Category Archives: Education

“Wasted no time”

The note was found at 8:35, according to the news reports. It threatened a shooting at 9:30, but didn’t specify a.m. or p.m. College officials, campus security and local police “wasted no time” in evacuating the campus. The local news channel was laudatory regarding the efficiency of the response. Maybe they should have checked their facts. Dozens of people, probably close to two hundred, were stuck in the parking lot logjam. I was there till 9:45. One of my students was there even longer. “I was stuck till 10:00,” she said. “I just couldn’t get out, even once the cars started moving. I didn’t bother to turn my engine on.”

So, if there had been a crazed gun-wielding student on campus, we would have been trapped and absolutely unsafe, probably more vulnerable than had we stayed in the locked classrooms.

Nobody in that jammed parking lot seemed to know what to do. The campus security guards stood around, looking dazed. One of them walked through the lot, yelling something incomprehensible to us. I couldn’t hear what he said, and when I called for clarification, he ignored me and just kept walking, yelling at everyone in the lot. It turns out he was telling people to get in their cars. It turns out he knew the threat was for 9:30. Surely he should have had a megaphone? Surely he should have made sure people understood?

I suppose, I told the students this morning, they’re making it up as they go along. We didn’t have to evacuate the campus the last time a note was found. The note made threats for the following day, and it was found late in the day, late enough that few students were on campus. What these ridiculous threats do is teach us what we need to do if we really do have to evacuate. I’m sure the college will come up with a new plan now. I’m sure campus security will call police before they do anything else, and by the time students are filing out to the parking lot the traffic controllers will be in place to get us moved out. It shouldn’t take more than an hour to evacuate a fairly small campus, and with a plan in place the next threat should bring a smoother response.

But it’s ridiculous. How many times will we have to evacuate or miss a day of classes because of threatening notes? What kind of world is this? I was used to bomb threats and evacuations when I visited my grandparents in Derry in the North of Ireland. I was used to us just leaving the shop on command, our groceries in the cart. I was used to untying the dogs outside, and walking down the road fast, waiting for a bomb blast that never came. (It came for some people, though, and knowing that it could be real brought copperfear to my throat.)

I am not used to having to evacuate my campus on regular occasions, not used to having to think of yesterday’s event as an opportunity to get more prepared for the next threat, the one that might be real. Are all colleges all over the nation dealing with copycat bomb and shooting threats?

Sigh.

Bomb threat again — one year later

Somebody scrabbles at the locked classroom door. It’s 9:00 o’clock, and I’m typing student questions on our latest reading into the computer for overhead viewing and discussion. “Someone’s trying to get in,” someone says. I turn towards the door as the scrabbling continues, and then the door opens. “I’m scared,” one of my students says mockingly, playing. “It could be a….”

It’s a security guard. “Campus is closed for the rest of the day and tonight,” he says. “You must evacuate the building immediately.”

“Are you kidding?” I say, even though I know it’s ridiculous to say it. Nobody would kid about a campus emergency that shuts the school down.

“No,” he says. “Get your stuff and leave quietly, now.”

The students are already packing. I grab my backpack, stuff my folders and books and a handful of student papers in it, and sling it over my shoulder. “Check the news,” I tell the students. “If I hear any more, I’ll let you know on WebCT.”

People are piling up on the stairs. Outside the window I see them below, on the lawn, milling about, not sure what to do. A security officer disperses them. If I go to my car now, I’ll be locked out. My keys and purse are in my office. I don’t know what to do. Finally, I head down the empty hallway, behind the guard, who is checking the offices. He doesn’t dissuade me as I unlock my office and grab my purse. In the hallway, everything is ominously quiet. I’m alone in here. I can’t believe how rapidly the building has emptied. I turn right and head for the back stairwell, go down in the echoing silence and out the back door. In the bright light outside, students pass up and down the pathway, heading for their cars, or looking for friends. I wave at the ones I know as I head for my Matrix. R.C. calls as I’m on the way, asking for a ride home, and we meet in the parking lot. By the time I’m in my car and have pulled out of my spot, the parking lot is at a standstill. Gridlock. For more than half an hour. I turn off the engine and get out of the car to join a group of faculty who are staring at the entrance of the lot. We’re sitting ducks for any real person with intent to hurt. It’s comfortably warm outside, and the sun is shining, and we wander around, waiting, lot, accusing each other of scheduling major exams for today, thus causing some student to plant a bomb threat to disrupt the day. Eventually campus security guards show up, and then someone calls the police. Finally someone starts directing traffic. Finally the line moves. I get back in the car, and R.C. and I leave. It’s 9:45.

The rumor is that a “credible and serious” threat in the form of a note mentioning a bomb blast and/or mayhem of some sort has been found in the women’s bathroom of the newest building. Last time this happened, a year ago, the note was found in the men’s bathroom of my building. Copycat, I think. I know the administration has to take such threats seriously, but I’m sickened at living in a world in which such precautions are necessary. And I can’t help wondering what would have happened if it had been a real emergency. Somebody better figure out a way to prevent parking lot gridlock, or we’re all doomed!

Easter

Two days ago I began a post: Zeke and I are here at my father’s house. In a couple of hours we’ll be heading to my sister’s house to make eggs and prepare Easter dinner. The rain is falling and Sadie snuggles up against my leg.

Then time ran out and I’ve been running since then. I always think I’ll have more time during the break than I actually have. Between getting ready for classes next quarter, cleaning up my office, and trying to make some headway on spring gardening, I find myself overwhelmed much of the time.

Zeke has found herself a mentor at the junior high school, a young English teacher with rapidfire speech and a passion for teaching that infects his students. Zeke, her boyfriend and a gaggle of surprisingly jock-like boys hang out in his classroom, talking about the state of the world and reading and the Internet. When I stop by to pick up Zeke, Mr. S teases her about her boyfriend. “Why would you want to hang out with that loser?” he slags her (slag is an Irish term for a particular type of teasing).

“Hey!” her boyfriend counters. “I’m not a loser. I’m a diligent student.” And I smile because few enough American teenagers would know what diligent means, and I like him, and Zeke finally gets to hang out with someone who doesn’t put her down because she has a varied vocabulary. She forgets, sometimes, that she’s not supposed to be smart, because it’s not cool to be smart in her high school, especially if you’re a girl. Most of the time she plays dumb quite well, but occasionally she slips and uses a word that’s above the heads of most of her peers, and then they taunt her. Although I wish it could be different, I know I too would probably give in to the social expectations of the world in which she lives, just for a little peace, though I’m glad she won’t compromise on more significant convictions, like her attitude towards taking drugs, getting drunk, and indiscriminate s*x.

Anyway, I love that she’s found a teacher who’s passionate about his subject, and loves writing, and shares his own writing with his students. I love that he lets them hang out in his classroom after school, and teases them, and understand them. I also see his frustration at the apathy of so many of his students, at their disrespect for learning and teachers. I hope he doesn’t quit.

No time for more…

Retrospective 10: 1972 — Fromage in Ireland

My father flew overhead in a plane to Ireland, and Ruth May looked up at the plane passing and drove her tricycle into the paddling pool and broke her arm. Was that the year my friend was hit by a car and taken away in an ambulance one day? I don’t remember her name, only that she lived in a cheaper apartment complex than we did, across the road, one with broken lights in the stairwells and the smell of urine permeating the dark walkways. We always walked home from school together, till a car hit her as she was crossing the road, and she was taken away in the ambulance. The EMTs bribed her with chocolate and after a while she went willingly, but I will not forget her tears, nor the smell of burning rubber in the air, which brings back — every time — the lonely wail of the siren and my own sense of complicity in her accident.

Ruth May, howling in the empty paddling pool, looks up to the sky. The plane is gone, carrying my father. My mother picks her up, and off we go to the hospital. Ruth May comes back from some mysterious room with a cast, and she is smiling.

We spend nights in the living rooms of friends who live in a commune. Do I imagine it? The smell of incense; the sound of a guitar playing; laughter and clinking glasses. My mother is touched by firelight, and her long hair glows golden in the shadows. She is far away, although I could touch her if I tried.

And then we are going to Ireland. We are still in school when we leave. No. We have just gone back after the summer, and my father has been gone for weeks, and suddenly Mum says, “It’s time. We’re going to Ireland.” Dad is back, and we pack up the van, and he drives the Volvo. We take the ferry, and he fills the little head with bottles of alcohol, and we have to stay quiet when we go through customs.

Before we left, my teacher gave me a book about a flower. It was called Marguerite, and it was in French, and everyone in my class signed it. I kept it for years, till my mother gave it away in a frenzy, the way she did sometimes. We were each given a new stuffed toy, too, and Ruth May got the biggest one, and Leah the next biggest, and Rachel the next biggest. And I got the smallest one. I loved that little bear, even after the dogs tore it apart years later, and my mother had to sew it together again, make a mouth and eyes for it, and a dress to cover its shredded belly.

Ireland was damp and gloomy after the sunshine of Switzerland. We lived in a temporary apartment, a townhouse in Dublin, and I remember a square outside the front door, a patch of grass, and metal railings. We could have walked to school, but we didn’t. On the first day, the teacher asked me to translate something in French. I remember fromage. Cheese. I could barely read, and everyone laughed, because they thought I couldn’t speak French. It wasn’t that. I was eight, and didn’t read well, and then I remembered that people thought I was slow in Switzerland, and that Mum spent hours helping me learn to read, and I remember that I was the odd one, the hyper one, the one who didn’t track conversations sometimes, because I was living in my own world where words didn’t matter — a place of sensation and yearning.

Years later I learned that Mum wanted to leave Switzerland because they track people vocationally there, and she was sure I would never get to follow an academic path. Not with my reading difficulties. Not with my inability to sit still in a classroom.

Still, in Switzerland I didn’t know I was stupid. It wasn’t till I got to Ireland that I figured it out.

More shootings

Northern Illinois University. At my friend’s house, I looked at the TV, saw blood on tarmac, heard the announcer’s voice. And then….

  • A movement to allow guns on campus
  • The shooter had recently discontinued psychiatric medication
  • Five school shootings in seven days

I left the living room, went into the bedroom, and sat on the bed. I didn’t want to think about it. But the blood on the tarmac. The blood spilled. Just that image, and the words running around my head, and all the implications. And the realization that I hadn’t heard about the previous killings. And the realization that just a week before an angry boy had been stopped from entering a local high school with a gun, just a few miles from my home. And the realization that I had heard about it and not sought out any more information because I couldn’t face the thought of my daughter going to school every day in a place where she might die. And the realization that I go to school every day in a place where some disgruntled student might pull a gun on me. “I try not to make them angry,” my colleague said the other night. But a grade — a kind of judgment — might make anybody angry. And my daughter… And my daughter…

I was crying. My friend came in, held me. Was it Valentine’s Day I saw the news? The day after? I don’t remember. I just know I can’t bear to live in a country where the response to school shootings is to encourage more guns. I can’t bear to live in a country where the response to anything at all in a person’s psychological life is “take pills.” My friend tells me that there’s a movement to authorize counselors with MA’s only to prescribe psychiatric medication. That’s madness. Except for the pharmaceuticals, who profit, profit, profit, on their dangerous, mindless policies.

And I’m living in a country where five school shootings can occur in the span of a week, and it’s so normal now that it’s hardly publicized. And maybe that’s a good thing, because there are copy cat kids out there. After Virginia Tech my campus was closed for a day after a bomb threat was found in a bathroom in my building. Most of the local high schools had a spate of bomb and gun and knife threats. Then it quieted down for a few months. Till now.

I couldn’t write about it. Wouldn’t think about it. I kept avoiding thinking about the irony of our performances on V-Day and the days after, in the aftermath of more shootings. I found myself wondering was Northern Illinois U planning a V-Day performance. So many colleges do nowadays. What horrible irony: on a day set aside for love, and more recently for activism against violence, a man went berserk and killed people and himself.

I’ve been wrapping myself in numbness. It’s all I can do. I don’t know how else to deal with it. Finally, today, I read a little bit about it. I don’t want to simply pretend it didn’t happen, blithely write on as though I have turned my back. But I did. I’m doing it now. I cried and cried and then I walked out and into the dusky night and went to my V-Day performance. My daughter put on my make up (I never wear it), and covered the red eyes, and I pretended everything was OK. And nobody talked about it.

Always, in the past, there has been desire to talk about it, to express horror, to wish it had never happened. We are long past that now. After Virginia Tech, something changed. It’s just part of our day now, in the same way bomb scares used to be part of the grocery shopping experience in Northern Ireland when I was visiting my grandparents as a child. We got used to it, leaving our carts with their groceries behind in the store and walking out onto the street, into the drizzle and mist, or the fleeting sunshine. And now, now, we just move through our days, knowing that when we walk through the door into our classrooms, we might encounter an armed and angry student. Knowing that our kids might walk into a burst of gunfire. It’s a tiny hint of what people in countries like Iraq or areas like Africa live with daily. So small a connection that I feel a rush of denial when I think of it. They have it much worse. Much worse. I could be run over by a bus, could trip and fall and hit my head and be brain dead. All those cliches. In the meantime, what’s a school shooting or two in this vast country, with its thousands of schools? The chances are so small, so minutely unlikely, that it doesn’t bear thinking about.

It’s just that something has changed now. In this country. In me. A way of shrugging off what once would have been unthinkable. My own institution’s total lack of reaction. The silence around the acts. My own desire to turn away, to blink my eyes clear of the blood, and walk on into sunshine, without a nod to the victims. There will be more. We all know that. And nothing can be done.

I will pray for them. I will not turn away. And we will go on. We always went back into the grocery shop in Ireland, after the bomb scares were over. We bought our groceries and walked home in the dying light, the dogs happy and oblivious on their leashes, happy for what they did have, rather than unhappy for what they lacked.

Tea time

Stella wrote: What I wish is to sit around a kitchen table with a small group of women, drinking tea, and have long discussions about just such things as you’ve posted about – I miss that so much – I suppose blog/comments exchanges are the next best thing.

Oh, that sounds so lovely. I think that’s what I like about blogging, the conversations that sometimes happen spontaneously over an idea thought through in a post. These days, though, I’m feeling guilty because I’ve hardly had a chance to read my favorite blogs. I drop in, then think I’ll come back and comment, and I don’t. I’ve been rushing, with a particularly busy quarter at work, and the Monologues (0ver now), and just trying to keep up with life.

I’m brain dead. This is one of those posts that says nothing, does nothing except give a glimpse into my life. I caught up on the laundry today, for the first time in weeks. I’ve been living out of piles of clothes tossed on the bed and then into the basket which is wedged in the corner, and then back onto the bed. The floor has been covered in dog hair and dust and tracked in mud. My car has been a disaster area. But yesterday I cleaned the car, and today I got a good run at the house, and tomorrow is a day I have to settle in and get caught up at work. I have a reference letter to write for a student, a college application paper to read for another student, the rest of my syllabus for Victorian and 20th Century lit to finish, an exam to write, and a report to write for the English department. And I have to finish reading the Virginia Woolf essays I assigned for this week, which I haven’t read since the last time I taught the class, something like 10 years ago.

And I’m tired after the energy expended on rehearsing for and performing in the Monologues. But I’ve managed to blog fairly regularly despite this difficult quarter, and doing so was one of my goals, so I’m happy.

Oh, and Stella’s comment reminded me of where I went to undergraduate school, an alternative hippie college without grades, where we studied in programs instead of individual classes, and learning was very much a time of talking over tea, of deep discussions in seminars, and then in individual cluster contracts, and because there were no grades, we never had to jump through hoops (at least, it never felt like it). I remember my first visit to the campus, when I walked into the women’s restroom and eavesdropped on a conversation about Dada and Nietzsche and war and nihilism, and thought, “This is it! This is where I’m going.” I was used to the loos in the community college I’d been attending: “Hey, are you going to so-and-so’s party tonight? God, I got so wasted last night. And did you hear, Dingbat’s pregnant again.” I wanted real conversations, literature, art, philosophy. I wanted to grapple with difficult ideas, to argue, to disagree and discover. And my undergraduate college gave me all that — and then some.

This post is going nowhere, and it’s OK. I’m not going to edit or shape it or press it into respectability. I do not wish to be respectable. I am thinking of confession again, and of my discomfort with it, of how hard it was to audition for the Monologues. (It took me seven years). I am thinking of how frustrated I am that Zeke gets away with texting in class in high school, and with doing math homework in global perspectives and global perspectives homework in choir. I am thinking of how I could NEVER be a high school teacher, because I would do inappropriate things like kick my students out of class if I caught them being so disrespectful. Yet I would feel continual nagging guilt as I watched them walk out: If I am not keeping their attention, their absence of interest is a failing in me rather than them.

One of my colleagues lets the students surf when they’re in the lab and she’s talking. I was observing her and the tic-tic of the keyboard, the click-click of the mouse, the flashes in my peripheral vision as a new website loaded — these all drove me nuts. I was distracted the whole class. “If I’m not holding their attention,” she said, “then that’s my problem.” But how can we? Really? They’re used to texting and talking and keyboarding and iPoding all at the same time. Their attention flicks from TV to computer to PDA to iPhone. They pull white earbuds out of one ear to respond to a parent’s question. Am I old-fashioned to insist on them turning off the technology and looking forward to the doc-cam where we are discussing the strengths of a student paper? Am I old-fashioned to insist on respect for each other? Not just me. Each other. Surely doing six different things at once is disrespectful. It is the opposite of sitting down at tea, and looking at each other, and really listening.

Protected: Planting seeds

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Snippets, because time just won’t stand still

  • It’s been crazy busy. Zeke and I are participating in my college’s performance of the Vagina Monologues next week, so we’ve been rushing off to rehearsal most evenings, or having all-girl sleepovers for practice (she and three of her friends are involved. Two of her friends are sharing “My Short Skirt” with her, and one is doing a piece for a companion monologue.)
  • I’ve been trying to childproof all my lower-level kitchen cabinets. Sadie, having been given a second chance at life, has decided to teach herself a new trick: open the cabinets and pull everything out, then tear up anything that might potentially contain food. Last weekend I screwed in a nice little spring-loaded child lock on the under-the-sink garbage cabinet. One of the many kids who’s been spilling in and out of the house recently promptly broke it. So as a stop gap measure this week I put a stool in front of the cabinet, which prompted Sadie to move to the next cabinet, containing the dog food, and open it and scatter dog food all over the kitchen. So now I have a packet of 14 locks, and none of my cabinets will be free from the attack of my cordless screwdriver.
  • I agreed to review a textbook manuscript. The deadline was a week ago, but I begged for a reprieve because it was taking me literally hours and I was running out of time. (I’ll never review a textbook manuscript again. The measly pittance they offered me worked out to barely minimum wage.) It doesn’t help that the book should never have been at the review stage anyway. Anyway, I finally got it done, and basically trashed it. I felt bad, but to my surprise the editor liked my comments, saying she’d suspected the writing suffered from some of the same problems I’d noted.
  • I haven’t seen my dad since the beginning of December. The pass has been nasty or closed the past few weeks. Over Christmas, when it was open, he was in Ireland. After he got back, the mountains got slammed with snow, and as far as I can tell the pass has been closed more than it’s been open for the past two weeks. I feel bad. I call him, check in on him, and wish I could rent a helicopter or something to go visit him. (I have decided against any kind of commercial plane flying unless I absolutely HAVE to.)
  • The Great Thaw has begun. We’ve been in a deep freeze her for weeks. Snow, ice, temporary almost-warmth, and then ice again. Then the temperatures rose and the far hills lost their blankets of white, and the snow in town drips and spreads and melts and suffuses, and the mud rises. I walked the dogs in a big field the other day, while I was waiting for Zeke’s friend to wash the dishes before we headed for VM rehearsals. Within a split second, both creatures were caked in mud, and so was I. Sticky nasty stuff, clinging to puppy pads and shoe bottoms, climbing up legs, gluey between fingers. With resignation, I opened the car door and let them in. What else could I do? Now I have a filthy car to clean…
  • It is now time for me to do taxi duty. Teenagers need to be run from one end of town to the other to meet various obligations. I wonder why I’ve always tended to be the parent who was willing to drive her kid’s friends anywhere, while the other parents call and say, “Have Sonia back by 7:00.” At least a couple of Zeke’s friends can drive themselves now! That will save on the price of fuel, and the wear and tear on my rapidly aging, not-so-long-ago new car.
  • Incidentely, there’s something rewarding about not having to try to organize one’s writing. These snippets are kind of fun. This was the quickest post I’ve written in a while!

Clarification

In the interview room yesterday, the enthusiasm for teaching, for our students, was palpable. If we get the award, it’ll be because we’re a community, because a significant percentage of us — teachers and administrators — really care. It’ll be because we talk to each other, and try to think of how we can help our students in non-traditional ways, and work together.

I hope I didn’t imply disdain for the Ivy League schools in yesterday’s post. I do think, sometimes, how esteem-boosting it would have been to have applied for and been accepted to Harvard or Colombia or wherever brick and ivy twine together in academe. One of our faculty members got his English MA from Harvard, and the students are awed by it. “He’s really smart; he went to Harvard,” I hear. They know the buzz around the big schools. There’s cachet in being from an Ivy League institution, whether as a student or a faculty member. And I don’t doubt if I taught there I’d probably like it. But I love my place of work. I love my students. I love the sheer, bodacious diversity of them: Mexican, Native American, Asian; displaced workers, returning homemakers, high-school-in-college students; a seeing-disabled girl with her best friend, a guide dog; my deaf octoganarian of a few years back; the athletes and the seasonal workers bending their heads together over a group project. Most of them probably couldn’t get accepted at the state university, let alone the Ivy League system, not for lack of intelligence in many cases, but because of cultural or economic status or language issues or life changes or whatever. But they come to us and find dedicated teachers, small classes, individual attention. We accept them no matter their age, their educational background, their basic ability level. We accept them if they didn’t make it the first time around. Or the third. And I like being a part of the place of second chances.

All teachers, as Loren said, deserve to be proud of what they do. I know I could never teach high school, with the conflicting demands of legislative mandates, like the benchmark tests in my state, and parents who don’t understand or appreciate or support what the teachers are doing. High school teachers juggle unreasonable class sizes and kids from backgrounds that can make it hard for the youngsters to learn. They face apathy and outright hostility to education. They suffer the hormonal mood swings of their adolescent charges, or the pain of watching their young teenage girls show up pregnant, or seeing one of their kids hauled off to jail for drugs or guns. In Zeke’s small choir class, three of the girls are pregnant — and it’s only 10th grade. Several of her male classmates have been dragged off to “juvie.” And she goes to a school in a fairly affluent small town, mostly white middle-class kids. Imagine the challenge in a poorer school district.

Teaching in an Ivy League school would be a different kind of challenge, given that the university level demands ongoing evidence of one’s achievements. “Publish or perish,” they call it, at least until you have tenure. I’ve published. I’ve presented. But I don’t have to. I can dedicate my time to teaching, which is what I love. If I loved research, I’d want to be at an Ivy League school, but I prefer the interaction with students, the deep immersion in issues of the classroom. In the end, teaching is a worthy profession, however and wherever you do it, as Loren said. But for me, being the kind of person I am, teaching at the community college level  suits me in ways teaching at other institutions would not.

Last day… loving students

I wrote the following on the last day of class. For some reason I never published it. So here it is, three weeks or so late!

_____________

Reading final papers is always interesting. It’s the moment when I get a sense of whether or not what I’ve done over the quarter has been worthwhile. In my 70 class, which is two classes below collegel level, I tried a different approach, and wasn’t so happy. I don’t think the final papers were as good as I’d have liked them to be, but a couple of students wrote well, and as always I learned something. One student, working on his draft, wrote the following sentence about a fire that had almost destroyed his home:

“Then the police officer took me to the back of my house. There he found a graffiti that read F*** You Scrap 187 with a seventeen being crossed out. Scrap is a word used to insult the set we claimed. By crossing out the 17 is how the rivals disrespect your numbers.”

He was a former gang member. (OK, for some inexplicable reason WordPress has changed my font, and I don’t know how to change it back!) The fire, set by rivals, which came close to killing family members, had been targeted at him personally (17 was his gang number). At the moment he saw the words on the back of his gutted house, he realized how destructive his life style was. Now he is back in school, sitting quietly in the back of the class, taking notes, smiling shyly when I call on him to read. He tells me he read Monster by Walter Dean Myers, and that it changed his life. (It’s now on my list to read. I love to learn more about my students.)

Given where I live, his story is not uncommon. In the developmental classes, where I ask for more personal writing, I hear stories of gang membership, drive by shootings, initiation rituals. I’ve seen scars from bullet wounds, met the babies of young girls who left the gangs when they found out they were pregnant, read one paper that began, “Most people have firefighters or police officers as their heroes, and if that’s what their dads are, they’re proud. I was proud of my dad too, but he wasn’t a fire fighter. He was the leader of one of the biggest gangs in L.A., and I wanted to be just like him.”

Sometimes I see these students for one quarter, and then they disappear into other English classes, or they drop out, or they transfer. Sometimes I follow them as they pass through some or all of my classes, and watch them mature and change, and eventually graduate. When I read their stories, I feel privileged to know that I’ve been a small part of what gave them the courage and confidence to continue in the face of the odds that would have stopped many less determined people.