So, in a perfect world I’d write to each and everyone of you, but since that’s almost 3000 and counting, I figured this would save me from carpel tunnel syndrome. Here goes:
To My Amazing Students:
First, I don’t use that word lightly and you also know I am brutally honest so there you go. You are all freaking marvelous to me.
I’ll never forget the first day I walked into my classroom at Hutchinson Community College in KS. I had just had my son 6 months before and needed to get out of the house once in a while so I wouldn’t lose my mind. I knew that was happening when I would continue watching “Barney” long after my son was asleep. Anyhoot, I got a job teaching a psychology class a couple of nights a week, even though I didn’t have my Masters degree yet, and I was a wreck. Back then, in the olden days (1994), we had what were called ‘paper rosters’ (ask your grandparents and quit rolling your eyes) and when I tried to take attendance that night, my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t read the names. So, I took a deep breath, braced myself against the overhead (google it…there still might be a couple around), and dug in. I know I did terrible…what the hell did I know about lecturing? I was used to teaching 5th graders how to write a paragraph. I was young and scared and after doing so bad in high school, never thought I’d be in front of a college class as the instructor. Lucky for me, my students were extremely patient and kind that first semester, and had mercy on me for the evals. I was so thrilled when I got hired again and again for more classes.
Every semester was better as I gained confidence in myself (and didn’t have leaky boobs because my boy was still breast-feeding), and I even started doing this very new-fangled thing called “Distance Learning” where I was ‘beamed’ to other locations and kids were in those classrooms too. I had to keep track of my ‘real’ students in the studio, monitor 4 other classrooms, and deliver a lecture. OMG…I felt just like Dianne Sawyer (if only I would have had her blonde hair). The technology was amazing! I was actually on TV! Wow! 🙄
There were so many awesome experiences there, and I realized how much I adored teaching college! I had a lot of students take me for more than one class (suckers!) and I realized how easy it was to build relationships with them. But there were some sad times too. Once, a student went into labor in the middle of my class. We were so excited for her and called security etc. It was her 4th baby and we all had bets on the gender. She is a wonderful woman, and as you know, I like nicknames and called her Knickerbocker Bear! Sadly, I got a call that night from her hubby, and he tearfully told the baby had suffered distress and was still born. I was so devastated for her. When she returned to class a couple of weeks later, we all rallied around her and cried. I realized then that a class can be a family too.
I also had my first totally blind student. She hated me in the beginning because I had no clue how to deal with her lack of sight. The internet (invented by Al Gore) was in it’s infancy and I just couldn’t ‘search’ to see what strategies I could use. I did everything wrong and she let me know! Finally, I asked her to help me learn how to interact with a blind person appropriately and she did! She let me get close to her seeing eye dog and we became great friends after she took a couple of my classes. She taught me more than I ever taught her, and her understanding of how people aren’t rude, but ignorant at times, turned her attitude around too. When I left Hutchinson, she was the last person I visited.
Hubby and I decided to come back home after our 3 year stint in Kansas (where he had been transferred) and after I got my M.S. I had graduated community college from where I teach at now, and when I applied, I was so so excited. I was back on my old stomping ground.
It’s been 24 years, and I can honestly say I’ve never, ever, not wanted to be with y’all every day that I am. No matter what’s going on in my life, you are my bright spots. My sunshine. Once, when I told Hubby 3 (yes, I know, they are hard to keep track of, just try) I wished I could have had more kids, he said: “Honey…you have hundreds of kids. Thousands!” and he was right (at least about that). That’s what I think about all of you. Yes, you are my students first, but you are more than that. Much more. You are ‘people’ struggling with so much and to be a part of that side of your life, makes me a more compassionate, understanding prof who learns what you need and how to present it best.
In my classes, as you know (quit skimming this…for goodness sakes, read it all) we talk about really shitty things (I can cuss here…it’s my blog, so there). Domestic violence, rape, child abuse, sexual abuse, divorce, alchoholism, mental illness, war, death, suicide, and the list goes on. It’s such a joy 🙄. But it’s necessary for the classes I teach. I tackle the hard stuff because that’s what can happen in the world. And here’s the thing: I’ve never taught a class on any of these issues without having a handful of you e-mail me to tell me your story. I know you can’t see my tears, but knowing what you’ve been through, how you’ve found the strength to go on, and how so many of you want to use these experiences to help others overwhelms me. I’m humbled by you.
But at the same time, I was lying to you. I was letting y’all share, and I was still the consummate professional (look up that word and quit rolling your eyes at my vocabulary) that wanted to be seen as your ‘guru’, like I saw my profs as being mine. I’m not worthy of that though. None of us are. So when I had a breakdown 3 years ago, I stopped lying (to me and you) and started sharing with you about my having a mental illness and things I’ve experienced in my life. I had too. I was actually teaching summer school during this time, and we were in the tail end of the semester. There were days I’d get up at 4 in the morning (yes, life starts before 7…you’ll find out when you have kids) and would have to force myself to shower and dress and then drive to teach you. Some days I didn’t think I’d get through the couple of hours we had together, and some days I’d have to take a break. I was embarrassed and ashamed but you all took me by the hand, gave me an incredible amount of support, and showed me that the love I feel for you goes both ways. In so many aspects, you were part of my salvation.
Then my nephew was killed on a Navy ship. Only 1 colleague acknowledged the pain and grief I was feeling. One. But not you. EVERY day y’all would ask me if I had heard anything about him since things were so confusing with missing sailors, and once I learned his body had been found, I was devastated. When I came to school the next day, you started hugging me and comforting me as I cried. Sobbed. Because you were the only support (outside of my ma and son) I had. When older folk say that you ‘young people’ are self-centered, I say bullshit (don’t say that in front of your own ma…it’s not respectful). You are the opposite. You did so much for me, and I see you do so much for others as well.
I had a student threaten me, and like anything on a campus, word leaked out. When I wasn’t taken seriously and was ‘victim blamed’ for him threatening to rape and kill me, so many of you said how you lost respect for the institution as a result. I had dozens of you want to protest and do a walk-out to show your support of me. I told you not too and that I was OK (you knew I was lying, my perceptive sweeties) because it was my battle (that I lost) to fight, not yours. Just knowing you felt so strongly and so protective of me helped diminish the blow that treatment dealt me after so many years. YOU are the reason I came back day after day. I still don’t feel totally comfy there anymore. Not totally safe. I know that people will turn on you in seconds regardless of what you’ve done. But not you…not at all. And you kept my faith in people. Literally. Thank you for that.
OMG….we’ve had so many fun times too! Donut days! Saying ‘anyhoot’ to make you smile. Having students say “In the name of all that is holy” in a high pitched voice to preface my comments! Teasing students who laugh the hardest. Laughing so hard in class we can’t continue until we get control again. Talking about weird stuff like serial killers where we feel guilty for being so interested. Having you come to my office and eat lunch while helping me pick out a dress for a wedding (not mine 🙄). Bringing candy to school around Halloween and Easter so we can get all chocolaty and sticky before the next class. Rolling our eyes at each other as we pass in the halls. Being in clubs together and having bake sales where we eat more than we sell. Giving high fives to each other after a super great comment or grade. Watching funny video clips at the end of class to get you on your way in a better mood than when when you came in. My wonderful jokes I tell so well (shutty…and remember my best one about the nuns?). And the list goes on and on and on. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t smile with you or laughed with you…no matter what!
And now I’ve been teaching so long (yes, I’m still 40…I started teaching college when I was 12 and quit doing the math 😜), that I get to see your engagements on FB, your wedding pics, your precious babies, and all the amazing degrees and jobs and things you’re accomplishing! It’s so fun for me! And in the spring and summer? I get so many wedding invitations I can’t go to them all, but I love love love buying you something! Following your lives and still interacting with you is a joy…whether I had you 20 years ago or 1. Truly!
So, on this graduation day for my current students, I wanted to tell you all this: thank you for letting me be a part of your lives. It’s been not only a pleasure, but a privilege as well. Whenever I get feeling blue about the state of the world, I think of all of you: the amazing, talented, intelligent people who are working to make changes, and then my hope in humanity is rekindled. You all have so many gifts, and don’t let anyone tell you different. You are loved. You are appreciated. You are important. You matter. Professor K says so. And remember, I don’t lie.
P.S. I have permission from each student to use their pic…just sayin’! 😀