I See you, my Dear Community College student

I See you, my Dear Community College student

Teaching at a Community College

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years. I like to joke that I’m filling out my teaching Bingo card; I’ve taught middle school, high school, preschool, professional development, and modeling (WERK!). Now I’m so fortunate to have my dream job, teaching English, primarily writing courses, at a community college I once attended as a student.

Community colleges are the under appreciated workhouses of higher ed, offering academic degree programs, vocational training, and non-credit courses–all open to the community at excellent financial value. Many have innovative programs and special resources to support working parents, veterans, students of color, and more. Faculty and staff focus on student success rather than research and class sizes are much smaller than most 4 year institutions. Like Rodney Dangerfield’s old schtick, community colleges often don’t get the respect they deserve.
Rodney Dangerfield don't get no respect

Community colleges too, Rodney, community colleges too. (Image: Tenor)

Community College Students

Every semester, I’m touched by my students and their determination despite the wealth of challenges they face. My students may be the first in their families to attend college, not be native speakers of English, have physical or learning disabilities, and be fighting homelessness or food insecurity. Despite this, they are determined to pursue an education. Community college students are diverse and simply amazing!

community colleges are awesome

Why are community colleges awesome? Check out the data. (Image: AACC)

Last semester was no different with students who had shared their life stories and personal challenges with their classmates and me. Some were really struggling to be successful and many were feeling the weight of their myriad life responsibilities. It was just about mid-semester, a time when students’ stress levels and workloads are intense (Full disclosure: faculty too!).

stack-of-papers

Those essays to grade just keep stacking up! (Image: Bitter Gertrude)

The Letter I Had to Write

One afternoon, though I was working on a long to do list and grading an enormous stack of papers, I felt a strong urge that I couldn’t dismiss to write my students a letter. I just felt that I had to write that letter at that moment, not when it was more convenient. So I put down the purple pen I use for grading and opened my laptop. I had no idea what I would write, only that I needed to write them a letter. This is what showed up:

My Dear Community College Student,

It’s almost midterms and you are at a critical point in the semester. Your workload is piling up and you might be feeling the weight from my class as well as your other classes. You might be feeling tired and discouraged. You might be stressed out. You might be fighting that sniffle and sneeze that seems to be going around right now. You might be wondering if you’ll pass my class, your other classes, any class, and how in the world you’ll ever make it to the end of the semester. You might even be wondering if you made a mistake–if college is for you; if you should have taken that job or maybe enlisted instead.

I just want to say that I, your professor, see you. I see you hustling and grinding. I see you, fighting those old ghosts that whisper in your ear that you’re not good enough. I see you, coming to class without breakfast cause you just don’t have the energy, the time, or the money. I see you, coming in late or leaving early cause your boss doesn’t support your education and you still need to pay your bills. I see you, parents, with circles under your eyes cause your kid is sick and you had to stay up with them and get your homework done anyway. I see you, veteran, bravely turning a new page in your life, forging ahead despite the pressure and the shadows of your past. I see you, fresh out of high school and without a clue, looking for answers and direction and motivation. I see you, adults coming back to school, dusting off old skills in pursuit of new dreams. I see you, homeschooled student, maybe in a classroom for the first time in a long time or even ever, figuring out this new system. I see you, student with disabilities, doubling down because you have to work harder to be just as good as others. I see you, student with anxiety, with depression, with PTSD, with other mental health issues, working through your challenges, with or without support from professionals, medication, or your family. I see you, students taking care of family: maybe others’ children, maybe aging or ill or without someone else available to help them. I see you, I see all of you, and I am inspired by you, your determination, your bravery, and your hard work.

I believe in you and I believe you can be successful. I am here to support you in your journey. I know that what you learn and experience here will transform you and everyone around you in positive ways. You will innovate, you will collaborate, you will think divergently, critically, and creatively, and you will make our community, our nation, and our world better by attaining an education.

So, if you find your courage, your confidence, or your energy faltering, know that you have at least one person in your life that sees you and believes in you. I know you can do it and I believe in your dreams too. I too was once a community college student that dared to dream.

Professor Rai

I cried as I wrote that letter, full of respect and love for my students. I cried again as I read it aloud to my classes. I posted it on social media and heard from many people that they would be sharing the letter with college students in their own lives who felt a little lost and overwhelmed.

my dear community college student

I love my students. (Image: Inside Higher Ed)

I felt that my students deserved to be seen and affirmed and I felt that this connection honored the legacy of my teaching mentor, Vernon Turner. My students were touched and appreciative and I’m so glad I listened to that small voice within me that insisted I write that letter at that moment.

 

Don’t Give Up on Your Dreams

My hope is that every student, no matter their age, background, or reasons for seeking an education, can find someone who believes in them and never gives up on them, someone who can connect with the best in them, and inspire them to dream big and work hard.

When we help others to develop their potential and get an education, individuals benefit, families benefit, communities benefit, and humanity benefits. May we all find someone who can be our light when life gets dark and who also shows us the beauty and strength of the light within us. Education is a powerful tool of illumination.

So dear community college student, I know you can do it. Don’t give up on your dreams.

 

Frederick Community College students graduating. (Images: Frederick News Post and Frederick Community College)

Thank you for reading my post about reaching out to and supporting community college students. Have you, family, or friends attended community college? Share your experiences in the comments.

 

 

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An Important Note: This post is dedicated to my dear Aunt Ruth who passed away in February 2019. She had read and was touched by my letter and wanted me to put it up on my blog. I promised her that I would and this post fulfills that promise to her. I’ll always love you, Aunt Ruth.  Love, Christine Ruth


Christine Rai

Christine Rai is a college professor in the Washington, D.C. area with a passion for food studies and experiential learning. She loves learning more in her kitchen, garden, and travels. Above all, Christine enjoys sharing adventures with her husband and two daughters. Christine is available for speaking, teaching, speaking, and leading travel experiences. Fill out the contact form to get in touch.

9 Comments

Gohar · March 28, 2019 at 8:29 am

Christine,
Your letter reminded me again caring faculty and staff like you is the reason why I am attach to this unappreciated higher education’s gem.
Beautiful letter.
Gohar

    Christine Rai · March 28, 2019 at 8:33 am

    Thank you, Gohar. I agree, gem is a good way to describe it!

    Christine Rai · April 22, 2019 at 11:08 am

    Thank you so much, Gohar. ❤️

Melanie · March 27, 2019 at 8:17 pm

Never imagined I’d meet a light like you…

as always, thank you.

— Melanie, aka “The 40 Year Old Freshman “

ps graduation rehearsal is also my 43rd bday… I’m walking for my girls : )

    Christine Rai · March 28, 2019 at 8:32 am

    Melanie, I’m so excited for and proud of you! What a cool example you’re setting for your girls. ❤️

    Christine Rai · April 22, 2019 at 11:09 am

    You are so welcome! ❤️

Ron Orban · March 27, 2019 at 6:38 pm

OMG, wow I felt as if you were talking directly to me. What a beautiful letter, and thank you for writing it. You are truly a special person and my favorite professor I will always feel honored that I was able to have you for 2 semesters. May 23rd here I come walking down the aisle to pick up my degree. Amen Thank you again professor

    Christine Rai · March 27, 2019 at 6:58 pm

    Thanks so much, Ron. I am so proud of you and know you will go on to do amazing things to make this world a better place. Big congrats to you!

    Christine Rai · April 22, 2019 at 11:09 am

    Thanks so much, Ron. Congrats on your upcoming graduation! ❤️

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