As I look back on my time teaching, I am once again grateful for the lessons from an advisor I never had time to thank while she was alive. I hope some of the students I had the honor of working with carry this lesson forward in their own future work.
Carol A. Hand
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, Sister Lorita, my undergraduate advisor from St. Xavier College for Women in Chicago, taught me more than botany. Through example, she taught me what it means to teach. Students made fun of her because of her weight and because of her enthusiasm for her subject, a subject they found boring. One day when we were meeting, Sister Lorita looked at me and said, “I know students laugh at me, but I don’t care if people make fun of me. It’s worth it to me if they learn to see the wonder of life in a blade of grass.”
“The wonder of life.” Isn’t that the most important thing we can learn? Although I was a chemistry and biology major at the time, my life took a different path. Instead of science, I teach students how to work with people…
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This was so meaningful to me today, Carol. I was especially touched by “at least one student did listen, even if it took decades for that student to remember.” Sort of a light-bulb moment for me, to realize maybe it hasn’t been a wasted life, some lessons just take a little longer than others. When the student is ready . . .Thank you!
Judging from the love and depth interwoven into your posts, and your reader’s responses, it’s apparent that you touch many peoples’ lives, Mandy, Thank you for making a positive difference in mine 🙂
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Your post made me reflect on working class culture and how rarely it’s recognized as a culture with discrete values and language. This is the culture I grew up in – though I had no idea working class culture even existed until a friend from Appalachia pointed it out when I was in my early 30s. The earliest literature on working class culture I know of is World’s of Pain by Lilian Breslow Rubin (1976). Other good books on working class culture include Richard Sennett’s Hidden Injuries of Class, Jake Ryan’s and Charles Sackrey;’s Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working Class, and more recently Philadelphia Inquirer reporter’s Alfred Lubrano in Limbo: Blue Collar Roots and White Collar Dreams
This is such an important point, Stuart. Classism is so invisible, yet it’s a frequent issue in social work education. I wish I had known about all of the resources you shared at the time. It’s something I encountered at all of the universities where I taught, often with troubling consequences for students. I described one of those situation in one of my first posts: https://carolahand.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/the-gatekeepers-and-mrs-a/
“First generation college students like Mrs. A have often learned crucial skills. They often come from families that needed to forge relationships with other families in similar situations in order to survive with limited incomes. These mutual support networks exchanged resources and services in times of need. Children learned to quickly discern who was in a similar situation and how to form supportive networks. They also learned to endure the shame of paying for food with food stamps, or wearing outdated, unfashionable secondhand clothing that drew the ridicule of more affluent peers. These lessons often make it easy for students from families with fewer economic resources to form trusting relationships with agency clients. Yet like all strengths, context matters. The purpose of education is to help students be able to decide when to use these relation-forming abilities and when to maintain professional distance.
“Mrs. A described some of the experiences that were humiliating for her when she was a child, and the deep shame she still feels when she remembers these experiences. Because she is kind-hearted and empathetic, her natural inclination is to reach out to others who share this history to ease their humiliation and pain. It is this predilection to ease the suffering of others that placed her at odds with middle class notions in social work. For most faculty I have encountered, the need to maintain “professional boundaries” with clients is simplistically operationalized as a distant power-over relationship. There is little room to understand the nuances culture, class, context, and purpose of interventions, etc., have on the most effective approaches for working with people.”
I was able to buffer some students, but it always meant extra time and money for them to succeed.