The Hard Stuff: When Students Need Help

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I’ve been teaching for four years now. It’s really just a drop in the bucket compared to some of my friends who have been teaching 20, even 30 years.

Of course, I’m here to help students¬†with writing and literature. That’s what I’ve been trained for. That’s why I spent almost seven years of my life reading and writing, studying and learning, sweating and praying for. I’ve paid dearly for my education, in dollars and time and sacrifice.

Here’s my secret:no program or lecture could have possibly prepared me for some of the conversations I’ve had with students. As their teacher, whether or not I deserve it, I am placed in a position of trust that I didn’t earn.

Sometimes, questions are a no-brainer. For example, in cases of abuse, I’m required to legally report it. I’ve never had to, thank goodness.

Many times, though, the questions are not so black and white.

Sometimes, the students who I perceive to be the most difficult (or checked out, or angry) are the ones who come to me with questions or situations I don’t know the answer to, like:

How should I tell my dad I’m pregnant?

Nobody knows I’m homeless.

Since I got out of the Army, I’m really trying to do my best in school, but I can’t sleep from the nightmares.

I haven’t been in class for the past two weeks because I was beaten so badly by my ex’s new girl I was hospitalized.

My husband doesn’t really think I should get my degree.

I’m gay and need to come out to my parents. What should I say?

I need to tell my mama I’m transgender. How can I do that?

I’m falling asleep in class because I work three jobs. No I can’t quit, or we’ll be out of our apartment.

I can’t come back to school next semester because I’m pregnant again.

These are hard questions, and sometimes there are really no right answers. As an educator, I’m expected to know the answers. Sometimes, I just don’t.

Sometimes, I just give the student a tissue and let them talk it out. I ask questions to try to guide them. I don’t judge them, ever, because nobody is perfect and there’s no way to tell what someone’s been through by one experience or one talk. I pray with them. I cry with them. I ask them what I can do to help. The ones I can’t help keep me up late sometimes, worrying. Sometimes I feel like I’m their mama and it’s up to me to make everything okay. But I’m not.

Sometimes, they don’t need a teacher, they need a sounding board, a counselor, a mom. I do my best.

Sometimes, I can help. It’s the ones I can’t that haunt me.

 

 

 

On Blackberry Dump Cake, Stats, and Goodbyes

Last Friday, I went to Lindale, Texas to meet my bestie Rachel to work on Statistics homework. I’m not gonna lie: it’s soul-crushing and brain-melting, enough to cause some students over 40 (me) to question their sanity for doing this in the first place. I mean, for most people, a master’s degree would be plenty. Not me! Nope.

Finding a place to do our homework together has been…challenging to say the least. If we work at my house, then we risk being constantly annoyed by my dog who thinks my only reason for existence is to play “fetch the cheeseburger toy” for hours. She’s very…persistent. If we go to Rachel’s, where she has small children, then she feels like she should have a babysitter so we’re less distracted. Not that stats are not fascinating. But there’s definitely a risk. Cute kids? Definitely distracting, because cuteness, and it doesn’t take much to make a person choose to play with kids over doing spirit-squishing homework.

Last week, we met at Collins Bakery, which I must say is quite a little jewel. Coffee, wi-fi, and pie…what’s not to love?

In front of the bakery, some nice folks were selling juicy peaches, red, ripe tomatoes, and blackberries bursting with purple-black color. I went a little nuts. I love produce stands, and they are one of my favorite things about summer–perfect for 4th of July celebrations.

My girls, who are grownups and have their own apartments (and dogs) come over every week to see me, and to encourage this I cook for them. So that if they’re ever sitting at home in their A/C watching The Walking Dead and feel the least bit reluctant to cash it all in for the Texas Summer Inferno to come over, they will decide it’s worth it because Mom cooks the most delicious concoctions, and let’s face it, there’s a lot of Ramen noodle dinners over there.

Last night, they stayed over, which meant a lot to me, because they are both moving in just a few weeks. Not down the street, or to a town nearby, but several hours away. Like a day trip, spend the night, kind of distance.

Mama’s having a hard time with this, y’all.

I’m so very proud of both of them for graduating from college and finding jobs in their fields and everything. That’s what I wanted for them from the beginning–that they would be able to do what they love and not have to spend their adulthood working at crap jobs like I did just to make ends meet. Now, they won’t have to.

Since I had those gorgeous berries waiting, I wanted to make something special. Since it was the 4th weekend, and one of the last weekends we will spend together like this ever, I may have cooked up the entire house. For a moment, I could make them a treat, pack it up with some coffee and send it with them to their jobs. For a moment, it felt as if they were still in school and I was making their lunches before band practice.

Just for the briefest of moments.

I made Blackberry Dump Cake with these juicy blackberry babies, and let me tell you–there’s nothing easier than this recipe.

Blackberry Dump Cake

2 cartons fresh blackberries (you can use frozen)

1 box yellow cake mix

1 stick of butter

This is really all there is to it. I couldn’t lie to you. I know you’ll be tempted to add sugar to the blackberries, and you certainly can, because AMERICA, but resist, because this cake mix has about nine bags of sugar in it already. Like a whole sugar cane field worth. But I’m not judging if you want to sprinkle a tiny bit on them.

Melt the butter. Make sure the blackberries are rinsed and there aren’t any leaves or anything in them. Pour the blackberries right into the bottom of the pan.

Next, pour the cake mix, right from the box, on top of the berries.

Lastly, pour the melted butter on top of the cake mix. Try to spread it evenly so the whole top gets wet.

Bake for about 25-35 minutes until the top is brown and bubbly.

Serve to your daughters for breakfast after their last sleepover. Try not to cry thinking about it. Try not to be a blubbering mess.