Let Students Show Us The Way

Francisco Sánchez, MPP
Adjunct Faculty Political Science

I will share an unusual experience I had with one of my Political Science students.  I’m dogmatic for certain academic aspects, like deadlines, respectful classroom dialogues, coming to class prepared, and when you ask a question show me what you did to seek an answer.

Along with being dogmatic, I also show and share a lot about my professional experiences in the field of government nationally and internationally.  My lectures are peppered with real life examples of exchanges with members of Congress, state legislatures, and foreign dignitaries to illustrate the subject or concepts we are trying to learn.  Thus attending class sessions is important to successfully completing the course.  I do not make attendance mandatory but do strongly recommend it and assign a single digit percent of the grade to participation.

Well, this particular student, we’ll call her Amy, was not present the first day.  She showed up the second week and spoke to me before class to introduce herself and apologize for missing the first class, due to a last-minute conflict.  The reason?  In addition to a full class load she was also the acting campaign manager for a state House member running for office in a district distant from the Lansing area.  The course met in the evenings and she promised to do her best to attend and keep up.  I approach each student and his or her situation uniquely and decided at that moment the proof would be in the pudding.  And although her work for discussion forums and exams were always submitted and taken on time, her attendance was almost non-existent.  For a non-attending student, however, her output was exceptional. Typically when students miss several classes I reach out but for some reason, with Amy I didn’t.  I somehow knew she would be fine.  Absences are something I would escalate within the College if I detect the student needs help beyond my reach.  But with Amy I didn’t.  And I took a gamble.  Her work assignments showed a mastery of the concepts far superior to her peers.  Wasn’t I needed?  Doesn’t she need my guidance through these esoteric concepts?  Am I doing my job?  But this is not an independent study course!  Something told me this situation was different.  Once I put my ego aside, my responses to her work took on another level.  It was as if I was talking to one of my academic peers; and that was enjoyable.

Amy’s academic work embedded her campaign experience with coursework.  It was like watching a flower being born and develop right before my eyes.  Perhaps subconsciously I adhered to LCC’s vision of “ensuring that all students successfully complete their educational goals while developing life skills necessary for them to enrich and support themselves, their families, and their community as engaged global citizens.”

Amy charted her own learning experience which by all academic accounts was excellent but also contributing to a larger cause.  She received the highest grade I’ve given in that course in 20 years.  At the end she once again apologized for not attending lectures and missing my field stories.  She also admitted she could’ve taken the course at a 4-year college but purposely chose LCC because the teachers understand students.  I’ve never been prouder of being a teacher listening to those words.  I will never forget this teaching moment in which I did most of the learning.  Sometimes we have to let students show us the way to achieve the goals we set for them.