By Marie-Lynda Akono
Adjunct Instructor, Foreign Language
I had a notion that my class’s population at a community college was going to be different from that of the university in terms of race and economic background. Although the college population seemed, among other factors, racially diverse, students in my course appeared similar to my university students. Even though there were a few African-American students in my course, the majority was still Caucasian students. Thus, to me, they all have resources available outside of class to ensure their success and my expectations for each student were kept high. I did not acknowledge that there was in fact a minority, and that this minority may not have great opportunities growing up and resources available outside of class.
Two African-American females, who were sisters, happened to be in this course. While they were both lacking progress in the course, the influence occurred between the youngest and me. She did not attend regularly nor demonstrated effort to participate when present, and she was not completing much of her online homework. Have I ever reached out? Yes; however, she wouldn’t open up for me to link the potential failure to something outside of class. For instance, she would dress up and always brought a laptop to class. When the end of the semester was nearing and students had to present, she approached me in tears, clarified her personal situation, and stated the power was cut off at their house and she could not work on her computer. I offered my empathy, mentioned a computer lab and was willing to help her succeed in my course. However, she did not pass.
The way I better understood the importance of teaching and learning in a community college setting and my role in making that happen was when I saw this student in the same course the following semester. The first day, she communicated she wants to learn the subject, pass, and would like my help in achieving that. A few days later, my department informed me they are aware a student was repeating my class and that it was important I understood she was younger, less mature, and to keep an eye on her for success. I was unaware that community colleges have programs for high school students to enroll in college level courses. Despite the situation, I focused on the student and reflected on one of the general missions: a community college serves all segments of society […] offers equal and fair treatment to all students. This time, I did not neglect the differences or individual background of my students and exercised an inclusive classroom. I certainly learned to identify my high school students early in the semester. For this particular student, I learned ways to work with her, ensured she successfully completed my course and meanwhile enabled her to develop skills necessary to apply the subject in the real world.