Teaching first: a favorite former student died in a car crash yesterday. Stephanie Picher was the type of student who makes teaching at Bridgewater State University so worthwhile: she had failed out in her first go around as a traditional student and then came back when she actually had her life figured out and knew what she wanted to do. There’s a type of student I see here more than most other places I have been that values being given a second chances and comes away from here with the valuable life skill of knowing it’s okay to fuck up once, twice or several times, as long as you learn how to fix it and move on.
She was “nontraditional” in the sense she was a 28-year-old in a classroom full of people as much as a decade younger, but also nontraditional in that she challenged me and other students to think harder, work harder and do better. She also proudly referred to herself a dyke on a campus where such admissions can still elicit awkward, sophomoric chuckles and had a passion for Lady Gaga (which I never did quite get).
One of my proudest moments in that intro to journalism class — and in seven years of teaching, for that matter — was after teaching students to be fearless of strangers in reporting stories, she tracked down and interviewed my then girlfriend and now wife for a final assignment that required students to write a profile about me. She did this when she could have easily resorted to a Google search or half-assed interviews of other students who had taken my class and still gotten a decent grade.
By the time I met her four years ago she was sober and determined and a talented writer. She entered my life at a point where I had recently stopped drinking but still wasn’t 100% sure why. While we didn’t really talk about sobriety, we talked around life after drinking and it was reassuring you could still be your own person (and even be more of your own person) without drinking.
As I have frequently said, the best part about this job is that you routinely learn way more from your students than you could ever possibly hope to teach them.