Why we do what we do
Originally posted September 7, 2020
Working education at times is less than ideal. As a teacher, particular a secondary or elementary teacher, you can often find yourself spending your own money for materials. Feeling helpless at times about the living situations that your students are in at times. You don’t get a ton of public respect, you are often viewed as not much more than babysitters, but illogically, after claiming that, people are also down on you for not making their children geniuses. You personally get painted with all of the failings that exist in our school systems while you spend your own money, your own hours and much of yourself trying to move your students forward in life.
It doesn’t get much better at the college level. College professors are often viewed as not working very hard, accused of living in ivory towers or being eggheads. The single most frequent quote about teachers is those who can do, those who can’t teach. So it’s not like respect and appreciation are overflowing for college professors.
Administrators may have it worst of all. At best, both within and without of education we are seen an impediment to education. For teachers who become administrators, almost all administrators were former teachers, you get accused of going over to the dark side for making the switch to administration. I can’t even count the times I’ve heard faculty members or the public complain about how the reason that education is so underfunded is because all of the money goes to pay for too many high paid administrators who do nothing instead of student resources or faculty pay.
At every level in education regardless of position you deal with lots of training requirements and rules. We are all mandatory reporters. There is no one who has worked in education for very long who can’t tell you heart breaking stories of students they have worked with and tried to help. Myself, over my career I’ve lost students back to many bad living situations, one I think of often who had to drop out of school to join the family drug business. I’ve had situations where students have told me about abuse, reported incidences of rape and violence. I’ve taken students to their first AA meeting. Education honestly, is not for the faint of heart.
So why do we do it? It’s a pretty easy answer. There may be nothing more satisfying in a job then watching that light bulb moment in a classroom. That incredibly special moment when a student who has been struggling with a concept suddenly puts it all together and their face lights up with understanding and knowledge. There are so many small moments when a student tells you you’ve helped them learn, change or grow. So amazing when they come back years later and tell you how much you meant to them and their lives.
One of the hard things about becoming an administrator is that as you take a step further away from students, you lose a lot of that contact and that payoff for the work that you do. Now people will tell you that you have to look at things differently, that the work you do supports all of the teachers and therefore you share in all of the rewards. That’s technically accurate, but I’m not quite mature enough for that to count. It’s just not the same as having students come back and thank you. Don’t get me wrong, it still happens, not as often but it does, and it happened this week.
I went into one of the few on ground classes that we still have during COVID times to do my beginning of the semester chat with the students. After the presentation I was leaving and a student followed me out of the class. At first I didn’t recognize him due to the mask, but he quickly reminded of who he was. He was a student who came to me last year. He was in a tough place, he’d moved to the west coast and was far away from his family. His niece back east had just been killed. He was struggling with staying here and now he was dealing with an issue with one of his instructors who he felt was treating him disrespectfully. I listened to him and set a meeting for the three of us. It was a good meeting, the student was honest, the instructor listened and seemed open to what was being said. I never heard anything, which typically means things had mitigated enough for things to work. But the student told me it had been more than that. My instructor had done a phenomenal job of listening and changing his behavior. The student due to that, decided to stick things out and made it through the semester.
Since then he’s completed his associates degree, and will be moving on to an engineering program. He told me today that he had decided to stay here, “where his opportunity was,” instead of heading back east because of how we had treated him. He told me with incredibly sincerity that he thought I had done a magnificent job dealing with the issue, that his instructor had been amazing. He thanked me and told me, that we likely saved his life. The in violation of all the COVID rules I’d just finished discussing, he hugged me. I laughed and told him we weren’t supposed to do that, but I understood, sometimes humanity is more important than safety.
This is why we do this, moments like this, but more than that, to actually have this type of impact in someone’s life is an honor and a privilege.
This also hit close to home, Columbia-Greene Community College lives on a short list of the things that I consider to have similarly saved my life when I crashed and burned as a young man. At the point in my life when I was an addict, an alcoholic and a failure, at a time when I was wallowing in what was likely a clinical level of depression. The registrar, I believe her name was Barbara, bent the rules and allowed me to be a student in the fall of 1984. It was my first success, my first step to the life I have today. So I work in community college to pay that debt forward, this week I got some confirmation I’m doing just that, and that’s why I do what I do. ~ Michael “Rev” Kane