Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On the sidelines

I realized tonight why I love teaching so much. I know...8 years later, I'm just now crystallizing it? There are so many reasons I like it, but the lightbulb went off for me about why I will never, ever be able to walk away from it.

It's because I get to be a voyeur on a person's drive to better themselves. It's an intoxicating thing to watch. Out of a class of 20 students, only a handful might have the bug that's *real* enough to make it through the trials of education. It's so hard. It takes so much time, energy, dedication, money! And I watch so many give up along the way. At the end of the semester, especially for freshman classes, we might lose over half the students. They come in, expecting an easy ride (especially the online courses), and then are floored by how much investment it takes.

But when it clicks, it clicks. And I love seeing that come alive in them. My favorite profile of a student, I think, is the older female who is coming back to school after a divorce. There's a particularity about their style...a fear mixed with very primal desire to DO this. To get that degree. They need it for their kids, they don't know where to find a job without it, they want a better life.

I usually say once in every class: "When you get your degree, it's yours to keep. No one can take it from you. Not a divorce. Not a fire. Nothing. It becomes part of who you are." And I can see this fire ignite in maybe one...maybe two students. But that's all it takes for me.

I'm an addict to watching people progress. Evolve. Whether it's my kids or my students, I love standing on the sidelines and saying "Go for it! You wouldn't believe what you can do if you just try."

One student said to me a couple of years ago..."Yeah, but you had it easy. You probably went to college at 18, right? Your parents paid for it?"

Yep, that happened. And that degree opened some doors. But it didn't ignite me the way my post-graduate stuff did. Where I wrote the check. I ate the rice and beans to pay for it. I took out the loans that nearly made me throw up when I saw the balance rising astronomically, and wondered what the hell I was going to do with a degree in economics (if I didn't want to work 100 hours a week). I just knew I needed it, on a soul level. And the other graduate courses, that I had to take to keep teaching jobs and get new ones, almost killed me some nights. The bloodshot eyes from writing papers all night, nursing a baby as my study break, or the ones when I was pregnant and puking at the keyboard.

Oh, man... it was so worth it.

There is nothing like getting to the end of something you think you won't be able to do (graduate degrees, childbirth... maybe a marathon, although I wouldn't know...) to make you realize you can do just about anything.

I never want to work at that pace again. I'll always be a student; I'm enamored by learning and need to feed this insatiable appetite for education. Maybe a class here or there. But I will never forget those semesters of 18 graduate credits, pregnancy or a newborn and toddler, and no sleep. And the euphoria - beyond anything I could describe to someone - when I got to the end and I *owned* that degree. How much it kicked my ass, but how much it made me learn the depths I can go.

Now that I'm ready to have that in my past instead of my future, it's empowering to be a part of a student's path through that same dark tunnel. Like a childbirth doula, I guess, saying: "You can do this...you can do this. I know you think you can't, but I believe in you."

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