The People I Admire

I admire many people: Albert Einstein; Isak Dinesen; Dalai Lama; Jeanette Rankin; there’s an eclectic list, and I could go on. I have trouble choosing one person, but I have no trouble thinking of the character traits that I admire in people, and often the people who possess those traits are the very people I am tasked to teach: my own students.
I admire courage. I like to believe that I am a courageous person, and sometimes I am, but I also know there are times when I am more like the Cowardly Lion, cowering in the corner. My students demonstrate courage every day just by coming to class and facing the academic challenges they experience. It takes courage to admit that a person doesn’t know something simple like what makes a complete sentence or when to use an adverb, especially if that person is otherwise accomplished in his or her life. It can be humiliating, yet students face it every day and have to trust me to help them learn without damaging their sense of selves.
I admire perseverance. No one sees perseverance at work like I do. For the most part, students in my classes are not privileged. In fact, most of them have to worry about money: the rent, utilities, food, transportation, kids. And things are always breaking down. Almost every day I hear about a car that is down or a computer that crashed or a heater that is not working, or plumbing that burst during the night, and I know these stories are true reflections of students’ lives. Still, they persevere, doing their best to produce work that meets my incredibly critical standards (really? a missing apostrophe??) while finding ways to stretch an already too tight budget.
I admire honesty. It is true that I usually have one or two students each semester attempt to pass off a plagiarized paper, but I also have many more students who come clean about a variety of problems. Some students miss deadlines, and rather than make excuses or ask for exceptions, they acknowledge the late work and accept the penalties without rancor. Some students will tell me when the work they have done is not up to par, admitting that they could have—and should have—done a better job. When I ask students to evaluate their own work, I am often surprised by how close their evaluations are to mine.
I admire commitment. Students write frequently about their families and the people in their lives. Common themes are the importance of family, the value of strong partnerships, and the responsibility of being a parent. Whenever I feel despondent about the fate of our world, all I have to do is look at the students in my classes. They might not be Harvard-educated students, and they certainly have mighty challenges in their lives, but they care deeply about their families, their friends, their communities, and their kids. They are committed to doing the right thing, and they are committed to improving their lives.
I admire a grateful spirit. I do not think of myself as the “heroic teacher” (though I did write my master’s thesis about that topic), but there are times when students’ gratitude overwhelms me. I work very hard (true), and I am deeply committed to student success (also true), but I would expect that of any teacher worth her mettle. Nonetheless, many students go to great extremes to express their gratitude for my efforts to help them learn. It is an incredibly humbling experience and nearly always brings me to the verge of tears. One example is a woman in a class last spring; on the last day of class, I was collecting final papers, and she came to class with her adorable little daughter, so I could meet her, and she carried with her a bundle of flowers, her way of thanking me for her success during the semester. She had struggled; writing was difficult for her and college a foreign environment, but she persevered. I loved the flowers, but I wanted to remind her that her success was due to her efforts and less so to mine.
I admire a sense of humor. Joking and teasing with students in class makes learning fun! My favorite part of every day is the time when I am in the classroom, and the more students who engage and tease with me, the better. If we have to be there, we may as well make it as entertaining as possible. Like a spoonful of sugar, humor helps the medicine go down.
I admire a positive attitude. I am a positive person and dislike being around negative people. It really strikes me as admirable when students—who I know have all kinds of things happening in their lives—manage to come to class, do the work, deal with the problems, and carry on with a positive attitude. When students get papers back, I appreciate the positive reactions to comments, those students who take my constructive criticism for the “conversation” I intend it to be and adjust their work accordingly.
A couple years ago, I served on a statewide developmental education reform taskforce. I was glad to be included but frequently frustrated that most people have no idea who community college students are and the challenges they face. Let me introduce my students: my students are parents, probably most of them; they are employees who sometimes work more than 40 hours a week; my students are sometimes felons, out on probation, trying to put their lives together; my students are veterans, some successfully integrated back into civilian life, and some not-so-much; my students are the “misfits” of public education, never having experienced school as a positive thing either academically or socially; my students are displaced workers or people who can no longer perform the job they used to do; my students live in a world where domestic abuse, substance abuse, and sexual abuse are not unusual occurrences, and where there is never enough money. Despite this, my students look with optimism at an education that will improve the employment options they have and help prepare them to be better citizens. My students are proud to know the difference between “good” and “well,” and despite the myriad obstacles they face, they continue to try to meet my expectations for their writing. That’s why I admire my students.

Blog Assignment #3 Write About an Activity

There are many activities I enjoy; I had trouble choosing one. I could write about playing the violin, which I do but not often or well. I could write about writing, but that’s too predictable. I could write about kayaking, my newest adventure, but it still feels a little too new to me; I don’t think I could write well about it with any authority. One thing I do know a lot about is jogging. My “New Fall Resolution” was to workout five days a week, running two miles on the treadmill before work every day. I’ve been remarkably disciplined about it, and Monday through Friday I rise at 6 a.m., get dressed in my workout clothes, and get on the treadmill. That practice has led me to be able to run two miles in under 20 minutes, a respectable time for me.

Treadmill running, however, is not glamorous or even interesting. I like it because I can control the temperature and there’s no wind in my face. Additionally, I needn’t worry about creatures of any breed surprising me in the dark. The treadmill provides a safe running environment and an opportunity to work out some stress and anxieties while improving my overall physical fitness. Maybe I’ll even lower my creeping-ever-higher blood pressure.

I’ve been a fitness runner for the past 15 years; not a runner as a child, I never imagined I would ever, under any circumstances, learn to enjoy exercise, but I have, and I do, and some of that can be attributed to my running experiences in the beautiful Shields Valley. Helena is a beautiful place to live and run, but the Shields Valley holds a special place in my runner’s beating heart. For that reason, I’ve decided to share a piece I wrote two years ago about running in the valley. I like it and think it captures the sense of serenity I experienced, running in the Shields River Valley.

The River Bridge Respite

 

“I can do this, I can do this, I can do this, breathe in.” I repeated this mantra as I jogged north on Highway 89N, just a mile north of Clyde Park, population 300. The Shields River runs relatively parallel to the highway but intersects and flows under a bridge, my respite spot while jogging. Whether I ran on up the road or turned around at the bridge, I always paused there to catch my breath and enjoy the tranquility of the water. A day never passed that I missed the opportunity to appreciate my good fortune to live in such abundance of natural beauty. The bridge became a beacon, calling to me to hurry my run so I could enjoy a lovely rest, scanning the water for unusual debris and staying momentarily still without guilt. I wonder how many times I crossed it. Running on average, conceivably, 140 days a year, for 18 years, could it have been 2500 moments of respite on the Shields River bridge? It could be, but each experience was singular, as if the first and only and most important moment, staring into the Shields River.