Today was the last day of class for the summer session I was teaching.
And as much as I like to bitch and moan about students, I think I’ll qualify this as one of my favorite overall groups of students. It was a small class (don’t ask my secret…I probably won’t tell you) and we had an excellent sense of community.
I teach a class on communication. I found early on, it is really hard to teach students communication when they won’t actually communicate in the classroom.
So, my dirty little secret of creating community is to scare the shit out of them at the start, sharing insanely high standards (which I keep strong until the last day of class) pages and pages of rules and a load of work.
People who stick in the class form a strong bond to ‘hack’ through the first week of the semester.
And then they realize that although I’m kinda a hard ass teacher, I’m approachable, will work with them, help and dedicate as much time to them as they need to me (that is assuming they are working harder than me, of course).
The result is a group of students who trust each other…trust me..and work hard to succeed. And they do succeed because they take risks, support each other, seek support and *gasp* start to care about the class.
So – back to this class.
I liked it.
There was one somewhat ‘unique’ student who virtually spent time every day telling me how much he adored me and he would share his visions of “us” to the class.
It was awkward.
At one point he said “breeding” and I think I spit out the water I was drinking. Students…as a rule…NEVER mention “breeding” with your teacher. It just isn’t right.
And it was one of those things where he put just enough ‘drama’ in his monologues of love that everyone would raise an eyebrow because the ‘drama’ made his emotions a bit too real.
One dude said, “I swear Ms. Candy. I won’t leave you alone in here with him”
So – that was odd.
And then there was today.
He brought me roses.
A nice red dozen.
With a smile that would melt a much MUCH younger woman’s heart.
(And thanks to the advent of the IPhone, I am sure that there are pictures and videos of some teacher receiving roses from an adoring student…yep…there is a good chance that is me)
Today was final exam day.
My final exam is a speech.
And the speeches were amazing.
I’d like to say it is because I am an excellent teacher, but I really believe it has to do with the learning community my students formed this summer.
I know it was them.
So – today was a day of tears.
We heard about the hardships of life in the military.
Not that crap about boot camp and physical training. But the really hard stuff. The solitude. The travel. The always leaving family behind.
He talked a lot about how hard leaving family behind was.
He said he hated the military. He said he hated it because he no longer existed anywhere long enough to be home.
He said he missed home.
He missed existing.
Another student talked about her journey with Bells Palsy.
All semester I noticed her face never moved above her right eye.
And, I never thought much about it.
Until today when she told us how 6 years ago, days after her 16th birthday, she woke up in a pool of drool and that she hasn’t ever smiled a full smile since
She said she realized the value in appreciating the little nuances in life that make life beautiful.
She said she didn’t realize how beautiful her smile was until she didn’t have one any more.
Now she says she realizes she is beautiful without one…and that she stopped hoping to have her face back…”Half is all I need…I make it work”
And you know what.
She is stunning.
So stunning, in fact, that I hadn’t realized how she didn’t have a full smile.
She smiles from the soul.
And then there was the speech that hit way too close to home.
One student is probably about my age.
And she choose to talk about emotional abuse.
As a program coordinator for a life skills company focused on adults with physical disabilities, this woman was passionate about sharing the experiences of her clients.
And as I listened to her rehearse her speech this week, she spoke about the emotional abuse her friend was living and I realized that she had taken her speech in a new direction.
She wasn’t talking about professionals abusing the disabled anymore (although that is a powerful speech to give), she was talking about how important it was for people to understand what emotional abuse is because not only is it the most prevalent type of abuse in the U.S., it is the most overlooked.
The courts don’t care if someone calls you a piece of shit.
They only care of that person calls you a piece of shit while they beat the shit out of you.
When someone is controlling, calls you names and isolates you…that is abuse. But abused people don’t always recognize it is abusive until it is too late.
This student gave some powerful quotes from a friend who had just come to the realization that she was in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Yet, today, when this student…we’ll call her Kara, gave her speech.
It was too late.
The women she had interviewed was beat to death by her husband last night.
Happened outside of the capital city.
Kara got the phone call this morning.
Just last night, Kara and her friend were texting…planning on how this friend was going to wake up at 7am as usual, take the baby and come to Kara’s house.
She was leaving.
Kara and her husband were the ‘safe house.’
According to the police, they believe the ‘attack’ was set off from a series of texts that the ‘abuser’ had found on the friend’s phone as the phone was laying on the bed when they came in.
Apparently, this lady was beat to death.
And she knew she was going to die.
She managed to shove her baby into the closet.
The husband killed himself.
The baby is now alone.
How this women came to class and gave this speech is beyond me.
With tears streaming down her face, she spoke passionately.
“Don’t be stupid. If your boyfriend calls you fat…he’s an abuser. Run. Leave. Don’t be next. You don’t know what will happen next”
After class, Kara and I spoke.
She said she had to come to class. She said that was the only thing she knew she could do that would save someone since she hadn’t saved her friend.
I get it.
You are helpless.
Speaking empowers you.
And with the right words, it empowers other people.
I don’t think that there was a dry eye in the classroom.
People had their faces buried in their hands.
Students looked down…tears dropping into little pools on their desks.
One girl laid her head down on her desk and stared at the wall.
The signs of emotional abuse are simple.
1. Using economic power to control you.
2. Threatening to leave the relationship.
3. Making your afraid with looks, gestures or actions.
4. Continually criticizing you, emphasizing you aren’t good enough.
5. Degrading you in private, acting charming in public.
6. Humiliating your, actively or passive-aggressively in private or public.
This isn’t complicated.
But, there are no physical marks.
Just scars that harden spirits and deaden souls…you know, the things that make us exist that are hidden to the naked eye.
Emotional abusers are just as bad as the physical ones.
Perhaps worse since the abused frequently don’t know they are abused until it is too late.
You don’t know you are a victim until after you leave.
Or, in some cases, are left.
In the worst cases, are left to die.
As I listened to the speech today, I struggled to listen objectively.
Too many checks on the list were marks I was making on mine.
Like I said before.
The speech was hitting too close to home.
I was lucky.
Lucky to be left alone.
Today was a hard day.
On one hand, it was a day celebrating some pretty brilliant community college students. Student who have lived lives more complicated and convoluted than I can imagine.
In 6 weeks, one student lost her home to a fire…never missed a day of class…never missed an assignment.
One student lost her mother-in-law in Africa…never missed an assignment and emails every day to stay caught up.
One student came to class after her best friend was murdered this morning.
I am lucky.
I am lucky I had the opportunity to learn from such a driven, intelligent, compassionate and inspiring group of students.
I am lucky I was educated by them many times over as much as they were (hopefully…fingers crossed) by me.
I am lucky I didn’t turn into a statistic.
I am lucky I got out.
I am lucky.
I am appreciative.
I am thankful.
The world has a weird way of centering you.
These last few weeks I have struggled to find my equilibrium.
Today I walked out of class with a heavy heart and a soaring spirit.
I mourn the struggles of my students.
But I celebrate the unity that we shared in the classroom and the lessons we passed on to each other.
And I learned some important lessons.
Appreciate your life.
Value the people.
People who treat you like shit are shit.
Don’t let “too late” happen to you.
Don’t let Kara’s speech be in vain.