Our department has a work study student who comes and helps out for a few hours each week. She is a first year college student who is trying to make a couple extra bucks and she’s been placed with our team to help out with whatever we may need support with.
It’s been almost a year since I first met her and I’ve grown to view her as one of my own students. Even though she’s in college.
For starters, she’s extra chatty and talkative. And so curious. This can be a challenge when we’ve got actual work to take care of. But, most of the time, I enjoy hearing about her life and answering all her questions.
She’s very open about everything and doesn’t seem to shy away from talking about personal experiences. She told me – a while back – about how she is currently living with her fiancé’s family (yes! A fiancé at the age of 18!). When I asked her why, she explained that her mom was a drug user and her father lived in another state with his new wife and their two kids together.
From what I’ve gathered, she’s had a really challenging upbringing but was determined to go to college and become a nurse.
In working with her, I’ve realized there is so much that she doesn’t know. I taught her that “Ctrl C” and “Ctrl V” mean copy and paste. She watches me type on my keyboard and is blown away by the fact that I don’t need to look at the keys. It’s these small things she does or says that makes me feel like I’m with one of my students.
The things that she doesn’t know are things that I happened to pick up on because of the opportunities I had. Typing class in elementary school. An internship in high school. Things my parents taught me.
Things that this girl didn’t have growing up.
So, over time, I’ve developed a soft spot for her. I could never be where I am today without the support of my family and the opportunities I had. She’s gotta have some sort of badass drive and ambition to be where she is today, even though the odds were definitely not in her favor.
A few weeks ago, she told me about her most recent doctor’s visit. She said her doctor suggested that she eat healthier foods and more vegetables. She asked me for advice on what kinds of things to buy at the grocery store and what kind of recipes to make for dinner. When I asked her what her usual day of eats looked like, she responded with, “I’ll usually stop at Hardee’s for a breakfast biscuit. Get a burger and fries from McDonalds for lunch. And then eat whatever is being made at home for dinner.”
“What kinds of things do you eat at home?” I asked.
She said, “Oh. Meatloaf. Chicken nuggets. Whatever is cheap and easy to make. But I don’t think we have one vegetable in our fridge. Right now, if you open up our fridge, you’ll see a big slab of chocolate cake, barbecue sauce, and that’s probably it.”
After finding out she was making a trip to Walmart that evening, I gave her some suggestions on some really simple, cheap and easy recipes that included a lot of veggies.
“One of my favorite things to make – because it’s SO easy – is a sheet pan dinner. Just grab some zucchini, broccoli, potatoes, and chicken sausage. Chop it all up. Throw it on a cookie tray. And then drizzle it with olive oil. Toss some seasonings on top and bake it in the oven!”
She looked up at me with eyes wide open and said, “What’s olive oil?”
My heart about broke when I heard that.
Here I am complaining about this upbringing I had – being too in-the-know, being too informed about all these diseases and health issues I could inherit. And this girl was on the other end of the spectrum – completely un-informed. Because nobody was there to inform her.
Ever since that day a few weeks ago, I feel all the more invested in being a part of this girl’s life. I want to be able to help her. Whether it be with her dinner creations or Excel shortcuts or her psychology class, I want to be available. I want to be someone she feels comfortable coming to if she needs advice on college classes, career planning, or just general questions she may have about ANYTHING.
So, this afternoon, when she walked into our office and asked me if I would help her with some algebra homework, I immediately said yes and we got to work.
She was learning about functions, domain, and range. Something I haven’t looked at in over a decade.
I spent a few minutes reviewing the material before I jumped in to start explaining how to do everything. We sat there together for 45 minutes going through each problem on the page until she was confident to try some on her own.
As she completed each question, she kept saying, “I get it now!” or “This makes so much more sense.”
She finished her work and started packing up her things to go. I turned to toss the scratch paper in the trashcan. When I turned back around to say goodbye, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Hey. You should be a teacher.”
It’s funny how God – or the universe or whatever higher being you believe in – puts people and events and situations in your life when you need them the most.
At a time when I’m struggling to figure out my next steps in life, this moment happened today. And reaffirmed that, yes, I should be a teacher.
I already loved this girl. She could have easily played the victim card. She could have dropped out of high school like her mom. But, instead, she shows up. Every day. Hustling. And eager to learn.
I’m pretty certain I love this girl EVEN MORE today than I ever have before. This was the best part of my workweek. I was reminded why the classroom will ALWAYS be my space. It SHOULD be my space. Because it’s the space where I feel most alive and connected with the people around me.
This girl will never understand the kind of impact she made on me today.
But I will never forget.
Questions of the Day:
- Have you had a moment recently that reaffirmed why you do what you do?
- If you’re not doing what you WANT to be doing, why not?