Archive for the ‘Higher Education’ Category
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.”
‘I am done with school….I don’t need to learn anything else!’ That is what I have said time-and-time again when asked ‘What do you plan to do next? Ph.D.?’ I can’t even lie: I love learning. My problem is that opportunities to utilize (most of) the things I have learned are scarce, unless of course I belong to the ‘right’ sorority, church, etc. So whenever I have conversations with people about what I know about education, leadership, curriculum, etc. they look amazed and ask, ‘Why aren’t you in a classroom?’ Rather than give them the entire story about the drama with that school system, I just say: ‘I got tired of the politics.’
Lately I’ve gotten a bit nostalgic about the time I spent in the classroom. Yes, even the memories of the ‘problem’ students can still make me smile or literally laugh-out-loud on most days. But even more than that, I am thinking about going back to school to sort of re-invent myself. Actually, I will be going back to school next week. Not another grad program, but instead I will be enrolled in the E-Learning Design & Development Specialist certificate program at one of Georgia’s technical colleges. And I am really excited! I get to learn something new (for free) and I am not required to sit in a class and listen to someone lecture (zzzzzzzzzz). BONUS: Did I mention it was free? Yep, thanks to the Georgia HOPE Grant (and people like myself who buy lottery tickets hoping to win $300 million dollars) I get to take two of the classes for free. Had it not been for Governor Nathan Deal’s new legislation, I would get to complete the entire program for free but I can’t complain…
The enthusiasm I have for working with first-generation college students, helping them choose a career path, encouraging them to think beyond the certificate/diploma/degree and most importantly, stressing that learning should never stop, has motivated me to add another dimension to my professional repertoire. I will admit that I knew very little about technical education before I started working as an Academic Advisor. My definition of technical education was limited to references about cars, heating, air conditioning, and computer stuff; however, the past 4 months on the job have completely broadened my definition and given me a new-found respect for technical colleges and the programs they offer. More importantly, I know that students really do learn in technical colleges and the instructors really teach. Students must work to earn their certificates, diplomas, and/or degrees. In fact, our college provides a guarantee to prospective employers that offers free (my most favoritest word) training to any graduate of our college who may lack all the required skills. Wow. How many 4-year colleges and universities do that? I can sure think of some folks who need to go back for basic training in the areas of speaking and writing, but that’s a different post altogether.
As April 5th nears, my excitement builds and I have yet another example to share with students why learning must never stop.
Yesterday was a pretty busy day at work. We are nearing the end of Winter Quarter and a lot of people are applying and registering to start school in the Spring. I know I advised almost thirty students in the 6 hours that I worked, and that’s not including those I helped with course registration. During the lulls I checked email, input some notes into our advising software system, and checked-in on Twitter to see what everyone else was doing. As I worked away at the computer (y’all know that’s a lie, right?) a male student entered the office.
Me: Hi, how are you today?
Him: I’m good.
Me: Could you sign-in please? (He signs in and I continue talking to him, even though I am across the room.) Are you a new student?
Him: Yes ma’am.
Me: Ok. Just have a seat and I will be right with you.
He never sits down, not even when I started filling out his advisement sheet. His standing didn’t bother me because I am used to working with students who actually work better when they are allowed to move around. But I knew there was something more to his story. I asked him to come and have a seat next to me so that we could discuss his (very, very high) test scores and the program of study he chose (Automotive). Although he is pursuing the Diploma, I told him he should consider pursuing the Associates Degree because he performed so well on the skills tests. (NOTE: The whole time I that I talked with him, he was moving around, seemingly nervously. Again, it didn’t bother me but I knew there was something to it.)
After I explained the courses that were available and the times, we moved to a computer so that I could show him how to register for his classes. We’re searching the system and when he notices the class times, he tells me:
Him: I may not be able to do this one because I am taking another class at that time.
Me: Oh! When does your class end?
Him: Whenever they say I am finished.
Me: (A little confused) Oh not the time, the date? The Spring Quarter doesn’t start until April 2nd.
Him: No see, I am in like a half-way house type of program. I have to take drug counseling classes. I can talk to my counselor and see if she will let me change my schedule around.
Me: Ok. We can still register you today, then you can take her a copy of your schedule so she can see it. If you aren’t able to work around it just come back and we will find you some classes in the evening.
As we continued the registration process, we engaged in more not-so-small talk. I asked him where he graduated from high school because he told me he once taught in the G.E.D. program. He told me that he dropped-out of high school and received his G.E.D. from a different technical college. So this whole time we’re chatting, I’m thinking: This kid (younger than 20) doesn’t even know me, yet he felt compelled to tell me all of his business. Hmmm. Now I wonder what it is about him that made him feel he needed to share all of that? I wonder what it is about me that made him feel had to tell me all of that?
I asked myself these same questions last week when another male student came in for advisement. This particular young man made sure I knew he was a convicted felon. Not sure why, but he did. I guess since he doesn’t really know me, he doesn’t know that I taught my students ‘Labels don’t matter.’ Upon leaving prison, do they tell inmates: ‘From now on, when you introduce yourselves to people, make sure you tell them you are a convicted felon?’ By no means am I saying that anyone should be embarrased by or ashamed of their past, but it is called a ‘past’ for a reason. In other words: DO NOT bring it into your future unless it is absolutely necessary. Perhaps I should start grabbing those young men, both Black and White, and saying to them:
‘You walked in that door because you have a hunger for something. Once you cross the threshold, nothing else matters to me. It certainly should not matter to you or anyone else. You <fill-in-the-blank> but that is something you did, not who you are. The system had you in a stifling classroom, then a jail cell. Don’t let them put you in (another) box now that you are on the outside.’
Or, the easier thing would be to tell them about all the illegal s*&% my family members have done (mostly before I was born). They probably wouldn’t believe me. Hell, I still giggle when I think about it. But I always made sure my students knew that I was human, and therefore, susceptible to some of the same familial dysfunction, temptation, etc. as themselves. I think that’s where many of us (parents, teachers, etc.) fall short: We forget that we are human and have made mistakes instead of using our mistakes to help and guide those who are lost.
I know one thing for sure: I am learning more from these students than they are learning from me. But they probably wouldn’t believe that either.
Dedication. Perseverance. Tenacity. Drive. Determination. Stong-willed. Driven. Call it what you will, but when I see people who come to this country, with little to no English-speaking skills, fleeing their war-torn countries, armed with all of those afore-mentioned characteristics and then some, I cannot help but be inspired. Who wouldn’t? But here’s what I do not understand: Why don’t I see more American-born Blacks with that same fire? Our African ancestors (yes, we do have direct ties to Africa-I know some choose to forget or deny them) were beaten for the simple act of learning to read. They were not allowed to attend school. Yes, a few were but by-and-large the majority of them did not have that opportunity.
A female student came into the office yesterday. She explained that she completed her G.E.D. classes and has a diploma from her country as well; she was eager to start taking classes at the technical college. There were a few minor hiccups in getting her enrolled, but not once did she sigh, roll her eyes, complain, or stomp off in a huff. I had to send her to two different offices before she could actually register. I will admit that I would have been a little peeved myself, but not her. When she returned, I explained to her that she would need to complete some Adult Education classes but we could register her for one Math class. Again, no complaints. In her mind, she was one step closer to getting an (American) education. The thing that many of us take for granted. A thing many more of us do not consider. We have become too complacent. No, a college education does not guarantee a cushy job or financial security, but too many of us are still living in the cities/towns in which we were born. A larger number of us have never traveled outside the state where we were born. Who knows how many of us have actually traveled abroad? And we harbor too many stereotypes of (non-U.S. born) people because we limit our education to what they feed us on the idiot box. *Gi-normous sigh*
I do know this much is true: With everything that has occurred in her country, she still earned her high school diploma. And she carried that piece of paper around with her as though it is worth $1 million dollars. To her, it probably is. She has been on my mind since yesterday. I do not know my next move. I still struggle trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow-up. But her spirit is contagious; it reminded me to appreciate my education, not so much for the act of getting it but moreso for the fact that I was able to get it. The opportunity was there; I took it and ran.
Fleeing a war-torn country, she managed to grab that piece of paper before she left. What will you ‘grab’ before you leave?
That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight, I’m
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try
‘Losing My Religion’ – R.E.M.
I can’t explain what’s been going on with me lately. I haven’t written
as much as I did in the past or as much as I promised I would shit in weeks or months. I don’t know; I haven’t bothered to check the date on the last entry. It’s not that I don’t have anything on my mind. In fact, the contrary is true: I have a lot on my mind because there is a lot going on. I even started writing blog titles and notes in my little composition book. Yeah, that’s the teacher-in-me. But the passion/spark/fire is gone. Or as B.B. King would say: ‘The thrill is gone baby/It’s gone away from me.’ I guess I am just tired because I feel as though I am saying the same things over and over again. And no one is listening, or they just don’t give a damn. Maybe it’s the fact that I am one of millions of parents who feels both voiceless and powerless in this freakshow they call education reform. And by they, I clearly mean the people who don’t know shit about what it takes to teach a class of 15-30 students, where they all have different learning needs/styles and come from different backgrounds (READ: They got stuff going on to which educrats will never be able to relate). Add to that the fact that teachers are no longer teaching for the love of the profession, but because they are scared shitless of some bureaucrat taking away their collective bargaining rights (if they had them to begin with) or harrassing the hell out of them for no other reason than, well, they don’t have shit else to do (because they can’t effectively do anything else). Let’s also throw in the fact that teachers, the people who spend years in training, are being scape-goated for everything that is wrong with education even though they DO NOT make any decisions regarding curriculum, school day/calendar, etc. That’s akin to blaming a patient who dies on the operating table for a mistake made during surgery. That makes sense. I won’t even start on the perceived powerlessness of parents. I will save that for another day because while we are all enthralled by the revolutions in other countries, we are not yet ready to start our own.
Yeah. Like Kelly Price, ‘I’m Tried.’ And I have lost the respect I once had for some of those on the front lines of education. If it takes bashing single parents, kids, and dedicated teachers to sell books, make movies, and get a segment on CNN, then I guess I will continue to get my black ass out of bed every morning and be like the rest of the working stiffs. At least I will be able to look at myself in the mirror everyday and actually like what I see.
In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions on how to best recharge my mojo, I am open for suggestions.
So I am sitting here, at the computer, with nothing to do (unless I count Tweeting as ‘something’). Yes, I am at work but this is an unusually slow day. As a matter of fact, the past few weeks have been pretty slow. Our ‘peek’ times fall around registration and orientation days. When I am bored, my mind begins to wander….
‘What am I supposed to be doing?’
‘Am I in the right place?’
‘Am I better suited for a K-12 classroom?’
‘Why do I feel like I am not making a contribution?’
*Sigh* I feel a little guilty for having these thoughts, especially since I’m an Academic Advisor at a technical college. After all, students come to me (us) with questions regarding course selection, career choices, etc. How in the heck can I (correctly) advise someone on a career choice when I don’t even know what I want to do???
I guess I just have to take comfort in knowing that sometimes the blind leading the blind just works. Especially when they smile, say ‘Thank you so much!’ and come back to see me.
If you didn’t already know, I started my new job as an Academic Advisor at a technical college here in Georgia. I am very excited about this opportunity but also a little overwhelmed/nervous and some other stuff. You see, when I was teaching in the K-12 setting, I had the opportunity to see students everyday and discuss their post-graduation plans with them. I even helped some of my students research colleges, prepare for the SAT, etc. But this advising position is different. Every new student who enrolls in the college comes to our office first. We review their test scores with them and go over the requirements for the program they plan to pursue. After we do the initial advisement, we help them register for classes, and they speak with their Program Advisors for future questions. I am still a little uneasy about sending so many newbies on their way, but I have been assured that many of them will come back to see us!
Almost every student I met over a 2-day period planned to pursue either a certificate or diploma at the college; very few set their sights on an Associates degree. During our advisor training, we were encouraged to ‘advise up,’ meaning, talk to the students about the benefits of pursuing the degree. In most cases, the degree is only a few credit hours more than the diploma program so it’s in the students’ best interests to pursue that route instead. An added bonus is the fact that any student who enrolls in the college can get almost an entire program paid for by the state of Georgia. Yep, the education is FREE. No strings, special terms, conditions, or fine print. All they have to do is enroll, attend class, and maintain passing grades and the state will pick-up the tab. See, now I won’t feel guilty about buying that $1 Mega Million or PowerBall ticket because our state’s lottery system funds the Georgia HOPE Grant, which pays the tuition at all technical colleges throughout the state. Can you believe that? This program sounds so good that I may try to add-on some type of training outside of education…
Here’s the interesting part: The looks on the students’ faces when we encourage them to consider pursuing the Associate degree. Most of them will say, ‘I’ve been out of school too long,’ or ‘I didn’t do well in school so I don’t know.’ I even had one ask me, ‘Do you really think I should do that?’ after I praised his extremely high test scores and told him that he should consider the LPN program, as he only wanted to earn the certificate in the phlebotomy program. I am amazed that something as simple as encouraging, guiding, and counseling someone is not done more often. Instead of thinking about ‘What ifs’ I know I need to approach every situation with the ‘There is no time like the present’ attitude instead. After all, despite being an average student in high school or dropping out and later earning a G.E.D., the fact that many students decided (on their own) to further their education is definitely a step in the right direction!