I'm in Portland right now attending a conference on Student Success & Retention. There has been some good information presented, but I'm just sort of going through the motions. I came to this same conference last year, and I saw how people came back from it with all sorts of ideas about how to improve things, but nothing much ever came of it. The culture of the college where I work is not very open to change. So I was feeling a bit cynical about the value of my being here.
When I was done with all the sessions I needed to attend for the day I grabbed a bite to eat and took a short break. Most of the others were planning to all go out to dinner together and maybe go do some fun things in town. I, however, had lots of work to do so I passed on the chance to go along. I came downstairs with my laptop to find one of the few spots where there is a decent internet connection so I could go online to grade papers from my two online classes. For the past three hours I've been tucked away in a quiet corner slaving away while everyone else was having fun. Sigh. The price of responsibility.
Then one of the hotel housekeepers came into the room where I'm working to check the set up for tomorrow's seminars. She was surprised to find me in here. She asked if she could get me anything, and then brought me a pop and chips. She was a really sweet woman who obviously wanted to do anything she could to make me comfortable.
We struck up a conversation and I asked her if she liked her job. One thing led to another and we started talking about hopes and dreams and what she would do if she could have any job she wanted. She got all bubbly and animated talking about how she is a real people person and likes working with people. However, she has never finished high school and now in her mid 40's feels like working housekeeping / laundry jobs are really the only options she has.
I encouraged her to consider going for a GED and taking some further education if she would seriously like to change her circumstances. She got very doubtful for a few minutes, saying she wasn't sure if she could do that. I told her how I had dropped out of high school at 16 and pretty much made a train wreck of my life prior to going back later for a GED and then on to college. Her eyes went all wide and she was stunned that this professional person at a conference for college teachers would ever have been a drop out.
I told her about some of the programs that are available for non-traditional students and resources available to help if she really wanted to do it.
It was like lighting a firecracker.
She got so excited to think that maybe it was not too late, that perhaps she really could still open up new avenues for her life. She asked if she could have my phone number so she could keep in touch with me to talk about this. I gladly gave her my contact information and got hers in return.
She gave me a big hug and then went on about her housekeeping duties. However, her step was much lighter and she was grinning from ear to ear and she gave herself full permission to dream big.
Right now I'm feeling pretty darned good about being stuck in this quiet corner to work instead of going out with the gang.