I’ve been in the education field for over 12 years now in one form or another (most recently as a college advisor and adjunct instructor.) The life of an educator is one of contrasts. Literally hundreds of students have walked into my classroom or into my office. I’ve enjoyed being a part of their lives sharing their joys and their heartaches.
It’s great seeing my former high school students grown up and doing well for themselves. One is currently running for a seat in the state legislature. Another is living his dream of being a state trooper. One is the president of the local chamber of commerce. And some have joined the military. Imagine my surprise to see one enlisting the same day I did!
When I happen to run into them at the store or in the community it’s always a happy reunion. It’s also usually accompanied with an apology: “Oh, I’m sorry I behaved so badly in your class.” We share a laugh, and I walk away gratified that I have made a small difference in their lives. Even if they still couldn’t tell me what a gerund is.
Sadly, and inevitably perhaps, I’ve also seen several students die too soon. Some have died as a result of accident, some due to health challenges, some by their own hands. It’s always difficult to see an empty chair where, just the day before, a smiling, laughing student sat.
Today, I attended a small ceremony in memory of a former student. Although I was sad for his family and friends, I was happy to have helped him in his pursuit of education. He overcame many challenges to begin his college career. He was willing to put in the hard work it required, and his efforts inspired others.
As we stood outside by a small monument celebrating the hope of one student, my mind was occupied by another who has almost given up his.
This morning I recieved a disturbing email from a student intimating suicide. This is a student who has refused to take responsibility for his actions and readily blames others for their consequences.
“No, you didn’t fail this class because the instructor hates you. You failed this class because you didn’t turn in three assignments and you failed two exams,” I said as he sat in my office trying to figure out why he was now on suspension.
It is so frustrating to tell a student exactly what it takes for him to succeed only to see him disregard the advice. Yet, he has reached out to me, his former advisor. I tried calling him on the phone to no avail. So, I replied to the email with explicit instructions, phone numbers for him to call, and pleas for him not to give up hope. Sometimes that is all one can do.
The bright sun always creates dark shadows.
In high contrast.