Monday, May 01, 2006

Ode to a Completion Earned

Sssshhh. I'm whispering because my class is taking the big final exam. They are such a nice group, a slightly older group (mostly), and all semester they have worked really hard. They take college seriously, and they truly want to do well. Most of this class are working around a lot of other things: their children's schedules, spouses, NO spousal support or existence, money worries, childcare, transportation problems, bus schedules that don't sync with class schedules, and other problems that most of us can't begin to imagine.

I've learned so much about them from reading their essays. There are some heroes in this class, there really are.

Yes, there are also a few slackers, and I've probably vented about them too much and too often. But the truth is, the majority of my students are dedicated and hardworking.

I teach in a community college, and I have found that my hardest-working students are, for the most part, the older ones, the ones who have been out of school for many years, the ones who have been busy out in the workforce, or raising children. Now, for one reason or another, they've gone back to school. Many of them have lost their factory jobs, and are taking classes to enable them to get a better job. Some are taking classes because WorkForce One doesn't require them to search for work if they are going to school. Many are going to school because the factory that laid them off is paying for their schooling. But most of my older students are here mainly because they wish to better themselves. I have fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and all other possible combinations of such, taking classes together and helping each other with homework. Students in my remedial classes tell me that their elementary and middle school kids can sometimes help with the parent's homework. A few really elderly students have told me - laughing but deadly serious - that they simply wanted to die a little smarter than they had lived.

The students who don't seem to do as well at this level are those fresh out of high school. Not all of them, of course, but of those who have and give the most problems, most are right out of high school.

This semester, every student who has asked for special privileges or exceptions, or who has excessive unexcused absences, or who has behaved poorly or inappropriately in any way, or who has plagiarized, has been a younger student, a year or less out of high school.

I wonder sometimes if it would be better for us as a society to require at least a year of full-time employment before a student is allowed to go on to college. Would it help these young people develop a sense of pride in workmanship, in rules, in discipline, in a paycheck? If even one student learned - and probably the hard way - that a sense of entitlement and a fierce, protective mommy are actually detrimental to the personal advancement and growth of an adult student/citizen/worker, it would be worth it.

A year of full-time employment might also help a student to decide if college is really the route he/she should follow. Hopefully, it would be, but maybe not right away.

Then again, for many students, a year in a factory, or in construction, or on a farm, or in retail or foods, might well be the deciding factor in a kid's decision to go back to school and get the kind of education that would mean never having to do such work again.

Before all non-athletic field trips were prohibited here, our high school used to take all the juniors to the local General Motors plant. Back then, probably half of the kids would end up working there in a few years anyway, and of the remaining students, some recoiled in horror at the very thought (after seeing vats of molten metal and hearing the 'scared straight' anecdotes of the workers) and applied themselves anew to preparing for college, while others listened, fascinated, and changed their track to a Rose Hulman/Purdue engineering mode.

But oh well, no more field trips except for the athletes. Those buses were needed to transport the teams a hundred miles to a game, anyway, which is of course more important than some life-changing field trip that might help a student make a decision that would put his life on a career track. Go, team, go.

One of the problems is, most of the big factories, those places where the non-college people were pretty much guaranteed a good job with benefits, are gone now, farmed out to other countries, outsourced, so the Mothership can pay the workers less and therefore make more money. But who do they think is going to buy all those cheaply-made cars and other merchandise? Their laid-off workers? This is not a very good way to promote brand loyalty, or any other kind of loyalty. People who have no job are not in the market to buy very many things, hello, CEO dimwads.

My student population is motivated in many different ways. It's not like a high school classroom, where the goal is (sadly) to make a high score on a standardized test. That's no motivation for a student. Or for anybody else except big government and clueless administration. No, my students' motivations are important, and life-changing. If they had been allowed to tour the General Motors plant, some of the decisions they are making might have been made earlier, but that's a moot point. My students are back in school and they want very much to do well. Most of them are. A few of them aren't, but I haven't given up hope yet. School takes some getting used to. As their instructor, I don't have to worry about prepping my students to do well on one big stupid poorly-written standardized test. I just have to worry about helping them find success, and NOT the kind where I diddle about with the statistics so students who are doing poorly will think they're doing well and have high self esteem. I mean, REAL success. The earned kind. There is no other.

At this level, they get what they get, and they know that; therefore, what they get is a source of pride. Or shame, as the case may be. Both are earned results, and every kid in the universe knows the difference, and why some kids get one and some the other. The only people who don't seem to understand are those fierce protective mothers, administrators, and the PC cops.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a fierce protective mother. But a parent who consistently stands between his/her child and the results of that child's actions, is doing the kid no favors. Let the consequences fall, and let the kid deal with them. He/she earned them, after all. And not all consequences are bad, remember. Let the kid reap the good stuff, too, IF it was earned. Not actually and truly and equally earned? It means less than nothing, and is worse than a bad joke.

I'm proud of my students. I will miss them, after this week. They did well.

Except for those few slackers, of course, but you know what? They had the same chances and choices as the others, and they chose poorly. Let the consequences of those poor choices fall on their heads, and let them deal with it themselves.

Those who worked hard? Congratulations. Those who did not? Well, there's always the summer session, or the fall semester. Try again. And this time, do it right.

This is a long rambling post. My apologies.

I would cut off my big toes for a Snicker's bar right about now. Darn diabetes.
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Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 8:45 PM | |


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