tell me that she was excited to write a Christmas letter to her children and husband sharing how much she loved them. She wanted to make these letters a new tradition for her family.
What my students taught me was that education matters, for their goals, for their life.