It's a hard time of year to be a teacher.
The end is approaching, but not yet in sight. The high-minded ideas we started the semester with now seem quaint in the face of looming final exams, research papers and generalized exhaustion. I have tried to keep the end of the semester as simple as possible. In these final weeks, we work on resumes and bios and other materials that I think will be useful to my students when they leave the university.
It's still a tough sell.
Today I introduced bios. I told them how, if they were applying for a scholarship or a grant, or if they were asked to speak in public, they would need a bio. They looked at me skeptically. They were not keen on bragging about their accomplishments in the third person. When I told them it should also include something personal, they looked even less enthusiastic, if that was possible.
“Life changing experience,” I wrote on the board. I explained, “Write about something that changed your life, explain why you chose what you are studying, tell us something we will remember!” Twenty-four pairs of eyes looked at me dully.
“Start writing!” I almost yelled, getting a little exasperated.
They started typing and I walked around the room, just to keep them on task. Many wrote a single line and stopped. Some got as far as three lines before they ran out of steam. I gave them another 10 minutes. I wrote more helpful hints on the board.
Finally, I figured they'd had enough for one day. I asked if anyone would like to share what they had written. The entire class stared intently at the floor. I wondered if I should call on someone. I wondered if I should cancel class early. I was still debating my options when a deep voice from the corner of the room said, “I'll read mine.”
The student was in my class last semester. He dropped out without an explanation and so I was surprised when he enrolled a second time in my class this semester. He is a big guy, an athlete and an engineer. He doesn't talk much and he never volunteers to speak. He started to read his bio. He talked about what he had studied and what he had accomplished. And then he paused and began a new paragraph.
“In the middle of my junior year, I had some problems,” he read. He proceeded to tell us how he had experienced both serious family problems and health issues that left him serving as a parent figure to his young niece and nephew and saddled with huge medical bills. He told how had dropped out of school and nearly given up hope.
But he hadn't. He had started school again. He still had big responsibilities, but he was back in school, determined to achieve his dreams.
The class was utterly silent when he finished. Then we all began to applaud at once. Another student read her bio, telling how the death of a 5-year-old family friend had led her into nursing. She choked up slightly as she described her young friend's battle with cancer and how she had dedicated her career to this young man who had died too young.
I left class filled with wonder. Once again, my students had amazed me. Once again, I had assumed I knew them and had been entirely wrong. In spite of finals and looming deadlines, real learning had occurred in class that day.
At least for the teacher.
Till next time,