It is back to school time, a time of very mixed emotions.
The end of summer is near and for many of us a time that means loved ones start or return to school. For me, it is an especially poignant time as the new school year brings a reminder of how quickly my grandchildren seem to be growing. The oldest is entering fourth grade; his sister starts second grade; their cousin will begin kindergarten and two other cousins return to pre-school. The sixth, well, at 2-years-old she has the luxury of getting her parents full attention. Also, it is a poignant time for me as I returned this week to begin teaching another semester at a community college.
Since I started teaching at the college level a few years ago, I have taught 17 courses in the Humanities Department. I have taught the traditional and non-traditional student. The latter refers to students who are returning to academic studies, following many of years since they graduated high school. Often, they are students who may have taken a break from studies for a few years; decided to enter the workforce while they decided upon a career; or they may have joined the military. Years ago, as more and more women started to go back to work or enter the workforce after raising children, college classes included many young women in their 20s, 30s and even older. I learned that almost half of all college students are enrolled in a community college. With the economy today, as challenging as it is, more and more college students are enrolling in a community college and then transferring to a four-year college to reduce expenses. I have noticed that this fall more than two-thirds of my class enrollments represent the traditional student - the recent high school graduate. This is quite a contrast from past enrollments in which I had a number of students in their late 20s and early 30s.
I just finished reading an essay I had asked them to write the first day of my Freshman English required class. The purpose is to get a sample of their writing at the start of the semester. I asked them to reflect upon the past three months and to write about something they considered a highlight. Many wrote about their high school graduation, their decision to attend college and their enthusiasm in continuing their education. I know from their writings and the writings of my community college students in past semesters that in addition to attending college, they are balancing many responsibilities; most students, if not all, community college students have part-time jobs. Some students even work full-time. Others share in the responsibilities of the household, such as taking care of younger siblings, their own children or an ailing parent. Many contribute financially to the family household. These students do not have the lifestyle of the student who lives on campus without the responsibility of work and family.
My knowing how much these students deal with on a daily basis keeps me mindful how important their time is in the classroom and what a responsibility I have to make sure I am doing the best for that student in my class. I tell them their attending the class is really a partnership between them and me, so that together they can move forward with their learning. This is true at all levels of education and it is true for parents and grandparents as well. We want the best for our children and to do that we need to take the time to share in their learning process.
Raising my children, I always found two times during the day that were so important; dinner time and bedtime. I am not alone in mentioning the importance of the dinner time -- when family members can sit around a dinner table and talk about their day. In many households, a family dinner time together can be very difficult to achieve because family members have schedules that prevent them from coming together at the same time.
However, the importance of this time cannot be discounted. Sitting, eating and talking around a dinner table can be very conducive to creating a relaxed environment for children to share their day, their concerns and even the positive highlights of their day. Bedtime is another time in which parents can connect with their children. It is also a time when children are relaxed, less distracted and find the opportunity to talk about something that may be on their minds.
I miss those times with my children. Today, I try to recapture them as I say goodnight to my grandchildren. I love going into their rooms and looking at their possessions that they surround themselves with. Now, with my nearly 10-year-old grandson, who loves to read and write, it is a special joy to see his journals of his writings and drawings. This summer he was especially proud to show me that he was reading the latest Mike Lupica sports book that the sports columnist has written for children his age.
I get a special joy in visiting with my six-year-old grandson, Cameron, who will be starting kindergarten next week. His mother kept him in pre-school an extra year, but I am amazed that he has learned to read. Not only that, but Cameron loves sports statistics. For over a year now, he loves to run out to the driveway in the morning, get the newspaper, turn to the sports page and then tell anyone in earshot who won the previous night's games - no matter the team or the sport. In recent months, he has advanced to carrying around a sports almanac. At his Pop-Pop's birthday last weekend, he carried around the almanac and periodically would open in and read some statistic. His Pop-Pop's fraternity brother, a retired school superintendent was amazed and using his all-too familiar Irish wit, enjoyed challenging Cameron.
Ed told me later that day that just to tease Cameron, he asked Cameron who won the 1967 World Cup. Cameron said, "Spain?" then he said, "U ra Gay?" He may not have pronounced it correctly, but Ed knew what country he meant. Ed was amazed as we all have been. But, then again, we've been following Cameron's interest in sports and statistics because everyone in the family gets to talk with him about his interests, just as we learned about Alexandra and her gymnastics team; Gabriel coming in second in this massive free-throw basketball competition this summer where he, just coming out of third grade, lost to a ninth grader. I could go on and on about the children's interests, but I think you get the point.
And that is how I like to teach writing to my college students - I like to tap into their interests, their experiences and get them to think and respond to their immediate world around them. That's what school is all about for parents, grandparents and educators.