Our job as faculty members at a community college is to help provide opportunities for all students to learn and prepare for careers. Part of providing those opportunities is listening to students and doing what we can to help them succeed. Often, we learn from our students.
A student, who I will refer to as Sally is a prime example of this. Sally was a good student in my accounting principles class who earned good grades, however she was not always in class. When I asked her to meet with me, she explained she had been that she had been going to the hospital for treatment during her absence. Sally asked me if I would excuse her absences and I agreed to excuse her. Later, she confided that she had terminal cancer, yet still wanted to finish her degree. When she was not in class it was because she was having chemo-therapy.
Sally never complained about her situation and other students in the class were not aware of her illness. Sally was always very pleasant and smiling, even when I knew that she was in a lot of pain. She actively participated in class and was never late with a single homework assignment. Sally stayed after class so that we could discuss what she missed when absent. When I discussed the possibility of accommodation with her, she was not at all interested in seeking ADA accommodation.
Unfortunately, Sally’s story did not have a happy ending. She earned a great grade in my class, but she was not able to complete her degree before she died. All of the faculty that came into contact with her will always remember her courage and persistence.
Part of her legacy is the impact that she had on faculty members. I will always be thankful for having her in class and getting to know her. She showed a lot of courage, more than I think I would have in the same circumstances. I have always tried to help students and be empathetic. However, when students miss my classes, I am reminded of Sally. We do not always know what students are experiencing and need to focus on helping them when we can. She provided an excellent example of why we need to listen to students, rather than assuming education is not a priority for them. She is a reminder of the importance of connecting with our students and trying to understand how we can help them.