Teaching is something I enjoy doing. I enjoy it because I get to share my love of mathematics and also get to meet a lot of different types of people, with different experiences and various outlooks on life. This is good for me in my opinion. I view it as a way to “travel” to places without leaving home or in this case - the classroom.

However, meeting different types of people in different phases of their lives can also be challenging and heart-wrenching. I teach in various formats – the normal classroom, online and usually a combination of the two, called a “hybrid” format. It gives students access to their instructor and help on a regular basis and allows them to do some of their work online.

The other day a student emailed me to ask me to call them when I got a chance. As soon as I could I gave the student a call.

This is not uncommon. I thought that there was probably a particular type of math problem that the student was having difficulties with solving. We had been doing some financial calculations in the classroom involving interest and loans and things related to consumer type math.

When I got the student on the phone, they first wanted to apologize for being “a little behind.” I had looked at the student’s grades before calling to see what the student’s issue might be. A couple of assignments were missing, but not overdue. The student’s grades were good, thus I thought that this was not about grades.

It wasn’t.

The student simply wanted me to know that they were having trouble getting the time to do their work online/on the computer. The issue was partly the computer, or access to one, and partly child care.

You see, what I found out was the student and their three year-old child were living in a homeless shelter, as a result of who knows what. I don’t ask those questions, they aren’t my business. However, I did want to understand a little more about the situation.

The student explained that they had experienced a bit of hard luck and wasn’t able to find a job that paid enough for a place to stay and for childcare. The student did their computer work at the local library, but kept getting asked to leave the library due to the three year-old child being too loud.

The living situation was such that parent and child had to check out of the shelter every morning and check back in every evening. That doesn’t sound like much fun. In the meantime, the student was trying to take three classes and not fall behind.

Yes, there are many things I don’t know about the situation, but I do know that we all hit a bit of hard luck from time to time. For some of us, it might be that the car won’t start or the cable television is getting too expensive to justify. Most of us generally do not worry about a roof over our head and much more importantly, our children’s.

Following up the only way I knew how, I did find out that the student had a grade point average that most students would be very proud of and was over two years into earning their degree.

What now?

I can only hope that something good comes out of the “nudges” I put forth… I don’t know what else to do. A lot of us are scared to try to help people and I truly understand that…

What does a homeless person with a GPA over 3.0 look like? Like any other good student. What about the three year-old? A typical three year-old who can’t stay quiet in the library.

Sometimes we don’t need to know the reason, but we do need to appreciate the way people are playing the cards they were dealt. Particularly when they are playing a crappy hand better than those television poker superstars.


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