A dean and her son experience a community college (opinion)

A few months ago, a social media platform announced the 18 year anniversary of my employment at the community college. Social media isn’t always truthful, but this time it was. In 2004, when my son was a toddler, we moved from Texas to Maryland. I started teaching English composition part-time at Montgomery College. Years later, I am in awe of the community college and the department I serve. I could brag about the thousands of lives that have been changed because of the mission of the community college. I could talk for hours about access initiatives like self-placement models and open educational resources or brilliant teachers guiding and supporting critical thinking.

Instead, I’m going to talk about my son, Ben, a student with disabilities and a sophomore at the community college where I work. Ben’s personal journey is his to share, but I have been given permission to share glimpses of what I have witnessed, both as a mother and an educator. I have marveled these past almost two years as Ben has been accepted by the community college in ways I have always understood but not experienced.

From the beginning, we knew that Ben’s learning was not “general.” As an instinctive parent and educator, I understood and translated Ben’s spoken language. “Ocar” was Oscar the Curmudgeon from Sesame Street, and “yes” was “airplane” (that one took a few more context clues). These verbal stumbling blocks were corrected with surgery (tubes that improved hearing) and speech therapy.

Later, beyond preschool, Ben’s writing and coloring were laborious. His spelling seemed illiterate to the untrained eye. I learned to recognize “fritnd” as “scared” and “tmrow” as “tomorrow”. As his intellect developed, his mind chased imaginative stories, preventing him from concentrating on the reality around him. His grandfather, wanting to enjoy time with his grandson, took him to see a Spider-Man movie. Ben spent much of the next school day reimagining the movie, paying little attention to the instructions and expectations for cooperative learning. He was “on a red card” this and most days because he “wasn’t paying attention” and was “asking questions at inappropriate times.” The cycle of recurring “red days” and the erosion of self-esteem continued until a caring school counselor and principal agreed to additional special education services.

Ben did well in middle and high school and received excellent instruction and support from general and special education teachers and staff. Because he wanted to take academically challenging courses, he also enrolled in resources, a kind of study hall. This quiet period allowed her to complete assignments, receive extra help, and manage social-emotional and academic stressors.

In grade 11, Ben declared that he wanted to go to college. He also said that he wanted, for his first two years of college, to live at home and attend community college. Despite my many years working at a community college, I wanted Ben to go to a four-year university. It’s true that he worried me that he might need a little push to leave the nest, so he and I argued a bit. Despite our differences, he remained college bound and enrolled in and successfully completed some of the steps necessary to go to college: SAT prep, SAT tests, a college summer class, and about five or six college visits. .

In the fall of his senior year, Ben and I had another tête-à-tête about leaving home for college. At that point, he had really found his groove. She worked at a bakery (she made deliveries, worked the counter two nights a week, and managed a street market on the weekends), and in addition to getting good grades, she had discovered her passion for mixed martial arts at a local gym. . Ben spoke in a practiced tone, “Mom, my guidance counselor agrees with me.” He continued: “You and dad are nullified. I’m going to attend a community college until I decide where I want to go and what I want to study. Period “My son was only 18 years old and making a consequential adult decision: to exercise his agency and choose community college.

Ben is now a thriving community college student who is the beneficiary of the community college mission. Describing snippets from his day, Ben shared with me the curricular and pedagogical practices of our divisions of academic and student services. One night when we were walking the dog, he said, “Mom, you should make a folded classroom. My economics teacher does it and I like it a lot.” “You mean a flipped classroom?” I asked. “Yeah, whatever you call it. It makes a lot of sense to teach that way. You should tell the English department to try it out.”

If only, I thought.

After learning that his first English composition job had “room to grow,” Ben showed up during office hours. The professor was encouraging but emphatic about a writing process that included revision and an optional visit to the tutoring center. As a result of that encounter, Ben found a tutor with whom he enjoyed working regularly at the tutoring center in person. Later, when he was called in for an extra shift at the bakery, he had to switch to a remote tutoring session. Although it was not his preference, he found some good advice remotely from a different tutor. He received homework guidance from him and got to work without having to prioritize work over school or vice versa.

In another case, he was overwhelmed with his work, his commitment to the mixed martial arts team, and the courses, so he sought out a counselor. They agreed to have him drop a 200-level class and take a less rigorous, late-start seven-week elective that he would fulfill a general education requirement.

At the end of one term, Ben made a serious mistake. Thanks to the learning management system gradebook, he knew that he got an A on the final exam. He did well on the test and decided to skip a final assignment, not realizing that it was the main assignment in a general education course. A caring teacher called his cell phone. “Ben, I’ve been trying to get in touch with you. The final task is required. You should have known. You have 24 hours to turn it in.” I credit the professor’s merciful approach to teaching, a likely small class, and Ben’s proven track record of commitment and capable work for me giving him an extra day.

As I look around my office, 18 years worth of texts fill my bookshelves. Countless composition, literature, and leadership texts in English, as well as myriad publications by colleagues, invite me to work hard. Data reports and documents from university initiatives cover my desk.

What lives on my mind now, however, is my son in the writing center, being tutored four or five times a semester by colleagues and friends. I see the economics professor who got Ben to pay attention to pedagogy, the counselor who coached him through career planning, the professor who considered his work ethic and gave him an extra 24 hours when he stumbled, and the countless instructors. who met him at conferences. and office hours. I’m impressed. He may be the community college educator, but my son has taught me a lesson. Turns out I’m a pretty good student too, if I just pay attention.

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