Volume 45, Number 1 - November/December 2009
CCA president examines their influence on his life
Over my 32 years of teaching, I have tried to challenge my students to do everything they needed to do to change their lives forever. Yet, as I look back on my teaching career, I realize that my students challenged me to do the same thing. As we all navigate through this dire budget crisis, it is important to reflect on our profession, what we give to it, and what we get from it. I’m grateful to have heard back from many of my students about the impact my classes had on them. But I’d like to share just a few examples of how some of them have affected me, as both a teacher and faculty advocate.
Each of these students contributed to my own growth as an educator and a union leader.
Jimmy Nguyen taught me I could find time to do more if I wanted to make a difference. Jimmy’s parents had arrived in California from Vietnam. They had instilled within their son he needed to succeed in any field he chose. In forensics, which I coached at Mount San Antonio College, he set a goal to learn every event to the best of his ability. He began practicing for events in impromptu, extemporaneous, informative, persuasive, communication analysis, and Lincoln Douglas Debating. One day I was complaining about how the administration was demanding more and more from faculty without adequate compensation, and he challenged me to get involved to combat these demands. I explained that I was teaching a full load, had the speech team, debate team, and the readers’ theatre team and just didn’t have any additional time. Jimmy shared with me that not only was he carrying a full load at our college, but that he was also carrying a full load at UCLA. He shared that he was going to complete his entire undergraduate program in three years. His philosophy was simple, “People choose to do the things they want to do, and find excuses for those things they don’t want to do.” That was when I got involved with the Faculty Association. And Jimmy? He placed first in all six of his events at the national speech tournament earning him the most outstanding competitor at Nationals.
Michelle Roche taught me to treat full and part-time students equally. I will never forget that summer day she walked into my classroom. She was dressed in designer clothes. When she introduced herself as a student athlete, there was a slight disconnect between how she looked and my perception of how most athletes came to class. This class had about a dozen athletes who had signed up because it was an early morning class, and could be completed before their summer training sessions began. As the summer session progressed and certain athletes did not meet all of their assignments, it was Michelle who defended me and the class no-make-up policy. She contended that if you expect less from some, it hurts the education of all. Michelle broke her leg in several places by the end of the class. It ended her sports career. Yet, she returned to school in the fall and was elected Associated Student Body President. She was a student representative on the college’s board of trustees. She earned a Master’s of Arts degree, and was responsible for managing both full- and part-time employees for Disney when it opened in Japan. This treatment of full-and-part-time members has assisted me in dealing with full-and-part-time issues with faculty. I learned that if it is important to one, it should be just as important to the other.
John Brock taught me that someone must be the voice of those not able to express an issue for themselves. John was a student who had gone directly from high school to the UC system. He had enrolled in my class because he wanted to learn to control his stutter that took place when he spoke in front of a group of people. John never stuttered when he was discussing issues with a small group of one to three people or in one-on-one conversation. However, once there was an audience of more than three, his anxiety took over, and he became a stutterer. John worked hard in my class until he was able to overcome his disability. In his final speaking assignment, he spoke out against society’s discrimination against people who stutter. After John completed this class, I asked him if he would perform an event in a state competition that involved reading portions of novels and short stories. He captured first place with a literary piece whose main character stuttered. The judges were amazed at how natural his speech appeared. John taught me to be the voice for those without the courage or ability to speak for themselves, something I do regularly as CCA President.
Each of these students contributed to my own growth as an educator and a union leader. I often think of them when I take on some of the challenges of advocating for faculty and the students they serve. I can say with all honesty, these students are my heroes.
By Ron Norton Reel