As kids, we often heard little sayings from older people, like ‘A hard head makes a soft a$$’ or ‘I can show you better than I can tell you’ or ‘You don’t believe fat meat’s greasy!’ More often than not, we didn’t even understand them but we knew that we had done something wrong and were on the verge of getting in trouble. I remember a lot of things Granny said to us as kids and now that I am an adult and parent, most of them make perfectly good sense. I often think about the wisdom she imparted to me, in particular, because I am sharing a lot of those lessons with my own kids.
Today was a fairly quiet day at work, as we are into the third week of the semester. That means: no registration (late or otherwise), no explaining financial aid intricacies (even though we clearly are not the financial aid office), and very little advising. None of the drama I wrote about a few weeks ago. But something happened today that got my dander up (yet another one of those sayings). A student came into the office because she needed to complete an assignment for the college’s new College Skills class, akin to the Freshman Seminar or Intro to College course offered on other campuses. The mere fact that she needed help is not what bothered me, but rather the fact that I helped her with the EXACT SAME ISSUE last week! GUess what she needed help with??? Microsoft Word! No need to adjust your screen or grab your reading glasses (for my over 30 crowd)…you read that correctly. And she is younger than I am. I can’t blame Smartphones, cell phones, the boogeyman, or Mr. Charlie. She is responsible for this deficiency. I have an almost-8 year old who has been a master at PAINT since she was about 4. I can’t even use that damn program. I can’t blame lack of access to computers either because they are available in the public libraries. And the reality is that she is not the only student who lacks basic computer skills.
But here’s the real reason(s) I am pissed:
1. She’s a young, Black woman
2. She has a child
3. She has a cell phone (much nicer than my pay-as-you-go)
4. She has hair the color of Wendy from Wendy’s
5. I ALREADY HELPED HER WITH THAT LAST WEEK!
Somewhere along the way she, and many other young women, have been complimented on their beauty, booty, or a combination of the two. And somewhere along the way she, and those countless others, came to the realization that they didn’t need to be ‘smart’ (or have common sense for that matter) because they were cute. Sure enough, as I am sitting there steaming and biting the hell out of my tongue, my late grandmother’s voice resonated in my head: “I’d rather be smart than pretty any day.” As a little girl I didn’t understand why she said this, but it always stuck with me. Brains last forever but beauty fades…I get it, I get it. She pretty much ‘programmed’ me to excel academically because she knew that it would take brains to succeed in this world. No, I did not know that as a kid but hearing her say that repeatedly, had an impact. So I struggled to remain professional while working with this young lady even though something or someone inside of me was yearning to take her and shake the hell out of her. Yes, that’s the level of irritation/ire I felt. But I have no desire to go to jail so I opted to sit and think about how I could express my feelings in this post.
I started doubting whether I could actually do anything for some of the students. Am I too hard on them? Is expecting them to come to school, i.e. a college campus, with their pants pulled-up, breasts covered, sans midriff tops or anything exposing their chest tattoos and stomachs too much to ask? Am I expecting to much for them to understand what it means to be a college student? Or that people died fighting for their right to be able to step foot on any college campus? When a student comes to me and says that s/he doesn’t know why an instructor dropped him/her from a class do I really have to ask if they have been to every class? Are or should the expectations at a technical college be lower than a 2-year or 4-year college or university? Here lately I kinda feel like I went into this thing blind. I mean, I expected to ‘advise’ these students on being successful in college but I often feel as though everyone around me has been bitten by the ‘This is how it’s been because people don’t like change and all you can do is advise them to the best of your ability’ bug. Some days I feel like I am still in K-12, or working for people from the same family. Apathy is both contagious and potentially deadly, depending upon the situation/environment.
I don’t know…maybe my boss was right: Maybe I do take things too seriously. After all, we can’t all be on time for work, care about the quality of service we provide to students, or advise them correctly right? Or maybe I am in this environment to learn a lesson (or two). I do know this: I am beyond making excuses for people. I, too, was a first generation college student. With regard to getting ‘homework help’ in high school, I was pretty much on my own, as I am sure a lot of people were. I am not knocking my family in any way but rather demonstrating that, at some point, we have to take ownership for our learning. Stop the excuses. Stop the ignorance. Stop the finger-pointing. Or at the least, pray that someone will intervene on our behalf and either show us the way, give us a stern talking-to or shake the hell out of us.
I will end this rant-gone-awry with this message, from one glasses wearing, book-reading, violin-toting, late bloomer to all the kids experiencing the same thing: It gets better. You’ll get smarter. You’ll outgrow your awkwardness. Even if you don’t, remember what my Granny said: “I’d rather be smart than pretty any day.”