The Waiting Room

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

It Don't Come Easy

Posted by Seeking Solace |

One of the biggest challenges at my college is dealing with the issues that the majority of the students face. The student demographic that attends my college are usually in the mid 20's and up, are single parents, either work or are receiving public assistance, have legal, financial, housing and transportation problems. coupled with academic deficiencies. It can be a challenge for many of the students to attend class regularly when they can't get to class because they don't have money for childcare.

I have worked with this demographic for many years. Honestly, I prefer working with these students. I think it's because I believe I am needed. I could teach at any law school, college or university and feel that I am contributing to the growth of the students. But, I think my students need to see someone like them who actually made it. It's a bigger high for me to see my students reach success. No one, not even the student, believed that they could be successful. For someone to believe in them is huge.

Lately, I have dealt with some serious issues with my students. One student is about to be homeless. Another stopped taking her anti-depressants because she can't afford to go to the doctor. Those issues are not uncommon for me to hear. But yesterday, I was actually at a loss for words.
A student came to me to tell me that another student indicated that she leaves her three year old child home alone so that she can attend class.

Whoa. That is really not OK.

I completely understand the whole childcare issue. It's wickedly expensive. And for those who want subsidized childcare, the process and wait time in Elsewhere is long, with no guarantees. But, that is still no reason to leave a child that young home alone! There are serious legal consequences at play here.

When I lived in Lake Effect Snow Central, I was a Law Guardian in the Family Court. That made me a mandatory reporter for child abuse. So, if this had happened there, I would have not choice but to report it. But now that I am living in Elsewhere, the issue is a little cloudy. I spoke to my Dean about what the policy was and what to do with this information. Obviously, doing nothing is not an option. I could not live with myself knowing what I know and doing nothing about it. Also, because I know, that means that the College knows. If anything happens, the College is on the hook. At the same time, I do not want to outright accuse the student of leaving her child home alone. Perhaps, it was a mistake or it happened just once. Even if it happened once, I want to help her avoid a potential serious situation. If this student needs assistance, I want to make sure she is pointed in the right direction.

The Dean suggested I talk to her and help her find another solution. She has one class with me and on with one of my adjunct instructors. I am willing to work with her, in that if she has to miss class because she can't find childcare, she can still keep up with her work. But, I also want to stress to her that leaving her child at home alone is So. Not. OK.

The College is supposed to hire a Director of Student Services, who will be charged with providing counseling and referrals for students who need assistance. Quite frankly, I am shocked that this was not in place when the college opened my branch two years ago. In the meantime, I suggested that all the program directors come up with a list of services that students can access. That way, when a student comes to a instructor or a director with a problem, we can at least point them in the right direction for assistance.

These problems will not go away. And given the state of affairs in this country, it's not getting better anytime soon. But, all my students want to do is have a better life for themselves and their families. I have an obligation to help them.


Addy N. said...

Wow, that is tough! I can see how teaching students with those issues would be rewarding, but also put you in difficult situations. My students' biggest problems are usually that they overslept or something- none of them are dealing with things like that. I think your approach of talking to the student and making accommodations is a good one. I hope it works out! Good luck.

jo(e) said...

I think the student (and especially her child) is lucky that you've found out and are willing to get involved.

Arbitrista said...

Oh my god every time I think I've read the most depressing story of the day there's another one.....

rented life said...

We like working with the same demographic for the same reasons. I've dealt with the childcare issue too, and I tell them as long as they keep me in the loop we can work something out. Good luck!!

TiredProf said...

Most of my students are "traditional" (whatever that is), but I always have a few that fit into your demographic. I'm not sure of your school's policies, but in my case I let these folks know that they are welcome to bring the child(ren) along if it will get them to class. I can't recall a problem with this: the kids play quietly with crayons, books, or whatever. Occasionally parent will have to quietly walk them to the restroom. Again, I don't know if this is an option for you but it's been a reasonable solution for me (and one used only in emergencies by these students).

Seeking Solace said...

TiredProf: One of the concerns with allowing children in the classroom is legal liability. With my college does not allow students to bring their children to class because the children would not be covered under the liability insurance.

TiredProf said...

Understood. It's either not an issue here or no one's ever thought it through (we're a state school, so there may some blanket policy).