Photo: courtesy of Danielle Soles
I began teaching English at our local community college as a gig, a little diversion from the monotony of the glass screen. Hours at the computer makes me feel like a social misfit. I figured that teaching a night class here and there would at least refresh my ability to talk.
I never expected to like it so much.
Community college is frontier territory. By and large, my students aren’t bright-eyed high school graduates who have been groomed since kindergarten for academic success. My students come to English Comp class at West Shore Community College after working gut-wrenching hours at McDonald’s or the local nursing home. They might be single parents who are back in school to make their children proud and to give them a good example. They might be laid off after decades at a menial job, or they might be aging laborers who can no longer handle the hours and the work.
Dual-enrolled high school juniors, who can earn college credit for free, might sit next to grandmothers, who pay reduced rates. Lately, vets from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are returning, some with physical or emotional wounds. They write about their experiences, and sometimes it seems like therapy.
“I don’t have to look any further than my classroom to see the power of community colleges to change lives,” writes Jill Biden, PhD. and wife of the vice president. She continues to teach at community college because, like me, she is inspired by her students.
What I discovered much too slowly is that these classes are less about the fine points of grammar and more about how to learn and how to communicate. And often I am there simply to crack open a door that might otherwise remain closed to these nontraditional students and to let them know they’re absolutely good enough to walk right in.
By Kate Convissor