Where Am I Again?

This morning I was standing in an urban classroom teaching the political ramifications of death for Westerners as viewed through a Japanese lens. In a few hours, I will be teaching college-level writing at a high school (this is a satellite location for a different college) in what is lovingly referred to by residents as a “horse town.” At the urban college, I teach in hundred-year-old buildings (some with pretty scary earthquake cracks running up the walls and across the ceilings). When I teach in the evenings the halls and bathrooms can be pretty creepy to wander into alone. There’s an observatory on campus, and a fully-wired two-story library that the college just finished. The student bookstore is also pretty impressive with a little coffee shop and two stories of its own. This school has a TV station, a culinary certification program, a nursing program, and more. The students dress in inner-city chic, and come from predominantly lower-class, immigrant families from all over the world. Last semester I had a student from Borneo (which was one of the places our textbook talks about), one born in Bangladesh (our textbook doesn’t talk about this country and she seemed put out by that fact), one from Japan (there are two chapters that deal with information from Japan), and one from Argentina (another place our textbook talked about). This multinational make-up is standard at this school.

That was this morning, and every Tuesday/Thursday morning. For tonight’s class I’ll be driving past dairies, chicken farms, and horse ranches to get to the satellite location. I’ll pass under the billboard advertising the local festival called Stagecoach Days. Come May, that billboard will be replaced by the one advertising the summer Cherry Festival. Five of my current students graduated from that very high school last June; they even know the night dean because he used to be the Vice Principal there. These students tend to be middle-class, from families that own construction companies, delivery companies, etc. One student works for his family, and they board horses (he writes about participating in rodeos and shoeing horses), another student’s father owns gas stations all over town. One of my students works for a vet who specializes in farm animals, and she writes essays about delivering livestock or curing horrible diseases that the big animals get.

Some of my students come down out of the mountains, yet another culture, and they will often be absent due to snow closing the roads. Alternatively, at the city campus I have students who take up to three busses to get to school; perhaps more interestingly, at the satellite I had a student threaten to come on her horse when her car broke down.

Once I get my bearings, I find it all very fascinating and rather fun to see the similarities and the differences. Sadly, some of those include things like students who don’t have access to the terrific Learning Resource Center on the college main campus because they work during the day, and attend classes at night; or they come from such a poor family that they don’t have the money for basic supplies like pens and paper, let alone the textbook; or they have no babysitter because their toddler is sick and the regular babysitter is a neighbor teenager who won’t watch a sick toddler.

It’s hard to know how to help such a diverse student base. I have to acclimate myself to the various challenges on the fly, and on days like today, more than once. It can be taxing. I think it’s worth it, though. I get to learn about so many different kinds of people and meet them, meet their children, hear about their jobs and hopes and dreams, and I get to help them learn something new. This is probably the thing I love most about community college.

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