Monday, August 23, 2010

After All These Years

Every so often, I have a student who fits the category of "non-traditional."  These students always inspire me.  Some include single parents returning to school, full time workers who attend school part-time, soldiers returning from military service, or senior citizens who wish to learn a different subject. 

It takes courage to sit in a classroom of typical undergrads when you are in a different stage of life; you sit there and wonder if you can keep up or enter into the same conversations.  It takes courage to get out your notebook and pencil from a backpack that's been buried in your closet for 20 years.

They have flair.

Could I do it? 

Non-traditional students don't go home to dorm rooms.  They raise families, recover from battle, manage full-time jobs, and then--then--they can sit down to write their first essay that's due for my class.  They won't be at that fraternity party or that pep rally or that ice-cream study break. 

I'm rethinking education:  I want to make every lesson plan an act of service to advance these students efficiently in the direction of their dreams.  I don't want to waste time, assign texts with exorbitant prices, or set unreasonable expectations.   I'm suddenly aware of the lives students live when they exit the door: their night shifts at Wal-Mart, their babies at home, their aging bodies. 

Not everyone follows the same life narrative.  Especially in this economy. 

I'm also rethinking how I interact with everyone--not just my non-traditional students.  Pursuing education in nontraditional ways represents an act of courage.  For some of us, waking up and putting on our clothes for the day is an act of courage. We make coffee, greet the day, and no matter what backstory has derailed our plans, we press on in our nontraditional paths to our dreams. 

Living with flair means recognizing courage when I see it.

(photo: Rennett Stowe /flickr)


Joann said...

This is me, standing, applauding you! As someone who has read and written a bunch on adult and other nontraditional learners in the past few years (and as someone who has sat in more than a few committee meetings of Penn State's Commission for Adult Learners), trust me when I say that your outlook is rare...much needed...and greatly appreciated!

Way to go, teach! :-)

Meg McGinty said...

I wish I could still be your student, although I guess I still am and always will be learning from you!

JoAnn Foley-DeFiore said...

How wonderful for your students to know that they have been SEEN, really SEEN, and obviously heard.

jenny_o said...

Another compassionate, useful, insightful post. I wish I'd had a prof like you.