And, it’s not the job you think.
As an instructor, teacher, lecturer, coach, whatever the role, I honestly do have an interest in helping people be successful in their academic career. Helping students become successful hopefully results in successful people, resulting in a better, more educated, more productive society. Everyone wins!
Not everyone begins college with identical circumstances. As educators, we cannot take every single permutation of Life into consideration when working with students. Thus, we end up sounding callous, unfeeling, and uncaring to students whose Life has become complicated.
Of those students with special circumstances, Single Parents Back-in-School (SPBiS) have my vote as having the “World’s Toughest Job.” I have great respect for adults working towards the goal of bettering themselves through education, and creating a role model for their children.
In full disclosure, I am not a single parent. Having taught 11 years in my state’s community college system, many single parents have passed through my course. Some have been very successful, others not so much.
I would be swimming in a Sea of Obliviousness if I had not noticed some traits of successful SPBiS and traits of those not so successful.
Successful SPBiS have several traits in common. A supportive family is nice, grandparents that can act as babysitters while mom or dad is in class. When a family is less than supportive, a reliable babysitter can be a lifesaver. When reliable babysitters are few and far between, friends act as the support system. Also, churches sometimes play important roles, with church members volunteering as babysitters, or offering evening daycare.
Successful SPBiS manage their time well. Calendars, daily planners, smartphone reminders are tools used for storing reminders. SPBiS reduce the complexity in their lives temporarily, focusing on work, school, children.
Successful SPBiS communicate with their professors. Children get sick; they are veritable walking sacs of infection and green mucus. Children have to stay home when ill. K-12 school breaks never completely align with breaks in Higher Ed. Former spouses drag custodial parents to court, arguing for recalculation of parental support or visitation rights. Not all educators are heartless, only some. The balance of us understand how demographics have changes over the last 20 years. We do not want SPBiS to use their trials as excuses; SPBiS know when breaks occur, know court dates. Educators do want to know when SPBiS will be absent in order to keep college administrators happy. SPBiS who take responsibility by communicating their outside responsibilities, communicate how they are handling responsibility, and communicate their plan for not falling behind usually receive accolades from faculty.
Planning sums up the main difference between successful SPBiS and the SPBiS who falter.
Faltering SPBiS do not seem to have drug issues and do not appear lazy, not in my experience. SPBiS are anything but lazy. Therein lies another difference.
SPBiS who continue to enroll their children in every activity possible are not doing anyone any favors. Then, SPBiS use soccer, baseball, basketball, horseback riding, swim lessons, astronaut training, ultimate fighting training, etc. as an excuse for not having the research paper complete, or not having enough time to study, those SPBiS ruin the reputation of all other SPBiS.
When SPBiS place three, four, or five other activities above Education, faculty notice the lack of priority, how Education becomes more of a hobby than an essential Life goal. Faculty generally will have no compassion for SPBiS who do not prioritize Education, who allow other activities to short-circuit Life goals. Faculty have little patience for such attitudes; we will point out time management flaws. If there is no correction, SPBiS will get little help or sympathy.
Successful SPBiS also have another critical trait. Successful SPBiS minimize or manage to eliminate "Mama Drama" or "Papa Drama." Unfortunately, we cannot pick our family. Parents write cold checks, rob banks, cook meth in the garden shed; siblings prostitute themselves, bootleg cigarettes, run heroine, and stab their upstairs neighbor. Successful SPBiS who have family drama successfully shield themselves from said drama. Sometimes, walking away from the problem family members is the only solution.
Seriously. Walk away.
Successful SPBiS recognize other successful people, surround themselves with successful, positive people, then emulate good behavior.
SPBiS who falter or fail allow themselves to be overcome by the worthless drama rife in the lives of their family and friends. People who infect others with the psychosocial drama of their life are termed "toxic." Toxic people superficially seem nice, well-mannered. However, toxic people poison the lives of the people around them, getting drunk, stoned, high, encouraging others to do the same. Toxic people entice others to push aside priorities, studying for an exam, writing a research paper, or working on a presentation, in favor of going to riverboat casinos, getting high, or simply going fishing. Mothers and fathers can also indulge their children in guilt trips, elevating an illness or event to a priority above the education of their SPBiS. I find that deplorable behavior in adults, honestly.
Fortunately, I personally have a family supportive of education. Not everyone has a supportive family. I personally have witnessed families who argued against their child seeking education. Horrible.
SPBiS can find themselves in co-dependent relationships with friends and family members, relationships toxic and draining, and demoralizing.
Anyone who was been through counseling, or perhaps has viewed A&E’s "Intervention" know solutions are limited to two outcomes. The toxic person(s) must modify their own behavior; or, in the case I am making, the SPBiS must choose, out of self-interest and preservation, to remove the influence of the toxic environment.
I tell my students, "make good choices. Make choices that work to your best interest. What I say might sound selfish. I promise, it isn’t. Good choices that work to your advantage may mean your kids do not play soccer this fall, may mean you wait 6 more months for vacation, may mean you miss a movie, or concert. Ask yourself, are you doing the activity to make yourself better, or are you doing this to please someone else, who may not even remember your effort in 6 months? If you answer, "for someone else," then what has that cost you? Making good choices ultimately will pay dividends for you, your family, and set good examples."
Faltering students will play the "Blame Game," "I couldn’t get my work done on time because of my roommate/mother/father/uncle ________ . It isn’t my fault!" Yes, it is your fault. You made the choices. No one else.
Successful SPBiS say, "Yeah, I didn’t plan well. I didn’t allow enough time to write/read/…" They take responsibility.
I have an interest in experiences that help SPBiS become successful.
If you have useful ideas or anecdotes, I encourage you to share.
Thanks for reading!