Today, I start teaching a new section of our Study Skills course. The folks in this class will, largely, be people who failed the course a few weeks ago, so I’m having to “step up my game” a bit so as not to simply repeat what they failed to get last time.

I find this class challenging for a number of reasons, but mostly because I don’t remember how I learned how to study, how I learned to take tests, or how I learned that I was responsible for my own education. Somehow I just learned these things – probably from a lifetime of education where my parents reinforced how important education is.

These students often lack that kind of parental support – and anyway, they’re adults so can only expect in certain ways. They also lack the habits and practices of good students. Finally, they often see themselves as people to whom life happens, not people who have an agency in their own lives.

This class is very difficult to teach partially because it is often frustrating as students seemed to cling to their old habits and attitudes (especially attitudes) and partially because some of these things are very simple and, therefore, hard to elaborate upon. I’m actively seeking out exercises to share these ideas with students, so if you have any, please share.

The other thing that is very difficult for me about this class is that it’s pretty heart-breaking at times. I see students who are kind, caring, good people who cannot do these most basic of skills. They have disabilities or intellectual challenges that prevent them from being successful – here, we have true victims, and I have no way to help them beyond being kind myself. I often wish I could recommend alternate paths for them – something beyond the college realm – not because I don’t want them to be successful in college but because I know they can’t be and I know that continual failure must be devastating for them.

And yet, our society has become one where you need an education to get a job that pays the bills. A high school degree is not enough anymore, and yet, we still have people for whom high school is the ultimate educational achievement that they can reach. So what am I, as a teacher, supposed to say to these students? How can I help them? I can point them to vocational degrees, but some of them have limitations that will prevent them from being successful there, too. I feel very at a loss.

Here, society has failed these people. We do not have a place for them – for the people with autism who are friendly and wonderful but cannot do the most basic of skills in terms of academic work, for the people with ADHD so severe that it is impossible for them to sit through 20 minutes of class, for people whose learning disabilities make success in a basic English class almost unachievable. We have no places else for them to go. How sad.

On some level, we have sold these folks a lie, telling them that they can succeed in college when they simply will not do so. What is there in our culture for them? Walmart? Fast food? That’s absolutely tragic.

While most of my students will succeed – if not now, then later when they’re more mature and willing to take responsibility for their actions – some of them will not, and I mourn their futures for them and pray that they have paths of great joy that I cannot imagine.