‘Cause it makes me that much stronger’ ~ Christina Aguilera

So, this has been such a BUSY semester and I hate that I’m not blogging! I’m re-vamping all of my online classes along with videoing (is that a word? 😳) full lectures for each chapter in depth. It’s a crap load of work but worth it…the students are giving me some great feedback. Yea! (However I will admit this: I do my hair before that webcam goes on and when I’m recording, I do my best to channel Katie Couric 😃).

Anyhoot, another project that’s keeping me busy is that I’m a team lead in bringing the JED program to our campus! This non-profit works with high schools and colleges in helping them recognize the specific needs of the school and students and then helping them implement mental health resources and such. We need it so bad on our campus…so many students come to me to talk about their depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues and just today, a student talked to me about the time she attempted suicide. Our teens are really suffering right now and I worry about them.

Why are they struggling so much right now? According to The Light Program: “…there are multiple factors involved, including pressure to succeed in academics, financial stress, uncertainty about which major or career path to choose, increased social media use, and less stigma around seeking help.” In terms of the reduced stigma (which is still not where it should be 😐), it may be that students have always had these issues but are now feeling more open about seeking help for them. Hmmmmm.

The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds says that the mental health among college students is a crisis and backs up this claim with reporting this:

  • Almost half of college students had a psychiatric disorder in the past year
  • 73% of students experience some sort of mental health crisis during college
  • Almost 1/3 of college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and substance use are associated with lower GPA and higher probability of dropping out of college
  • More than 80% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year and 45% have felt things were hopeless
  • 20% of female students report sexual assault or threatened sexual assault according to the Center for Disease Control
  • Only 25% of students with a mental health problem seek help

In addition they state that there is a tremendous lack of services in colleges and universities with the ratio of certified counselors to students overall being about 1:1000 – 2000 for small to moderate size schools.

At any rate, research has recognized the 5 biggest mental health challenges that college students face and having the resources in place to help address these is needed so badly. (In fact, studies clearly show that these issues greatly affects student success).

  • Depression: the American College Health Association found that 40% of students experienced at least 1 depressive episode during the 2018 school year and this was pre-pandemic. We know depression is even more of an issue now. In addition, severe depression rates have doubled in college students between 2007-2018.
  • Anxiety: A study from Pennsylvania State University (I know a GREAT blogger from Pennsylvania 😃) published a study in 2016 that found 61% of survey respondents (100,000 of them!) said anxiety was a ‘leading student mental health issue.’ In fact, The American College Health Association’s (ACHA) 2015 Finally, the National College Health Assessment survey, reported that nearly one in six college students (15.8%) had been diagnosed with, or treated for, anxiety. The same survey found that 21.9% of students said that within the last 12 months, anxiety had affected their academic performance, defined as receiving a lower grade on an exam or important project, receiving an incomplete, or dropping a course.
  • Eating Disorders: Sadly, the National Eating Disorders Association reports that 10-20% of female college students and 4-10% of males have an eating disorder which can include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. In fact, anorexia is the most deadly psychiatric diagnosis with a mortality rate of 5.86 which means those who suffer from it have almost a 6x greater chance of dying (both suicide and physical issues stemming from the self-imposed starvation) than others in the general population.
  • Addiction: Stats from 2019 show that alcohol plays a leading role in the more than 1,500 annual deaths on college campuses. 35% of students have or do binge drink and 25% abuse other drugs including prescription painkillers, cocaine and ecstasy.
  • Suicide: this is the 2nd leading cause of death among college students and the suicide rate among people 10 to 24 rose 57% from 2007 to 2018 (CDC). Around 11% of college age respondents in a June, 2020 study  said they had seriously considered suicide over the past 30  days with people aged 18 to 24 being significantly more likely to  report this and 25.5% said they had seriously  considered suicide. That’s 1:4 of our young people having considered suicide. Honestly? That scares the shit out of me.

So what’s my point? I believe college’s number 1 job is education and that’s what I do…teach my curriculum as best I can. BUT I also believe that in order to ensure student success in terms of academics, we need to address these mental health issues as well.

You know, when I was struggling so much 4 years ago and had a break-down, I could barely function. Luckily, the worst time was in the summer and my online classes are always completely ready to go when a semester begins. I have all of the work, lectures, etc. posted as well as the modules I use set up to open and close automatically each week. In other words, they pretty much run themselves in terms of the nuts and bolts and I spend my time grading, communicating, discussing, etc. I was able to get by that summer…although I know I wasn’t at my best by any means. And now? Despite the stability I enjoy, I still have issues with having bipolar everyday. No medication is going to ‘erase’ this brain illness: I still have ups and downs (and am in a bit of a depression right now for various reasons 😕), still have to force an effort to be the Professor K I’m expected to be each day, still have heightened emotions that are just part and parcel of bipolar, still ruminate over things and beat myself up easily, and the list goes on (and on and on…charming).

Students and their ability to work and function is the same. Had someone reached out to me in college and recognized what I was refusing to address in the way I needed too, my life could have been very different. Actually, I think that even with no resources offered at that time, just being ‘seen’ for who I was and what I had would have been a relief. A validation. Someone outside of ma or pop who would have said “What you’re dealing with is important to me and I’m concerned” and validating my struggle.”

All of us want to be seen. All of us want to be heard. Not everyone struggling needs intervention…after all, doesn’t everyone struggle at various times in their lives? However, we all need to feel support and know that no matter what, there is a place that we matter. For so many students that I see everyday, that somewhere is here. On my campus. And it’s up to us to make sure we are ready for that task.

Kristi xoxo

“So darlin’, darlin’, stand by me” ~ Ben E. King

So, one of my students and I always walk out to our cars together after my last class and today she said something no one has asked me before: “How do you take everything people put on you?” I looked at her quizzically and she went on to say this: “We are always sharing things with you and burdening you with our problems…doesn’t that get hard to deal with?” I told her that it didn’t and I was just the kind of person people open up too. But, as usual, I started thinking about this more and realized that it probably does affect me more than I let on…or that I even admit to myself.

As the Grand Poobah would attest too, teaching Psychology (and Sociology) puts you in a position of teaching topics/issues/concepts that are so personal. For example, in my Marriage and Family class (my area of expertise…I have enough experience 🙄) we talk about issues including domestic violence, child abuse with special emphasis on sexual abuse, rape, infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, mental disorders and their affect on relationships and the list goes on. Pretty heavy stuff, huh?

In my Theories of Personality class that my student is in we talk about attachment, parenting, various conceptions of personality development that can go awry, personality disorders, theories that explore our neurosis, Horney’s Tyrrany of the Shoulds, the Inferiority Complex (Adler), our Shadow archetype (Jung), anxiety and defense mechanisms (S. and A. Freud), identity formation (Erikson), issues relating to freedom (Fromm), love (Fromm), conformity, social belonging, narcissism, psychopathy, real self vs. ideal self (Horney and Rogers), self-esteem, self-worth, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-image and you get the point. ALL of these topics can bring things up in students and even though it sounds absolutely horrible to admit, tears are sometimes shed.

Today we talked about Humanistic theories and discussed Roger’s belief in phenomenology and how it’s OUR perceptions, based on OUR experiences, that need to be the focus of attention. We live in our own bubbles based on things we have gone though which skews perceptions…but those perceptions, though maybe not rational, are real and need to be validated. After all, they’re ours.

So one of my students is a recovering heroin addict who spent 6 years in prison and has been clean since. She lost custody and contact with her first 2 children because of this but has another little girl she’s raising with her partner. The little girl has special needs and acts out uncontrollably at times. She’s in the process of being evaluated, etc. but it’s really hard for my student to handle. When we started talking about how our experiences shape our perceptions, she started crying and said this: “I’m a horrible mom. I get so impatient and so frustrated and I’m giving her these experiences that are going to screw her up. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a mom.”

This broke my heart. This woman is one of the kindest, smartest, and most motivated person I know and she works and tries with her daughter so hard. But, she makes mistakes. She yells and gets upset and cries and is now beating herself up over these times her daughter is taking in. After she calmed down I asked her this: “Name a perfect parent.” She couldn’t. I said: “Name a parent who is 9.9/10.” and she said YOU and I started laughing. WHAT? I told her that you could write every single mistake I made with O on the huge walls of our lecture hall and would still need room for more. I even called O on speaker and asked him to rate my parenting…he said he would probably give me around a 7.5-8. So, in other words, I have degrees in Psych and Family Studies, have worked with ages from 2- 70, have certifications out the wazoo…and I’m a C parent 😳.

She started laughing and we talked about how we are all going to ‘give’ our kids negative experiences because we’re human…they’re human…and when you have 2 imperfect humans interacting, there’s gonna be issues. But that’s OK. It’s normal!

Throughout the same class, students have also talked about lack of self-worth stemming from an assault, growing up in an abusive home where there was never any acceptance or positive interaction, feeling inferior to everyone else, confronting their ‘shadows’ and things they have done that they regret, etc. And I listen, validate, comfort, and sometimes advise if I think it’s appropriate.

And you know, in all of my 28 years of teaching at the college level, I have NEVER once talked about domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, alcoholism in families, or anything else without a handful of students in each class talking about their own experiences or coming to my office to share with me. It breaks my heart. So much. And it’s hard to not bring that home and have it haunt me. I just want to take these young people and wrap them all up in a blanket and schlep them off to a bubbled island where they won’t ever hurt again.

But I have my own issues too. Ever heard of ‘Imposter Syndrome’? This is when you feel like a fraud in what you do…that you really aren’t good enough for the position. I feel like this a lot! Here I am…someone who did shitty in high school…standing in front of future lawyers and counselors and executives and teaching them for a grade that will be on their transcript forever. Sometimes I think I should be in one of the seats…not out in front.

And today? We’re talking about DV in class and I always get choked up. How can I not when ma suffered 28 years at the hands of a batterer? And then we listen to a 911 call placed by a little girl, 7, who’s reaching out for help while her step-father beats her mom in the background. This resounds with me. I used to hear R beat mom when I was in bed. The fear and paralysis and sounds and powerlessness are still there in my head. The first time I heard it I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was the most awful night in my life and growing up in a home with that throughout my teen years has affected me. So when I hear the call, I can understand the girl’s anguish. (And yes, I called 911, my grandparents, my sissy, etc. and we all tried to help ma as much as we possibly could but ultimately, it’s the victim that has to take the help 😔).

When I lecture about sexual abuse, how can I not think of the 2 years I was abused by my psychologist? How can that wound not be re-opened every single semester in multiple classes? Then, when my sweetie students start to share their stories with me, it crushes me.

I never get through my lecture on divorce without choking up to where I sometimes need to take a breather. I hated my parents divorce…it was so hard on sissy and I, and I swore my kid would NEVER ever experience the break-up of their family. Yet he did and I remember his pain. His tears. His shouts. His haunted eyes. And I beat myself up again and again for that.

When we talk about mental illness and it’s stigmatization and how hard it is to live with, I get angry. Why is there still so much shame associated with illnesses no one wants or deserves or asks for? And then when my students message me and tell me they experience depression or anxiety but can’t ask for help because they’re scared people will look at them differently, I cry…because they’re right. You are looked at differently.

So I guess I take on other’s burdens because they need me too. They need someone to share with and talk too and learn from…something I didn’t have in school. They come to me because I’m open about things I’ve gone through…they know about ma (she has actually spoken to some of my classes), me having bipolar, me having been abused, etc. I share with them because they need to know there are people behind these statistics…text chapters…articles. When I say to them: “I understand” they know it’s true. Look, they’re there for me everyday…the huge family I never had and they let me live out my passion to teach and make me feel like I might be making a bit of a difference in their lives. I get back so much more than I give to them so if another student ever asks me why I take so much on, here’s what I’m going to say: “Because I love you all.” It’s as easy as that.

Kristi xoxo

“You take a deep breath and you walk through the doors…” ~ Taylor Swift (Fifteen)

So, OH MY GOSH…it feels so so so so so so so good to be back in my classroom! Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! 🥰

We’re in the 4th week of the semester now and I have 6 online and 3 on-campus classes. For the first couple of weeks in the classroom, the mood was a bit subdued. Not a lot of excitement about being back since it had been so long and a lot of students got used to the convenience and routine of online learning. But this week? It’s a 180! We have the spark back…the mojo…the groove (I’m a 70’s girl…what can I say 🙄)!

I don’t know how many times I’ve said that teaching is my passion (probably more than a million) but these past 18 months really made me see it anew. I like teaching online and have been doing it since 1999. I took a series of online classes myself in the early 2000’s and earned my Master Online Teaching Certificate from the U of I. Impressive…right (that should get me a date 😐)? So, not only am I educated in the pedagogy of this type of teaching, I’ve experienced it as a student too. This makes me look at my classes and ask myself: would I like this? If the answer is a NO (!), I re-vamp until I would.

Hubby 3 liked being my Guinea Pig; after I would get my classes created, I get him in a student view and tell him to click all around and tell me what he didn’t understand. Invariably he’d find something that wasn’t clear and I’d change it. It really helped me out and I think I have it down pat now.

I feel like I can still build relationships with students online…that’s part of what you need to learn to teach this way effectively. It’s little things like always using their name in every comment, etc. you make…offering a couple extra credit points where they have to e-mail you an answer to a question like “Where would you live if you could live anywhere and why?” They have to expand on their answer and then I always respond. It gives us a chance to talk more one on one about things we’re interested in. I make videos every week so they know a ‘real’ person is out there and I try to create discussions/activities that are meaningful.

BUT in my opinion, no matter how well online classes are structured to be interactive and worthwhile, they are just not the same as my face to face. Period. To me, nothing can take place of seeing faces…expressions…calling on students who I can tell are getting it…asking students what they don’t understand…and having students walk me to my office everyday after class. I love this ‘real’ interaction and it’s happening this semester in all 3 of my campus courses. It makes me feel like I am making connections and without those, you don’t give the student much motivation to listen and learn from you.

I also think the academics are different for both types of classes, and online learning can either be an easy way to ‘slide’ through a class, or a challenging way to get as much as you can out of the class; the amount of individual effort is crucial in terms of what students actually get out of the class. In fact, I truly believe that many of my online students learn more than the ones I have on-campus because they are so driven to get all they can from them.

Dedicated and eager students absorb everything and learn how to actively work with the material given and learn more than just the topics: they learn independent research, time management, computer literacy, how to express themselves only in writing (which I think is a GREAT skill to master), etc.

On the other hand, I’ve had students who simply slide by in them…that’s always going to happen for whatever reason (but to be fair, that happens on campus too). Not reading the info I provide…not watching the videos I make or upload…looking up answers for quizzes instead of studying all of the material first…putting the bare minimum into discussions where it’s obvious that a couple of things from the topic were googled and stitched together. I hate this! I don’t want students to walk out of (or in this case, log off of 💻) my classes without them knowing everything they possibly can about the material. And with psychology and sociology, it’s not just info to learn…it’s info to use! That’s important to me and why I teach what I teach.

Lord knows I am a pro at psychology even without a textbook. For fuck sakes (sorry, ma 🤨) I’ve had a fucking (I couldn’t resist) mental illness for as long as I can remember…literally. I’ve experienced a whole plethora of things that have gone into my psyche and I don’t think even Freud would want to dig around in there…it’s probably a gooey mess.

But learning all about psychology means learning all about why our minds work the way they work. Why we think like we do…dream like we do…remember like we do…perceive like we do. EVERYTHING we’ve ever experienced is stuck in that glob of cells somewhere and it affects us in one way or another.

And then sociology means learning about how our society affects us and what issues are important for all of us to understand. Hopefully, my students come out being much more aware and educated about racism, gender issues, ageism, the structure of society and how we all fit into it, class issues, cultural differences, etc. Right now we’re studying socialization in my Intro classes and my students are learning how their environment has affected them since the day they were born. We talk about how we develop our self image…our sense of self as it pertains to others…how our personalities were developed in the context of our environments…how the media affects us…the power our family had on our development, etc. This is stuff that’s important to know!

(By the way, just in case you can’t tell, I love to teach what I teach!)

Anyhoot, after being away from actual student ‘bodies’ for so long, just being back and being able to talk to them in person is awesome. The last few months of school being closed was really tough for me and the other teachers and profs I know. It was a long time to have to work from home, and a very long time not being in the actual environment that you were meant to be in. Like a fish out of water, so to speak! 🐟🐠🐡🦈🐬

So, my sweetie pie students…I’m so happy to be back to see half of your beautiful, and I assume smiling, faces again. I’ve missed you all so much and truly got lonely for you. If you’ve had me before, welcome back! Seeing you again was wonderful! If you’re new…YEA! I can’t wait to know you better and see you grow!

Have a great school year everyone!

Kristi xoxo

“But I do know one and one is two…” ~ Sam Cooke (Wonderful World)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So, a couple of things made me happy yesterday and I couldn’t wait to talk about them with you. Here goes.

First, I attended a virtual workshop on how to ‘Humanize the Online Experience’ in your college classes. The speaker was wonderful and talked about how students need connection, rapport, feelings that the instructor is genuine and real, etc. I totally agreed with this but after a while, I realized that the necessity for this workshop made me sad. You see, this to me is a no-brainer. Really.

I guess I was a ‘humanized’ professor before the ‘humanization of professors’ was ‘cool’…suddenly, what set me apart is now ‘vogue’ in academia. I have always believed that unless you see your prof as someone you can connect with, you won’t learn a freaking thing from them. I’ve had bosses who I had no connection for…no respect for…no investment in because they stifled any hope of that happening. “We must remain objective and somewhat cold in order to maintain order” seems to be a common mantra amongst some college personnel. But why?

I’ve been hugging students longer than most of you have been alive (shutty the mouthy, please 🙄) and I’ve gotten looks from it over the years. I also share with my students. I share my experience of being sexually abused. My experiences regarding my divorces (another shutty, peeps🤨 ). What it’s like to have a mental illness. What it’s like to self-harm and attempt suicide. What it was like having a batterer married to ma for so many years. And what it’s like to get yourself out of a very very dark place in order to see the light again. I answer any questions honestly, and there are times when I cry with my students. When we’re tackling the hard stuff in my psychology and sociology classes, I might stop the lecture, walk over to someone who is tearing up, hug them around the shoulders (I ask…I don’t want to invade space), and tell them we are all supporting them. I had a dean once tell me I was ‘being too nice’ to my students and my job wasn’t ‘comforting them or being their friend.’ Well, my retired dean, it was. And still is.

When you take a gander at the definition of ‘teacher’ you get this (courtesy of Merriam-Webster): ‘to impart knowledge’ and ‘to instruct by precept, example, or experience.’ How in the world are you going to be an effective professor if you show nothing of yourself? Don’t help students learn from your own experiences? Don’t show students how their own bad experiences don’t have to shape them forever? How do you expect students to learn when they are needing ‘more’ from you? A smile. A hug. An empathic ear that listens and validates and doesn’t just spout platitudes. Why in the hell would a student want to open themselves up in anything less than this type of environment?

You see, something I was reminded of yesterday was how thinking and emotion go hand in hand. They both originate from the mind and both need each other to survive. If a students feels lonely or like an outcast…has depression or is anxious…is fighting a battle that’s not readily apparent, how can they learn? Seriously. How effective are YOU when you are emotional? How well do you do your job? Remember what you read? Retain what you heard? I don’t know about you, but when I’m in an ’emotional state’ it pretty much supersedes anything else. Period. And, if you don’t address these issues by not inquiring how students are doing or noticing a student who is suddenly quiet and down without asking if they’d like to talk…they aren’t going to learn from you. And, if they see that you can’t be real in the class…how the hell do you expect them too?

I think teaching is more than imparting knowledge. I think it’s building connections with people where they learn the academics but also more about themselves. Where they come out of a class feelings stronger. Better. More supported and supporting. More understood and understanding. And this is a NEW concept? Well spank me hard. I was ahead of my freaking time.

Then yesterday, a student shared a video with me of a woman doing a talk about how a professor helped her deal with her rape by speaking up about her own sexual assault. My student wrote “You are this professor to me”.

I’ve had students say a lot of things to me over the years (some not so hot 😐) but these words hit me the hardest. It showed me that opening myself up…providing students with the atmosphere to do the same…means something. Can do something. Something more than memorizing who the Father of Sociology is (Auguste Comte…my sweetie students better have known this 😉).

Look, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Teaching isn’t fucking Rocket Science (sorry, ma 🙄) . And for those who think it is, you’re doing it wrong. Just like when Michael Keaton is “Mr. Mom” and he’s dropping off his kid incorrectly at their school and a room mom tells him: “You’re doing it wrong.” It should never be ‘hard’ for a prof to connect. Build. Encourage. Motivate. Validate. And if it is…you just might want to go into something else.

Professoring is a people ‘job’. It’s bringing a room full of strangers together for 16 weeks and creating a bit of a family out of them. A family where they feel comfortable sharing and voicing opinions and asking questions and opening themselves up to what you say. It’s creating a place where students can be expressive…vulnerable…willing to learn from everyone around them. It’s not the brain that’s hard to use when professoring…it’s the heart.

But, I’m here to tell you this: when you can use the heart as much as the head in a classroom then you have come to the point when real learning takes place.

Kristi xoxo

“Schools for Fools” ~ Jamie Kennedy

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.

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Eating lunch out with 2 of my students because we just had so much more to talk about!!  They are an amazing couple!!

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.

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My student and I clicked from the beginning…I was so sad to see her graduate!  How selfish is that?

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.

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My student and I who ran a 10k together while my son, his friend, watched!  It was so hot and hilly, but we did it by encouraging each other the entire way!

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.

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Yes, my student is as gorgeous as this pic shows, with a heart to match!

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.

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My student who is graduating tonight!  I truly love her like a daughter and am so proud of her!

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.

Kristi  xoxo

P.S.  I have permission from each student to use their pic…just sayin’! 😀

 

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