Sunday, July 13, 2008



T. A. already had two children and was heavy with another by the time I met her. Before she was 18 she had had five children. A very intelligent young woman, she passed the GED tests with flying colors after a little preparation work. However, even a GED or high school diploma is not a guarantee of a decent job. She worked as a CNA—certified nurses’ aide—which was about the only job she could do and still take care of her children. But the children got older, and she knew she wanted to go back to school and do something besides bathe bodies and clean rooms. So she happened to choose to go to school where I was teaching at that time—a business college.

After a few fitful starts and sudden disappearances, she finally made it through one of the programs offered by the school. I congratulated her on her completion and told her how proud I felt of her. She then told me something that made me realize why I teach: “I wouldn’t be here today and would never have accomplished anything if you hadn’t drug my sorry butt out of the projects and into your Family Education Program. If I succeed in life, it will be because of you and how much you care.”

It could not have been easy for this young woman to get herself off to school and work a full-time job at the same time. But most of my students have done or are doing that very thing—working, being a parent, and trying to stay up with six classes at the same time. Determination, grit, and perseverance—these characteristics are all totally necessary to these students. Some of them are young, straight out of high school, and some of them are older women who have suddenly found their lives turned upside down by circumstances. In either case, most of them suffer from lack of self-esteem and have no sense of control over their lives.

Someone said that Americans are pampered. Some things are just pretty relative, I suppose. But I would certainly like to see any of the pampered politicians succeed under the circumstances of some of these students. Without the Pell Grant and student loans, it would be totally impossible for these people to gain the skills and knowledge needed to become productive citizens. If we are to continue to have a middle class, these educational opportunities need to be available.

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