College is not just book learning, it changes your life

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By Warren Parkin

 I’m happy with the progress students have made in English 1 this past year in college.

But I’m even happier my students have learned more than English.

You see, most of my students are afraid. 

That’s understandable.  College is a new experience. Frightening.

They think they’re too old, they believe they’re not good enough, they think they will fail. 

To make matters worse, their loved ones call them selfish, not smart enough, failures. Loved ones question them about how they could ever succeed in college.

Like my students, these loved ones are simply afraid, afraid that their loved ones will change and that they won’t.

And they’re right. They will change. Education changes people.

Yet, my students persevere. They want to make their lives better. 

And here, I’ll let you in on a secret: college is not as scary as you think. Try it and you’ll find out. 

College is about you. This secret can be scary but also liberating. 

As one student puts it, “Thank you for showing me a whole new world. And thank you for pushing me to new heights. “

College is so much more than studying, reading, memorizing, writing and taking tests. So much more than learning the mechanics of English and how to write a good essay.

College is learning about yourself, others, and the world.

College students learn how to trust their own voices, to say what they shouldn’t, or what they should, even when it isn’t polite, regardless of what others think.

After two and a half decades of teaching, I believe that the most important part of college is change.  Change for the better.

  But don’t take it just from me. Listen to my students in their own words.

“I feel like my understanding of other cultures is going to prepare me for the future in the workforce.” 

“When I started this semester, I had no idea I was going to get this much out of it.  Most importantly, I will always remember how reading essays changed my view on society.” 

Others learned to trust themselves while mistrusting previous bigoted thinking:

“I have learned that I am smarter than I previously thought.” 

“Contrary to what our high school English classes seem to think, we do not all think the same. I am glad that I have gotten to experience a class where everyone’s opinions and ideas can be heard.”

“I have learned that there is no correct answer to a question. I have learned that not everyone understands the same. I am glad we are all so different.”

Another student writes about expanding horizons: “I’ve begun to realize how big this world really is. There’s a whole lot more to see outside of Cedar Key, Florida.” 

Still another student talks about the importance of looking beneath the surface and interacting with others: “One of the most important skills I have learned is critical thinking. Having others to bounce ideas off of has been great, and I have learned how to handle constructive criticism.” 

Besides teaching the material, college helps people be better parents so their children can be better people: “Most importantly, I’ve learned that I can make a difference in how I raise my daughter. I grew up extremely racist…but being in this class has changed the way I view others. Now I can raise my daughter not to be racist.” 

College teaches empathy and perspective in times of difficulty: “I’ve come to realize I’m not the only one who has a lot of troubles to face.”

College also teaches students to learn from each other, not just the professor: “When I walked into this class I thought I’d be butting heads with many of my classmates. Wrong again, they began to teach me things.”

College also teaches self-confidence: “These four months I have learned to just ‘be.’ I am okay with my oddities and imperfect self.” 

Although college can be scary, it is so much more than that. 

College can be exhilarating. “When I started this semester, I had no idea I was going to get this much out of it.”

I started teaching college when I was 23 years old. Now I am 47, and I see that no matter the subject, be it English, Spanish or Humanities, college is really about self-change. 

As one student who is a Polish immigrant and a single parent in her thirties writes: “I have never been more proud of myself. It truly is an incredible feeling to finally attend college. College is more than just tests and homework. College helps you learn things about yourself that you never knew. For anyone that has ever considered going back to school, I would say, do it! It is an experience that I know I will never forget…I should have done it sooner!” 

College opens your eyes to worlds of possibilities.

I hope to see you soon.