All sorts of people walk into my classroom. One of the benefits of teaching is that you get to meet individuals that you might not otherwise encounter. This brings a richness to my own life for which I am incredibly grateful. Each person carries with them their own life experiences and their own burdens. This semester alone I have students that have battled cancer, struggled with the death of a parent, been through divorce, and cared for gravely ill children. For some of them, these things are behind them and they are trying to get a new start in life. For others, they are simply trying to push forward despite the odds against them.
How does this factor in to the way that we teach? Well, for one, knowing what your students are up against can help you to design assignments and assessments that give them opportunities for success. For example, I do not require group work outside of class. The majority of my students are adult learners with complicated personal lives. It is generally unreasonable to expect them to be able to also schedule in group meetings in addition to class, labs, and homework assignments. Another strategy that takes into account this need for flexibility is that I provide homework assignments well in advance of their due dates. At the beginning of each unit I post all of the homework assignments for that unit. It gives the students an opportunity to work ahead (in reality, few do) if they know they have life events that may interfere. It also gives me the ability to hold them accountable when something comes up at the last minute (“Dr. Rosario I couldn’t get to the computer to complete my assignment” doesn’t fly when they’ve had several weeks to work on it).
As teachers, we rarely get a glimpse into the real lives of our students, but it is important that we don’t take those lives for granted. We spend a few hours each week with them. It is a small fraction of their time, but we have an incredible opportunity to be a positive impact. Get to know your students. Get to class early, linger afterwards. You never know what you might find out. Your life will be richer for it. I love this training video from Chick Fil A. It truly underscores the point that I am trying to make, each one of us carries with us our pains and our joys. Don’t take that for granted.