... and then she was gone.
This past Friday, I spent the entire morning working with students prepare their portfolios for the communal portfolio grading that we do with Basic Writing students (these are folks who were placed in developmental English and they are trying to get to ENG 101, a requirement for most degree programs). Let me just say that working with this particular group of students is often challenging but rewarding in a way that is different than my college level students. Basic Writing students come to the class with all kinds of "problems" -- most centered around the fact that they have struggled in school before coming to SWIC. But the cool advantage is that I get to witness huge leaps forward with this group of students. I honestly believe a part of my job is to motivate students to grasp their educational opportunities (and so many of them come from family backgrounds where this has not been an important value). While students in any class that I teach can make significant progress, there is something "different" about what happens in Basic Writing. Many students realize for the first time in their lives that they are, in fact, students. And it's this realization that makes my job one of the best ones in the entire world.
This past semester has been hard. I recognize that I say this same statement at the end of almost every semester but this last one was seriously challenging. From a personal perspective, I am still struggling with hot flashes and gas (leftovers from the hysterectomy) and feeling like I am the worst dissertation writer on this planet. I come home from teaching with no motivation to write. I haven't been able to shake any of the weight I have gained in the past year. I know that number on the scale doesn't define who I am but ... I still struggle with it. From a professional perspective, I have had "issues" with students in all of my classes this term; it's like every class had that one person who couldn't stand me and exhibited an attitude that made teaching (and learning) hard. Also -- this semester saw the end of our honors program so I was feeling emotionally drained from that as well and it felt like all semester I was running a few days behind myself as far as planning, reading, and evaluating.
One of the students I worked with this semester was Krystal. She came to SWIC after attending a for- profit school in which she was not able to obtain secure employment after completing her studies. Krystal decided that she wanted to be a registered nurse. In the cover letter she recently wrote for her portfolio assessment, she said, "I know I have a long way to get my degree; still I'm anxious to get there." (and notice how she used a semi-colon there? -- one editing skill we worked on this semester was eliminating periods and using alternative sentence boundary marks!).
This past Friday, Krystal came to my office to turn in her portfolio (which would be assessed on Saturday, the next day). Krystal was super excited about her chances of being placed into ENG 101. I can't tell you how many times she was in my office over the last 16 weeks. As she noted in her cover letter, "I am looking forward to going into my next English class ... I feel that I can be specific and organize all my thoughts together as a good writer should." Krystal asked me to reread her cover letter one more time and we sat there and chatted about some minor changes. As she was leaving, she turned around and commented, "I hope you will be here early on Monday morning. I want to be one of the first people in your office to find out how I did!" She waved her hand at me and then she was gone.
Krystal died in a car accident at 3 AM on Saturday morning, leaving her three year old daughter motherless and her friends and family shocked and sad. In one of the essays she included in her portfolio, Krystal ended with the following comment: "The inspiring affirmations I have hung up in my bedroom give me hope that I can make it and conquer all my dreams." I am so sad that Krystal will not be able to live out those words. I know she meant what she said -- and I know that she would have done just that.
I'm just not sure how I will react tomorrow morning when I walk into my office and Krystal is not there to pick up her portfolio in which one one of the readers remarked, "Clearly 101 level. You are a strong writer and organize your essays well. Good luck with your future academic goals!"
I miss her.