Baggage in the Classroom

In my new role as the acting associate chair in my division, I’ve been handling difficult situations involving students and faculty.  I’ve been losing sleep over some of the students – I worry about them.

What I’m learning again and again is that students come to campus with so much baggage, and sometimes they don’t know how to handle all of that baggage along with the rigors of academic life.  Sometimes students don’t understand boundaries.  Sometimes they’re reaching out (or crying out) for help.  Sometimes the problems are larger than just being stressed or being under financial strain.  Sometimes, they really need professional help.

I’m certain that this isn’t true just for community college students.  Perhaps students who attend 4-year schools and live in dorms have different ways of reacting to school life and handling it (or not handling it).   Still, because of open enrollment community college student population is more diverse in all possible ways.  This means there are more diverse array of issues that they bring with them to school.

There is great support system on our campus, but still I worry about the instructors.  Most of us are not equipped to handle students who have and share/show their baggage in class or in private conversations with the instructors.  There needs to be more education for us educators when it comes to working with students who may be disturbed.  At the end, our job is to teach the subject matter, making sure that we hit all the course objectives and help students be successful in that class.  However, I think every conscientious teacher takes the whole student into consideration.   It’s extremely difficult for a student to be successful in our classes or in college as a whole experience when they are weighed down by baggage that they cannot cope with.

So, we can ask students to check their baggage at the door and focus on the course work – but we all know how difficult it is to separate ourselves in that way.  Of course, instructors should not get involved in students’ personal lives, but we have to accept that the student is a whole person and we have to work with that whole person.

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