It’s officially that time. My social media feeds are full of adorably posed children with brand new tennis shoes and backpacks. The store aisles are full of crucial supplies, like colored highlighters and fidget spinners. Whether you’re the mom who bemoans this time of year, or the one who has been marking days off the calendar since June 1st, it’s time for the kiddos to head back to school. Normal routines will ensue, and summer will soon become a distant memory, despite the fact that it is still too hot to do anything except for eat or drink something frozen while submerged in something wet.
I think last year at this time I felt the slightest tinge of beginning of the semester flutters. Not because I wished I was going back, but because I do have some fond nostalgia about teacher inservice and planning out those first few weeks. This year those flutters have been replaced with flutters of a different kind as this sweet baby is finally starting to make his/her presence known with the gentlest of kicks. Teaching is the second best job I have ever had, in line only behind being a mama.
But since I can’t help but think of my college kids as students of all ages prepare to head back to the grind, I thought I would go ahead and share this post that I started writing as I was winding down my final semester.
As my short-lived teaching career was approaching a close (or at least an extended pause) I thought, I can’t believe I’ve been teaching full-time for two years. Yet, at the same time, it feels like it was so much longer. I had some heartwarming moments and some trying ones, was reminded on some level what college life felt like, and learned so much about my students. Here are the five things that stand out most.
1.) They Dream Big
I loved hearing my students speak with confidence about their futures in the WNBA or making a living off of their graffiti art. I loved the ones who sat on every word when I would talk about attending a large university. I love that in their eyes there are still so many different possible ways to live their lives. That their dreams aren’t yet accompanied by a back up plan or a way to supplement their income. They recognize the gifts they possess, and their logical next step is to make their passion their livelihood.
I think we all have that hope at some point in our lives. Those of us who are lucky find a way to make it happen, some of us deviate from it and never go back, and I like to think there is a third group of people who, after taking the more sensible route, return to those dreams later in life and realize everything in between was leading them right back to what they love.
2.) Athletes are Still Getting Free Passes
I remember so clearly sitting in my high school pre-cal class as the teacher called us up one at a time to tell us our final grades. Being mathematically challenged, I had worked incredibly hard to earn my C, and was proud of myself despite the fact that I was generally an A/B student.
I was at the back of the room beside the teacher’s desk, which meant I could hear what she said to each student as they approached to hear their grade.
The first football player approached. “You have a 70,” she said. Whew, I thought. Close call. The next football player approached. “70,” she stated softly. And the next. And the next. By the time the final football player sidled up she actually said “I think you know you have a 70.” He took a cocky strut back to his seat, high-fiving all his buddies on the way.
Seriously? I thought.
I won’t go into too much detail because I truly loved my athletes, and I love how concerned their coaches are with their academic performance throughout the semester. I will just say that the best players rarely fail a class. And that I was tempted to show favor to them myself more than once, having caught a glimpse into all the practice and extra study hall hours that prohibit them from having any time to rest. Some of them are consuming 3 venti mocha frappuccinos a week (and that was just during my class), yet they seem to be getting skinnier.
3.) Boys Love Their Mamas
This is a strange to mention but palpable observation in my experience on a community college campus. I only had two phone calls from parents while I was teaching, but both of them were mamas fighting for a better grade for their baby boys.
I had a male student tell me that the hardest thing about college was being so far away from his mom, prefacing with, “Now I’m not a mama’s boy or anything, but…”
Sorry sweetie, but that’s exactly what you are, and it’s adorable.
I had a young man get choked up just talking about his mama, one cry all the way through my class because his mom wasn’t answering her phone, and another uproot his whole semester because his mom was in the hospital.
Even at 19 and 20 years old, boys love. their. mamas. And being mother to my own 2.5 year old little minion who, for now, still lets me snuggle and kiss on him to my heart’s content, I delight in it every time I see it.
4.) Some Have Been Through Hell
I feel so blessed to have read some of their papers. There is no better way to learn what they’re holding onto deep down, than to ask them to write an open topic narrative.
While I got plenty of papers about how difficult it was learning to water ski, some of them completely bared their souls. Young women who have been raped and abused. A young man who watched his father die at a young age. One who walked away from a car accident when his best friend in the passenger’s seat wasn’t so lucky. One from a four-wheeler accident that claimed a limb of a bright-eyed younger cousin. A student who was bullied to the point where you can almost understand how victims eventually become shooters.
We never know who is around us or what they have been through, which is all the more reason to always default to kindness.
5.) The Most Oppressed are Often the Most Loving
I had students with social and learning disorders, victims of racial and cultural stereotyping, and students who wore the same shirt and pants to my class twice a week, so I know it is close to all they have. Inevitably, these are the students who were the most polite, who were constantly reaching out for friendship, and who would come back to visit me in subsequent semesters any time they were near my building.
They ended up being my favorites and I truly don’t think it was just empathy or any acknowledgement on my end of how they’ve been set apart. I believe there is something about having love and acceptance withheld from you that makes you want it that much more for others. Of course not everyone who is oppressed responds this way, but in my isolated bubble of experience it was the majority. It makes me wonder what I’m hanging onto as an injustice in my own life that could actually be channeled into positivity.
So, that’s it! My last two cents on college students, for what it’s worth. Take it and buy your kids a back to school fidget spinner. I hope you and yours have a happy Fall, and a great school year!