Charley

Lisa Whiting Dobson
Digital Media, Audio & Cinema

In over twenty years of teaching, it is hard to choose just one student as my inspiration. There have been so many. In my classes, I have worked with very young students who are dual enrolled in high school; honors students looking for a challenging educational environment; older students who are looking for a retirement occupation or hobby; and mid-career students who are looking for a fresh start. There are students who have overcome incredible health obstacles such as congenital challenges, recovery from accidents, illnesses, and addictions; and those that are managing current chronic conditions such as severe diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, sickle cell anemia, cancer, severe anxiety, and depression. I have taught students with all of these challenges and more at Lansing Community College, and have been allowed to teach with compassion so that if a student has a flare up, regression, or challenge, I can continue to shape my class to work for them. Then there are students who are recovering from abusive childhoods, bitter divorces, incarceration, sexual assault, or the death of a parent, child, or other loved one. Every one of these students holds a place in my memory and my heart.

There is one student in particular that I remember. Charley was a student who was born with physical challenges and was mobile with a walker. He shared with me that he had been bullied through school, and felt like an outcast. Charley had developed a forceful personality. In class discussions, he often took the most unpopular view of whatever issue we were discussing. The field he was studying was not one that he would be able to pursue easily, but that did not stop him. Charley loved firefighters, and spent time hanging out with them in the station. He often called me Chief, and would come into class early or stay late to talk a bit. I admired Charley for his strength. I understood that his whole life had been a battle of sorts, and he behaved as if he was going to have to battle everywhere. I was glad that with me, he didn’t feel he had to. One day after Charley had taken my classes and graduated, I read in the paper that Charley had died. I wrote a letter to his family to share the beauty I saw in Charley and to send my condolences. I received a letter back from Charley’s mother. It seems that an illness that others may have been able to kick was too much for Charley’s fragile immune system. His mother shared that Charley talked about me, loved my classes, and she was so thankful for my belief in and support of her son. I grieved for Charley, and his family. It meant a lot to me that my class was a good experience for Charley in a sea of struggles. I decided a long time ago that is who I wanted to be as an educator. I always remember that the students sitting in front of me are people with talents and beauty, that is it my honor to recognize and develop. I need to assess each student objectively so I can be a help to them, but also look deeper to see what might not be apparent at first glance. It is my job to educate, encourage, and inspire students.

The point is that teaching at a community college allows me to meet students where they are, share in their healing, share in their dreams, and most of all, create a community of learning, compassion, and care that sees the value in each person and allows them to start here and end up better for interacting with us.