By Kelly Crabtree, College Adviser of Perquimans County High in Perquimans County
I find it amazing how much you learn as an educator.
When you walk into the school building for the first time and see all those young faces looking back at you, as unsure of themselves and as unsure about the trajectory of their lives as you once were, you honestly believe that you will be doing the bulk of the educating.
It was after those first few weeks of advising that my student interactions began to differ from the expectations I’d once had of them. Many of the extroverted, high-achieving students had already cycled through my office, and I was starting to call in students who were a little more withdrawn and who had a few less college options due simply to average GPAs and lower test scores.
What I wanted was to pump them up, to be optimistic. I wanted to lean on my optimism that was a product of my privilege. I had been fortunate to grow up in a household where my parents were married, present, and supportive. They had told me I could do whatever I wanted, and now I wanted to push my students to reach for the stars.
The difference was that many of my students experience unstable households, insufficient resources, or both. Sometimes, it inhibits their ability to perform as well as they might have been capable of in the classroom. They can absolutely reach for the stars, but they will have to overcome obstacles that had never existed in my path.
What I have learned from my students is that I cannot talk to each person as though they are me. I also cannot talk to them as though they are the friend that sits beside them in every class. Each student is an individual, and I have to adapt to each one’s particular circumstances.
Though I might have liked, as a student, to have been mostly left to my own devices, many students at my school prefer to have me walk them through the college-going process step-by-step and day-by-day. They do not wish to shoot for the stars quite yet; they just want to complete the application to their local community college and go from there.
Through my students, I have learned what resiliency looks like. Hopefully, I will maintain these lessons learned to continue practicing humility, flexibility, and empathy throughout my career in education.