Adjunct Instructor, Center for Transitional Learning
As the years go by, teachers meet many students. Some of these students do not believe they belong in higher education. I recently met one of those students. The enthusiasm she showed at the beginning of the semester turned into despair and drudgery.
I tried to encouraged her to not give up on the class. I wrote paragraphs of feedback on her compositions, focusing on positive aspects. I avoided right and wrong in favor of how she could improve certain areas. I greeted her everyday and tried to include her in class discussion. Yet, I was losing her. Absences began to increase and assignment deadlines were missed. When she did turn in her assignments, they felt incomplete and lacking any voice. It was as if she had removed the author from the writing.
The patterned continued past the mid-term. It was obvious she was now heading for failure. I finally cornered her and asked if anything was wrong. What started as a non-answer brush-off, became a confession. She did not want to be in school. She had a full-time job she enjoyed. She felt she was being forced by her mother to be here and she was miserable.
I told her it was OK. She did not have to be in school. LCC will always be here and she could come back anytime. I told her she could learn much in the workforce, but one day she will realize an education is necessary to reach a higher position. I told her it was OK if she wanted to leave school, but she could not burn a bridge while she did it: “Everything you start, you must finish.” She needed to finish the semester with decent grades. While school will always be here for here when she is ready, so will these grades.
I never saw her again after she walked away. I did, however, see every missing assignment and a complete portfolio. While the work still lacked a unique identity, I could see the return of the writer’s voice. I am pretty sure she did not return to school, but I know she will one day. The ability to become a lifelong learner has been cemented into her character.
by Rob Halgren
Adjunct Instructor, Biology
I’ve been moved by many students over the years, but today I choose the most recent. Last week, a student approached me after class. He is doing well, although he has been one of the quiet ones. We had been talking about how some pharmaceutical drugs work during class and he had a question. “In my home country my mother would give us plants if we were sick. How does that relate to western medicine?” I replied “Home country?”, hoping to draw him out, and learned that he is from a very rural part of an impoverished country (Sudan) where conflict is constant. Forget computers;they didn’t even have electricity. He came to Lansing 12 years ago, speaking absolutely no English, and has been taking courses at LCC, non-stop, since he arrived. Today, although it is obvious that he is foreign born, he fits in perfectly. His spoken English is excellent, his writing is better than many native speakers, and I can see that he has formed friendships with the students he sits near in class. He has integrated into our culture in an amazing way. What we do at LCC combined with his own remarkable dedication have given this young man an excellent chance at success in the most powerful nation on earth. However, although this should inspire his current and previous instructors, this isn’t why I’ve chosen him.
Now for the real reason. His first question to me was one I could answer. Indeed, much of our ‘western’ medicine comes from those very same plants his mother would have given to him when he was sick. There is an entire discipline in biology devoted to this, ethnopharmacology, which has always interested me. I could instantly tell that this was the moment that he connected what we were learning in class to ‘the real world’. Today, one week later, I saw the results. My formerly quiet and reserved student asked two questions during class. Insightful questions of the type I want to get, but almost never hear, showing that he was thinking about the material at a deep level. This gives me true hope. The small things that I do can make a difference. Have I inspired the next great ethnopharmacologist? Maybe. But I know I’ve imparted a skill that is almost impossible to teach, and I have renewed faith that I can do it again.
by Brian Nelson
Assistant Professor, Computer Information Technologies
It was in the late ’90s when I first encountered Kent. He was a student in my fall Linear Applications 1 class. He was just another kid sitting in the back of the classroom sporting the long hair, T-shirt, jeans and grubby tennis shoes ‘look’ that was so prevalent back then. A colleague of mine, Don, remarked about seeing Kent in my class. Don wondered how Kent was doing since when he taught Kent a couple of years back in the high school electronics program, “He was nothing but a screw-off,” Don said. I told Don that surprised me a little since Kent had yet to show any signs of being one.
Kent attended every class and was starting to ask questions during lecture. He nearly aced the midterm. By the end of the semester, he had become one of the best students in the class. His lab reports were exceptional, and when he handed in his final I was interested to see how he fared–again he came close to perfection. The next time I saw Don I reported this to him to which he remarked, “Anything’s possible I guess.”
Christmas break came and went and when Linear Applications 2 began there was Kent with a calculus book! At some point, I asked him about it and he explained that he was taking a Pre-Calc class as he had decided to become an electrical engineer like me. I congratulated him on that and told him that Calc books were going to become his best friends. His work in the classroom continued to be excellent. Don continued to be amazed.
Fast forward 5 or 6 years, and I’m at MSU picking up one of my children after they had taken the SAT. It was graduation day at MSU, and the place was buzzing. The day was a warm spring one, so I stopped and visited one of MSU’s gardens on the way home. While there I heard a voice say, “Mr. Nelson!” I turned and there was Kent in a graduation gown. He thanked me, explaining that he just got his master’s degree in electrical engineering and was trying to decide whether to pursue his PhD or take a job in industry. Certainly our school motto rang true that day. Kent has since become the lead power supply design engineer at MSU’s Cyclotron Laboratory.
Anything is possible I guess.
by Ryan Skiera
Associate Professor, Business Administration
This is an experience I had with a student when I first arrived at Lansing Community College. This was an older student, 40-ish, who was going to college for the first time. When I first met her, she was very skinny (and to me she looked sickly), was very quiet and timid, and as I found out as the semester went on, was an excellent student. As I do in all my classes, I broke this class up into groups at the beginning of the semester and throughout the semester got to know the students, including the 40-ish-year-old new student.
This same student slowly started to warm up to me and sometimes would even stay after class to talk. As the semester went on, she started to tell me about what had happened in her home life. She was in the process of getting a divorce from a person who, more and more, became a very controlling and verbally abusive individual. One day, I could tell that something was off and she seemed distant, so after class she came up to chat. That day, her divorce was final and she was talking about all the emotions that she was experiencing including relief, closure, and fear of the unknown, when she broke down and cried.
Not knowing what to do or say, I just sat there with her and let her cry. Since I did not feel comfortable or qualified to give advice about her past, we started to talk about the future. Over time, I reassured her that there were many opportunities and going to college was the right decision for it will assist her in reaching her goals. After our conversation, she thanked me and told me that I am one of the few that has shown a concern for her, in and out of class, and that the future is not as daunting as it once seemed. Along with this. she said she was determined to better herself in an effort to create a comfortable life for herself and her children.
I still wonder what happened with this student. This experience showed me the impact that LCC and its representatives can have on the Lansing community. I have learned that the community college student is much more diverse than the university’s and as such you are able to impact students and the community at a more intimate level.
Susan Prinz Murphy
“Why do you always wear a dress, Mrs. Murphy?” asked the 8-year old girl who was all elbows, knees and pigtails.
In appropriate teacher manner, I responded with, “Why do you think?”
“Because you want to look pretty.”
“No,” I went on to explain that teaching was my job and that people dressed for work. This was a new idea for my second graders who did not have models for dressing for success.
One of a teacher’s roles is to open the eyes of their students to possibilities – and what was required to make those possibilities into realities.
Every year on MLK day, we dreamed. Each child drew what they dreamed to be and completed the prompt “I have a dream to be…” When they shared, I made a point of telling each child they were going to college – no matter what their career choice. Basketball player? You’re going to college. Police officer? Going to college. Doctor? Going to college for a very long time.
Fast forward ten years. As I put my Cheez-its on the grocery checkout, I looked once – then twice at the cashier. My eyes dropped to her name tag to be sure. It was my gangly second-grader. And she recognized me too.
I explained that I had become a librarian at LCC and asked what her plans were. She asked about my daughter and remembered the wardrobe conversation. I also told her that I had become a better teacher in the years after I had her and her classmates. She smiled and said, “We loved you.”
She told me she was planning to register at LCC for the upcoming semester. After the semester started, I asked her how it was going when I saw her. She hadn’t enrolled. The next semester, the same thing happened. And the next and the next.
Finally, she enrolled. I saw her in the library. We shared a warm hug. I asked about her semester. She was successful and had found her path and her passion. Ironically, it is fashion.
What have I learned about teaching from just this one student? Caring matters more than pedagogy. You need to build relationships. Being a role model is especially important to those who may have none. Part of a teacher’s job is to show students another world of possibilities. And sometimes you just need to keep after them.
Assistant Professor of Accounting
Lynn was not one of my normal students. She had scored in the top one percent on the SATs and came from a privileged family. All indicators would be that she would be a very successful by now, but yet, at 26, she was in my intermediate accounting class, starting the process of changing her career from cutting hair to accounting. At 19, she got involved in too much partying and made some poor decisions, and now she was trying to get her life back on track.
I have high expectations for all of my students. I always try to inspire my students to reach for the stars. In my class, Lynn excelled. Though she entered the class unsure of her ability, she quickly set herself above her peers. Lynn had a desire to succeed and embraced the challenges I put in front of her. I quickly saw that she needed extra challenges, and I pushed her to perform above expectations. At times I think she thought I was picking on her, but soon she was in my office asking for career advice. Another instructor and I quickly convinced Lynn not to just settle for any accounting position, but to shoot for some of the more prestigious positions in the profession, which Lynn quickly embraced.
I never had Lynn as a student again, but I continued to advise her. Lynn went on to win the Sells Award, which is an award for scoring in the top 3 percent in the nation on the CPA exam. She also landed one of those prestigious positions, and today is considered one of the top five accountants in an organization that employs hundreds of accountants.
Last year, I ran into Lynn at an open house. When she saw me enter, she quickly stood up and called me over to introduce me to her husband. She said, “I want to introduce you to the person that is the reason I am who I am today. He is the one that pushed me to achieve what I have achieved.” For a teacher, this is the award which makes all the hard work worth it. Though I know I am not the reason she is where she is today, it is nice to know that I helped provide the inspiration that gave her the motivation that helped lead to her success.