This week, and often in discussions with faculty members, we have grieved over the students we could not reach. We confessed to sleepless nights, anxiety medications, professional counseling–for the faculty I work with care for their students like they would for their own children. These faculty are often moved to the core of their beings by the students they lose.
This is not out of fear. These faculty are not watching their D/F/W ratios and worrying they will be canned. I do not believe our institution fosters fear like this. Even the newest adjunct faculty gets a fair shake and ample support is provided to assist with every skill set. We sometimes use dog-eared institutional language of “retention,” but for the faculty I’m writing about, it’s more than numbers retained.
Our faculty really want what’s best for the students who cross their threshold. They want students to find the best way for themselves, and they want students to finish what they start. Sure, we acknowledge that some students may ultimately not need to pursue this degree or that. Sometimes college is not a good fit, yet. However, most of us feel it’s good if students complete the course they are currently enrolled in. Sometimes when a student completes even a single course or a single semester, they can regroup and return another time when the stars align. These completers have had “the college experience” and now know how to navigate college. Expectations are no longer lofty words in a commencement speech or a syllabus; instead, they have been experienced. Next time, when the student returns, s/he will hit the ground running with more confidence.
This was my story. Before graduating with any degree, I had laid out, flunked out, and dropped out.
I tell my students all about this, not for their pity, but to share that it’s not always a straight trajectory, not always an easy thing to just check off on the lifetime to-do list. I tell them what happened at every turn, and years later, many students return to tell me that they endured similar trials and thanks to remembering my story, they, too, persisted. Yes, it takes a lot of humility to tell students these things, and yes, it makes me vulnerable. But when I can make myself easier to relate to, and when I can make the whole college experience more realistic for them, I find it’s worth it.