As an instructor at the college level for the last 4 years, I’ve had the unique opportunity to get acquainted with every type of student there is. If you think that your personal experiences back in college either with yourself or your peers are any indication of what it is like for other people, you are sorely mistaken.
Take my college experience, for instance. Long story short, I went to college completely free. My scholarships cut me a check at the beginning of the semester because everything was covered. I didn’t have to work and pretty much had all my free time to devote to my studies. I got to travel and even study abroad a few times. Now, I’m not tooting my own horn. I’m not trying to brag. In fact, I’m almost a bit ashamed of how easy I had it.
In my general experience, most students are middle achievers. They are either underprepared for college-level work or they don’t put in full effort. Then you have those who genuinely don’t belong in college due to severe deficits (in my case, regarding grammar). On the other side of the spectrum is the “over-prepared” smart aleck who thinks that they have learned everything already and don’t try because they feel like they are wasting their time.
However, the students that strike me the most are those who stay after class and speak to me, asking questions about our lessons or just expressing their views on our class discussions. I have overwhelming found that these students are hungry to learn, but they often face great obstacles on their journey toward an education. Many times they are struggling to pay rent, pay for food, buy gas, or pay for school. And despite their greatest efforts to succeed, they just can’t catch up. They don’t always have enough scholarships to rely on or parents that will foot the bill. They often resort to menial or sometimes degrading work to try to make ends meet. I almost want to shake all those complacent, sometimes ungrateful, students and show them what some of their peers go through to get their college educations. Maybe it would awaken them to the great privilege they have just by being able to sit in the classroom.
This also reminds me to stop saying that degrees are a dime a dozen. Yes, there may be a lot of us out there, but what a slap in the face to those who have had to sweat to obtain it! How discouraging that must be to my students who are struggling. I wish I could go back in time and share this lesson with my younger self.
How sobering life can be when its struggles aren’t landing on your plate. The universe seems to add gravity to the footsteps of those who try the hardest to get ahead.