I have many more than ten, but I will list the first ten memories that come to mind:
1. My son Adam’s birthday
2. The day I married Chuck
3. My first few days of college at MSU
4. My 45th birthday
5. September 11, 2001
6. The day I chipped my front tooth while riding my old banana seat bike
7. The day I graduated from MSU with my BA
8. My first day as a college teacher at MSU
9. The day Adam and I drove to Billings to get Basco
10. The first time a developmental writing class completed the semester 100%
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, about #10 and the group of students in that section of Writ 095 who–one year ago–managed to complete the entire semester together, everyone passing and no one dropping. It had never happened to me before, and as far as I know, it’s never happened to anyone I’ve ever known who has taught developmental writing.
There are lots of reasons for that, of course, and most have nothing to do with the instructor. Many students who enroll in developmental courses are unprepared for college in myriad ways. Some students overextend themselves, registering for 18 credits while working full time and raising families. Some don’t understand that college requires more than just showing up; there is studying to do, papers to write, tests to take, and other demands. College is not an extension of high school; college instructors expect a lot more. Some students experience trauma in their lives: children get sick; spouses lose jobs; parents or siblings need help; and there are all kinds of problems with creditors or the law. When we consider all the potential problems that might occur, it’s a wonder anyone makes it through.
That’s one of the things that stands out to me about the class that did complete together. I know some of those students very well, and I know that there were seriously sick children. I know that problems with the law affected a couple students, and some of them were struggling in most of their classes. Somehow, though, we managed to complete the semester together, and we celebrated at the end with a breakfast celebration. Dr. Bingham, our CEO, and Dr. Runge, our chief academic officer, both came to congratulate the students, and Tia Kelley, the Gen Ed division chair, was there, too. Val Osborne and Val Curtin from Financial Aid were there, and Sarah Dellwo, the registrar came by, too. It was a big deal on campus.
This semester, so far, all students are showing up–more or less–on a regular basis, and all are completing the assigned work. I feel like all three of my classes are strong and have the potential to be another exception to the rule: the class that completes together. I dare not get too excited this early, but I’m hopeful.
It’s that hope I want to focus on most. I wonder if students realize how important their success is to all of us. Our world tends to sharp, binary thinking: yours or mine; Democrat or Republican; female or male; young or old; win or lose. For us (professionals in education), though, a student’s win is ours, and a loss is ours as well, and no matter how hard I try not to focus on lost lambs or the prodigal student, I can’t help but feel a personal failure each time a student fails to complete. I could have done something more, something differently, something better.
Not all of those students who completed the course also completed college, and in fact, a couple of them did not enroll for the following semester. I still consider it a win though because those earned credits and earned learning are always theirs now. They completed the commitment to themselves for the semester. It’s a win, and I’ll never forget how rewarding and special that last day of class felt to all of us. I’m hopeful that I’ll get another chance to feel that way again. Maybe even this semester.