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.

One thought on “The People I Admire”

  1. Wow! is what I say! You are so right on! This is so thought full. I was totally blown away after I had just posted my blog and then read yours. It was like, magnets pulling our blogs together. The Helena College is very fortunate to have you there as a teacher, a mentor and a advisor for the students. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to me and all the students.

    Like

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