By Dr. Angela Walker, Shelby County School System
Posted: December 2015
When I entered Jefferson State Community College, I was 19 years old. My parents had just gone through a long, difficult divorce and I was really trying to find my place in the world. I had always struggled in school due to a reading disability and issues related to what I discovered my senior year in high school was ADHD. Neither of my parents graduated high school, so they had no expectations of college for me, but I had always dreamed of working with children, so I registered for a class in the Child Development program. I still remember how I felt the first time I sat in that class. I could not believe I was really a college student. As I continued to attend classes and made connections with instructors and other students, I began to see myself as a college graduate. Something I had never dared to dream for myself.
My second year at Jefferson State, my mom passed away, I found myself in an abusive marriage and I was 3 months pregnant. I went to class one evening and got so upset that I walked out in the middle of a lecture. I was at a very low point in my life and cannot express how overwhelmed and scared I felt. I was working two jobs, going to school and now having to think about escaping my present situation and raising a child on my own. The instructor left the rest of the class and followed me out of class to see what was wrong. I gave her the condensed version through tear filled eyes and explained that I just could not come to college any longer. I did not have the additional funds required and did not know how I would juggle everything in my life. She spoke very frankly with me about the decision I was making and made me give her possible solutions to every reason I came up with about quitting. She talked me through financial aid options and called to get my classes arranged so that I could keep my jobs. She even gave suggestions for pediatricians and childcare. If I ever missed too many classes at one time, she would call me to see what was going on. She saw something in me that I could not see in myself. That conversation and her continued support helped me begin see a way out of my present situation and past the obstacles. It was a tough road, but I went on to be recognized as Child Development Student of the Year when I graduated with my associate’s degree.
I completed my PhD. in Early Childhood Education and have worked in education for over 25 years as a teacher, administrator and district leader. It is sobering to think about where I might be if that instructor had not cared enough to help me find the resources and support that I needed. At the end of my career, I hope I am able to say that I too chose to look past what I was teaching to who I was teaching, because that is what changes lives.