Drop-outs seems rather a harsh term but I can’t think of a better and shorter one. Teaching people who hadn’t completed high school was the most satisfactory part of my teaching career. While a few were older, most of them were young and had various reasons for dropping out of the regular education system. A dysfunctional home life was a major reason but so were alcohol and drug use, criminal convictions and prison terms, mental and physical health issues and undiagnosed learning difficulties.
The first class of twelve returnees I taught had examples of all the above problems. We met in a room on the second floor of a small shopping plaza. We soon equipped ourselves with a kettle and mugs for coffee and tea and took up a collection to buy supplies from the convenience store below us. I suspected that these supplies had not been legally acquired but got only grins when I asked. The students sent half the day studtying English and half studying math. Their fees were paid by a government program and classes were held Monday to Friday for a semester.
Few of them had ever read a whole novel and plays were a compete mystery. I asked for a class set of UNDER MILK WOOD by Dylan Thomas and we tackled it. My students were bewildered by the idea of a play and even more bewildered by the language and the unusual characters. We took turns reading the parts and at the end, I played them a recording. They might still remember Dylan Thomas forty years later.
At lunch time, they played cards. I arrived one afternoon for class and found that nobody wanted to start my work. I asked several times and got the response that they had to finish the hand. Furious at being ignored, I stamped downstairs and across a couple of streets to the campus, marched into my boss’s office and resigned. To my consternation, she refused to accept my resignation and told me to go home and think it over. I had to return to the class room first as I’d left my bag there and I was responsible for locking up. The room was empty. A note on the board said, ‘WHERE DID YOU GO? WE WAITED FOR A WHILE BUT YOU DIDN’T COME BACK. SO WE LEFT.’ You might have already figured out that I thought matters over and returned the next day.
At the end of the course, I invited my students to dinner. I stressed that they should come to my house without any drugs. They were not a relaxed bunch, perching stiffly on the sofa and chairs and eating only when I urged them to do so. My husband remarked afterward that he didn’t think they enjoyed themselves. He was probably right.
Next week I\ll write more about my college students as I still have a few things to say.