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So why are you still teaching?

Oh, I am full of questions today.  Yeah, the teaching business.  And why does it still seem (five days after the time change) that it’s still an hour later than the clock says it is at night, but I don’t leap out of bed in the morning rejoicing over an extra hour of sleep?  Sunday — yes, that was nice.  Monday? maybe.  Tuesday, didn’t make any difference.

Maybe I’d better stick to the question of why I’m still in front of a classroom.  Well, for one thing the people sitting facing me are adults.  I don’t know if I’d have the patience for children now that mine are all grown up.  Most of my students — this is Michigan, after all — are displaced workers from the auto industry or any of the satellite businesses that supply the auto companies with all the parts and other stuff they need.  Miraculously, the auto industry did not crumble into dust a couple of years ago, but they are leaner, meaner companies than they had been, and both they and the suppliers have shed a lot of jobs.

Many people who held those jobs are now in my college classroom.

This quarter I’m teaching medical terminology.  This is one of the required classes for anyone in the Health Science Department, and since medical services are one of those businesses that are thriving whatever happens to the larger economy — and thus offer a bubbling source of employment — a lot of people are coming to the conclusion that that’s a good place to be.  My guess would be that in my class the students probably range from early 20s to their 50s, with most of them in the 30-45 range. A lot of them haven’t been in school for years, even decades, and many of them didn’t do brilliantly when they were in school.  My college — Baker College — takes in almost anyone who’s a high school graduate, but doesn’t necessarily keep them.  In other words, they’ll give a lot of people a second chance and admit them, but then it’s up to the student to work hard enough to stay there.  Out of the approximately 90 students who started in my three classes, 78 are still there.  I’d say another 10 are probably hanging on by their fingernails, and the rest are doing just fine.  Of the ca. 68, maybe 40 are doing good solid A work.  Another 15 or so are getting Bs, and the rest are swinging back between Bs and Cs.  It’s easy to tell how they’re doing: we have a test every week of the word parts they need to memorize.  The class lasts 10 weeks, and in that time they’re to memorize 400 word elements.  That’s not easy.

Which is the part I love.  There is nothing like seeing a woman (or a man) who never made much of a success of anything academic when they get back a test with a score of 93, or 98, or even 100.  (For 100 I tell them they get a rose on their nose.) It’s like watching someone who’s been paralyzed suddenly stretch out a hand and the fingers all work. They’ve done it.  They’ve worked harder than they ever imagined they would, but in the end, they’ve done it.

That’s what makes all the hours I spend correcting papers worth it.  By this time in the quarter (only 3 weeks to go) we are no longer teacher-and-students, we’re a band of brothers, and we delight in our successes, and bear down when things are not going so well.  We had the midterm last week, and 18 people got all 248 medical terms correct:  100%.

What would I do if I couldn’t hand out roses for noses to people like that?  They come into my classroom not at all sure if they can do it, and they discover they can.  It doesn’t come easy, but that makes it even better.  Measuring yourself against a challenge — when you meet it — makes you stronger and more confident.  From that point on, you know you can do it.  And what more precious knowledge is there?

So that’s why I teach.  I guess I always will, until I keel over in the classroom.  That’s my little spot to shine in.  What’s yours — and what makes yours worth doing?  Stretching, and succeeding, is the best exercise there is.  How do you do it?


16 Responses

  1. I’m glad you’re still teaching. The passionate attitude you bring translates to better learning and greater inspiration for your students.

    • The passion wears thin sometimes when I have the huge pile of papers to correct on a Tuesday. But the old war horse comes back to life when I can see the students there in front of me. It’s the earnest ones, the committed ones, who keep at it who motivate me. And some of them have very rough rows to hoe. I’m so surrounded by family and friends that it’s a revelation every time to me when I encounter people who have no backstop — who have to do it all by themselves, and often with children as well. But they do it!

  2. I teach elementary and while it can be frustrating (esp when we are swallowed by paperwork) it has its rewards, like when kids come back and tell you how well they’re doing. I saw something on Facebook last night that said, “We’re not in it for the income. We’re in it for the outcome.”

    • That’s right enough. My husband claims I do it as a hobby! I admire you for your patience, although I do know that children can be really endearing. But it’s such a struggle to keep their attention!

  3. Interesting post! I’m NOT teaching at the moment cos of raising littlies and I don’t know if I can face going back. But then I taught teenagers not adults 🙂

    • Yes, my personal horror would be teaching teenagers because so often their minds are all over the place — except in the classroom. That’s just the place where they have to be until the end of the school day, which is when their REAL life begins. They would drive me crazy. But there are people who rise to the challenge. I remember them distinctly from my own high school experience!

  4. For 7 years I taught Obstetrical Nursing at an RN school. When I first started teaching, many of my students were older than I was! So many adults going back to school.

    Like you school, many adults were given a second chance BUT they had to make on their own. School was not easy, and it shouldn’t or couldn’t be easy. Nurses hold lives in their hands. And yes, I was a hard teacher. My tests were murder. I taught at a Catholic school of nursing and yes, I failed a nun. Ouch. That was tough. Honestly, I think she might have been relieved. She was so over her head with all the information.

    I went back to school as an adult to earn three graduate degrees. The older I was in school, the better I did. More serious about learning, I guess.

    Thank you for being teacher. It’s a much harder job than many people realize.

    • Oh wow, Cyndi, you know it from both sides! Quite a few of my fellow teachers are working for their master’s and doctorates. Not me. The idea of coming home, working through my students’ papers and then having homework of my own to accomplish — naah. Isn’t going to happen.

  5. I’m so thankful for teachers like you, Beppie! You make a difference in so many lives because you care. Teaching is one of the hardest careers in the world in my opinion and so many around here just view it as another job. You ROCK! 🙂

  6. Well, Melissa, it sort of depends on the day! But it’s nice of you to think so . . .

  7. I think there are a couple of reasons for greater success in older students. Like Cyndi said, they’re more serious for sure, because it’s more important to them—they chose to be there, as opposed to being there because they had to be or because it’s expected. But also, the more experience and learning we have, the easier it is to keep learning. It builds on itself!

    On the other hand, it can be difficult after years of living a certain way and now taking on this huge challenge.

    My grandfather’s wife was a nurse and went back to school to get her law degree when she was in her 40s. She’s a partner in a major law firm now. My BIL got a degree in criminal justice but worked for Chrysler for 20 years, until they closed down his plant. Then he became an LPN because taking care of his special needs son made him love the work.

    I really admire people who both seek the education, and who provide it.

    • Oh, Natalie, me too, me too! I don’t think I would have the dedication to go on working that hard and to make it past all the obstacles that seem magically to surface as soon as anybody makes the resolution to get serious about further education. We laugh about it, grimly, the students and me: cars fail, basements flood, children get sick, pets need expensive (and time-consuming) veterinarian care, keys disappear — ex-husbands (in one horrific case) catch you in a parking lot and beat you up for trying to be better than they are . . .

      That last we didn’t laugh about. Not even grimly.

  8. GO YOU! I however am not a teacher. I can work one-on-one with stuff but in front of a classroom with a bunch of people learning different ways? no way.

    • Different strokes for different folks. There are those of us who love it and those (like you) who look at us and say “are you crazy?” The trouble is, about half the time you’re right!

  9. Beppie: I love your enthusiasm for teaching. Your students are lucky to have you!

    I taught at private business colleges in OH and CA in my mid-to-late 20s, and a lot of students were my age or older. I really liked it, but eventually I wanted to go back to work full time. Silly me. 😉

    My experience is that I did better at every successive level of school. College was better than HS, grad school better than undergrad. I started my MS 8 years after I got my BS (insert joke here). Having that job experience under my belt, I went into it with a better understanding of how what I was learning applied to the work place, and what I wanted out of the experience.

    The time you put into school has a whole lot more meaning when you’re giving up time with your family and money from your own pocket (and the family budget), and have a clear goal in mind.

    • You’ve got it absolutely right, Gwen. That’s what makes the difference between the person I was in college, and the people who are in my classes. For me, it was the automatic next step, because people in my social class and group went on to college after high school. It was simply the way things were.

      I guess that’s what makes me admire my students so much. Because for them it wasn’t the automatic next step. It took a lot of planning, and a lot of arranging the rest of their lives, and for many of them, keeping at it is like walking a knife edge.

      Who wouldn’t do whatever you can for people who are willing to give up so much?

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