Thirteen years ago, as a second-year teacher, I was offered a position to pick up an English 10 Adult Education course in my school district. Having just purchased a home on my own, the thought of some extra income enticed me, but I cannot say that I wasn’t also nervous. I was young – only 24 years old, and still a new teacher. Would these adults take me seriously? Would they be much older than me? I had no idea of what to expect.
Over a decade in and hundreds of adult students later, I now believe that having the opportunity to be an adult education teacher has played a significant role in who I am in this life.
In no other experience have a variety of people from many different walks of life entered into mine. From them, I learned acceptance and vulnerability. It is not easy to re-enroll in high school; there is a stigma and a stereotype. It is especially not easy to re-enroll in high school after many, many years – with multiple jobs and children, sacrificing time, and the high costs of childcare.
I learned to check my privilege and my judgment. Dropping out of school to pick up a job to help support my family, or to move to a new country for any reason, or to take care of a sick family member, or because of my health, was never even a thought that went through my mind as a kid. I firmly believe that, for the most part, everyone is doing the best they can with the hand they were dealt. I don’t know if I would feel so strongly about that without the experience of crossing paths with so many people with so many stories.
I’m sure college professors can relate, but teaching adult students is different than teaching teenagers. Adults have lived experiences, have seen things, felt real love and heartbreak, raised children, and brought more to the table that is our classroom. There have been nights where we needed to talk, laugh, and cry.
For me, a few years in, teaching adults became less about the extra money and more about the human connection. I continued year after year because I enjoyed the conversations. I enjoy sharing about our kids and spouses. I appreciate the advice. I love watching these adults graduate and move to college or advance in their careers. The accomplishment is something they want, not something they necessarily need.
At the end of 2021, I will resign as an Adult Education teacher. My kids need me more now (mostly as a chauffeur). I’m sure my students have learned about English Language Arts from me, but the gift of life lessons they have given me over the years is irreplaceable.