I tweeted earlier this evening (Tuesday) that I was debating what I wanted to write about tonight for my post. One of my students tweeted back that I should write about how awesome he is. He was kidding (I think) but it did give me a good idea: my students are, in so many ways, awesome.
I teach in rural Appalachia. If you’d like to see where some (a lot) of my students come from, I invite you watch this “special report” from 20/20 on Appalachia, specifically the poorest areas. It was my students in my peer-driven class who introduced me to the special, by then proceeding to explain all the ways the show either manipulated the events or ignored other realities of the region (where they were all from). I was proud of their critical observations and media awareness.
But even if, unsurprisingly, the media gets it wrong, it did get a lot of things right. My students are non-traditional in many ways: first-generation college students and even first-generation high-school graduates. They often have little to no familial support, financial or otherwise. The statistics aren’t in their favor. And yet, they try to persist.
Some even excel.
I’m not sure how much detail I feel comfortable divulging about my students, some of who have confided in me somewhat confidentially. For some, I am the first person outside of their immediate family and close friends they have admitted their challenges to. And even though it may be late, their work is thoughtful and while imperfect (what writing ever is perfect?) is full of promise.
For every student that shows so much potential and improvement then disappears, I have another who tracks me down in Wal-Mart to tell me that they got a paper back in another class and not only earned an A but the comment “well-written.” The students who change their major to English or Education in part because of me (a lowly instructor!). Or even if I just still see their face on campus when I know how much of a challenge school is for them.
My student who wanted me to write about how awesome he is? He has come back to school after some time off. He is a coach, an athlete, and a blogger who was just invited to blog for a larger platform. He is passionate about what he does, determined to get a degree, and largely everything you look for in a student.
Thankfully, he’s not the only one.