Wednesday, September 9, 2009

the bridge; or, learning to hang in there

I believe that I have found my calling, I am a Community College instructor; currently adjunct, but, with ambitions of a full time position.  I think that I have come to terms with idea that this is my career. I can stop searching. I am not going back to my PhD in American Literature at UNR. I am not going to teach English in Thailand. I am not going to get a job in marketing somewhere. I am not going to get a high school teaching credential. And I am certainly not going to raise alpacas in my backyard. I am going to teach English, most likely first-year writing, in a Community College. Now, that being said, what I really want to talk about is Puente.

Puente is the program I am working in now; a program that is aimed at helping under-represented students tranfer to four-year colleges and universities. It is a UC program, so of course, they would prefer that my students transfer to UC's but we will all be plenty happy when they graduate with BA degrees from most anywhere. Most of my students are Mexican-American. A few are first generation immigrants, mostly second, and a smattering of third generation immigrants. Some are here legally, some are not; but all of them are struggling with such difficult circumstances. Reading levels are very low, writing even lower. Their personal lives are amazingly difficult. I listen to story after story about painful childhoods, abusive family members, citizenship difficulties, poverty, violence, and drugs. Daily. Many of them missed out on the educational foundations they need to do well in college. And now, they want to do well, but it is hard.

Puente means "bridge" in Spanish. Right now. I am the bridge; I am their bridge to the academic world. I am the one that is standing with one foot on their side of the gulf, and one foot on the universities' side; and I am trying to help them cross over. It has only been one month into the first semester and already I am tired. In the past two days I have I talked to five students in my office hours. Already there have been tears. Theirs and mine. Theirs were tears of frustration as they talked about struggling with words: reading them and writing them. Mine because their badly composed stories about drive-by shootings, abuse and abandonment were told so matter of factly. I tried to keep my tears to myself. I don't want to make these students feel any shame about their history, but as I talked about snapshot sentences, how to use imagery, and adding clarifying details in their writing, I could feel the weight of their lives growing heavier and heavier on my back. I want all my students to tap into the power of writing, but especially the Puentistas.

Today I am tired. But,this is my calling. Tomorrow is another class and another chance to move them farther away from one edge and closer to another. I am the bridge, and I just have to hang in there.


  1. Wow. You are amazing.

    I've worked in some community colleges and my favorite was the Community College of Philadelphia, which was also the one with the least privileged students (though nothing like what you are describing...). They just worked so hard.

  2. I admire you for what you are doing. Your students need someone like you, someone who cares.

    I've missed you, and your words, and I'm glad you are writing again.

  3. Go Ms Kat! Be the bridge -- a good mantra, I think. I love your confidence, determination and compassion in this post.