Determined to Learn

Cynthia Thomas, Ph.D.
Adjunct Associate Professor, Speech Communication

I noticed the stare. Her eyes followed me intently from the right of the room, to the lectern, the black board, and back to the front of the room. She continued locking looks from the top of my hair, even down to the movement of my fingers. I felt the look, even when I wasn’t looking. This wasn’t any old type of stare. There seemed to be a mission, a directed purpose of the sort.

This was her moment—not mine. It was her time, and she was taking it. Her mission was soon revealed—she was my adult learner. Ms., I will call her, was sassy, about five feet one, a perseverer with a bark as big as the room. She was no stranger to stumbling blocks, “can nots,” “should nots,” and “don’ts.” She made no secret, that she needed help—and lots of it, a theme she echoed for four weeks straight. She wanted patience and understanding.

Soon, Ms. taught everyone what persevering really meant. Her disadvantages became a roaring power for herself, the class—and for me. Ms. had no class book. Funding was limited and other days, plain absent. That didn’t stop her. Neither did lack of transportation. She spent hours in the library soaking in knowledge from the course reserve textbook, school knowledge absent from a mind that hadn’t made its way back there for decades. She wanted to be taught even though the world might have forgotten her existence—a student hungry for affirmation. She was planning to learn, even if there was no one there to teach her.

There was something different about this learner. She was not a typical student straight out of high school. She was not tolerant of anything and anybody who got in her way, even when she didn’t feel her best. When she finally learned something new, she was her own cheerleader, who jumped for joy, clapped, and shouted her own “YEAH!” Her desperation to learn was an everyday symbolism of what the power of desperation can do. She showed for class early. She became the teacher, the source of information for others who missed the point. She shouted answers to critical thinking questions. Her paraphrasing of the lessons became insight for others, not just in class—outside of it, too. Ms. was often spotted talking to students, but it wasn’t everyday talk. Ms. was giving lessons to those who missed the point. I almost felt my work was done, thanks to Ms. It wasn’t long before she became my hero. Persevering was something she had to do, it was something I knew she could do—something she knew she had no other choice to do. If not her, who would do this for her?