Monday, March 26, 2012

Wrapping Up My 1st Term of Teaching

Week 10 I had to cancel class—after months of feeling poor (colds, the flu, that nasty 24 hour stomach bug) and reaching the end of my rope with exhaustion and a hacking cough I was diagnosed with mono (aka the kissing disease). I also had a case of laryngitis and could not speak above a whisper. I was bummed to cancel class but my body and voice needed the rest.

This past weekend was week 11, finals weeks. After they completed their final exam, each student had a 5 minute presentation in which they shared the highlights of their research paper. The final exercise of the day was circling up for one last community discussion. I asked them to discuss the following questions:

What is feminism?
Are you a feminist, why or why not?
What did you like about this class?
What would you change about this class?

Their answers were very insightful to me. Most identified feminism as a movement to end oppression and the majority identified with the term feminist. Some students believed in feminism but did not want to call themselves feminist. All of my students said they loved the class and got a lot out of it. A few mentioned they liked the amount of power and control I gave them and how willing I was to stray from a topic and delve into something. Overall they liked the flow and structure of the class with the movies, discussions, fish bowls, etc but expressed frustration over the amount of readings and how academic and hard some of them were to grasp.  

I placed myself inside the circle for this last section—I wanted to end the term with gratitude. I shared with them how much I appreciated their hard work, effort, willingness to do the readings and assignments but most of all for applying it to their lives. Each week my students showed up transformed by the learning from class or the readings. Often they talked about how they would enjoy their partner/children/bosses/co-workers differently. I told them it was significant to me that they allowed themselves to be changed as a result of this class. During this final round I learned that as a result of this class:

One student left a violent and abusive relationship

One student began volunteering at a domestic violence shelter

Many students went on housework strike

Many mothers threw out gender stereotypical clothes and toys and replaced them with gender neutral ones

Several young women decided that they could choose natural childbirth over a drugged, hospital birth

Many decided to become life long feminists who were going to use their voice to stop injustices they see

Then, the students went around the circle thanking each other and many of them chose to thank me. I was so touched by their comments some of which included:

“You’ve changed my life forever”

“Thank you for being a strict and hard teacher because it made me want to try harder for myself and for you.”

“You are my role model and I hope to be the kind of woman you are someday.”

But what meant the most to me was from my oldest student in the classroom. He’s a white man who’s in his late 50’s. He was so moved with gratitude that he could not speak—he cried as he looked at his classmates and then to me. Many of us teared up with him seeing his vulnerability. Finally he spoke with a broken voice, “It is amazing how week after week I sit and watch every one of change and grow. This kind of stuff doesn’t usually happen in the classroom, but because of you Jen, our lives are changed. Thank you for your passion.”

We said our goodbyes and many hugged. Then one student approached me and handed me a card and asked for a hug. After we embraced and she had left I read her card:

"I don't think that a letter grade could possibly tell what I got out of this class! Your passion is palpable and will not soon be forgotten! Thank you for the has truly inspired me to finish the work that needs to be done in my life. You are AMAZING!"

Wow. I am so incredibly grateful that my first term of teaching has created such an impact. As an community college instructor I may not get paid the big bucks—but this weekend I became a millionaire.

1 comment:

Soto said...

It's true- you are amazing, Jen!