I wasn’t much older than them. In 2010, I was 25 and teaching my first college class. I had graduated with my master’s and was ready and eager to teach English composition. At the time, I thought that I would work my way into the hearts of the departments that I was hired into and eventually teach literature, my fiery passion.
It’s 2020, I am 35, teaching class number I don’t know. I am getting ready to begin my PhD program, and I am still ready and eager to teach English composition. Only now, I have a fiery passion for teaching student writers.
I have always loved writing and I have been writing since I was a young child. I wrote goofy stories for my middle school friends and I wrote faux dramas for my high school friends. I wrote (wretchedly) bad poetry in college, and I found that my true writing love is creative nonfiction.
I got a job at the university I attended for both undergrad and graduate school. I have wanted to be a teacher here since I first started, a scared freshman in September, 2003. I look at the building that I had my first class in and wonder what that young woman was so scared of at the time. Wilson Hall is not intimidating… really.
My teaching career has been filled with moments that I wish I could bottle and save, like Dumbledore and the pool of memories.
Until I got the job I currently have, I played the adjunct game and taught at nearly every school in the tri-county area near me. As a result, my experiences have been with a variety of students, from those coming back to school after years of other adventures, those seeking higher education after retiring, and mostly, traditional first year college students. I have former students that are now excelling in their careers and some that are blazing their way through graduate school. I wish I could have a reunion, of sorts, with them. I would love to know how all of my former students are, and it disappoints me that I don’t, however impractical that it is.
I have one student in particular that stands out. I will never forget Tony.
I met Tony in 2010 around 6:00 p.m. on September 7.
I was teaching a course that was labeled “developmental” by the college. “Developmental” means that it best suited students whose skills needed to be boosted before taking their required composition courses. The class was graded pass/fail and it was largely based upon teaching grammar skills.
I knew the Flint, Michigan area a little. And by “a little”, I mean I could drive around it on my way somewhere else.
But the city grew on me and I quickly became interested in it and all of its quirks. You see, Flint, Michigan isn’t Detroit’s step sibling, in terms of cultural vibe and value. No. Flint is the original. It has a way of being hopeful and energetic, wise and youthful. Flint is more than what most people get a chance to see.
So, when I met Tony and one of his first comments to me was that he’d been in jail, I wasn’t entirely sure how to react.
He told me his story about growing up in a gang and quickly getting absorbed into gang life, culture, and violence.
“But I’m done with that shit now, ya know. I got my girl to think about.” As he showed me a photo of a beautiful toddler.
He was the type of guy to ask how every person in the class was doing as they filed in each night, including me. Before he knew it, he was a leader in the class and a stand out student. He was getting excellent grades and putting hard work into the course material.
One evening, as we were getting ready to leave, Tony stopped and asked me, “Hey, Miss Scott, you packin’?”
I didn’t really look up from busily stuffing my bag. “Yeah. I’m leaving now too.”
He laughed and said, “No, that’s not what I meant. You got heat?”
Now, I’m not a complete dolt, but this surprised me and I looked up. “Noooooo,” I drew the word out. “Why?” #
“Because. This is Flint. And you park across from the BUS STOP.” (How he knew that is still a mystery to me.)
“I move fast. I think I’ll be ok. Thanks, Tony.”
“You just get on the freeway and head home. Don’t stop in this shitty city on your way. Get outta here, fast as you can. Aight? You feelin’ me Miss Scott. Be careful, even at school.”
I said thank you for the tips and we left it alone.
Tony passed my class.
I have no idea what happened next.
Today, I cross my very familiar campus and smile as I pass students and colleagues. But every now and again, I remember a kind kid with a checkered past. “You packin’?” What that simple question holds for both instructor and student these days… but what he meant was much different.
He passed my class writing rap lyrics and poems.
I hope that he still writes.
I genuinely wish that’s what he’s packin’.
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