/  By  / 

TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #7

“I want to make it big.”

Michele Godwinfavicon Monday, 1/12 – 2:35 pm
My advisees are subdued today. Not uncommon for a Monday, but they are even quieter than usual. They seem more serious, maybe even older. They are maturing before my very eyes. All of them talk about how busy they are, how much work they have to do. It’s nice to see them so focused.

One man/boy pulls me aside and tells me he has so much work to do, he’s not sure he’s going to be able to finish the application for the scholarship program I’ve nominated him for. “I have to study for my pre-cal exam, I have to make up some chemistry work, and I am missing some assignments for Spanish. I don’t know that I’ll be able to finish the application by Friday.”

“That’s not an option. You have to finish it,” I say.

I check myself when I see how flustered he gets. He does have to finish it! If he is accepted into the program, he gets $7,000 AND the an excellent bonus on his college applications. Plus, I spent a solid hour writing the teacher recommendation, emphasizing his story, working to convince the readers that he is absolutely worthy of being one of only 10 students for this program. His teenage brother was killed a few years ago. He takes his toddler nephew and niece to daycare every day, on his way to school. He has miraculously kept his grades at As and Bs, until recently. He has ambitions, but he has very little idea what happens after high school.


“You need this!” I almost yell at him as I try to talk him into pushing himself just a little bit harder to finish the application. I don’t though. He doesn’t need me yelling at him, reminding him how hard life is sometimes.

We make a list: THINGS YOU NEED TO DO BY FRIDAY. It’s not that long, and he remembers that the Spanish homework isn’t that tough.

“I’ve started the application on my phone. I can work on it while I’m on MUNI,” he finally says.

Tuesday, Jan 27 6:30 pm
Today is MY first day of school; I’m finishing up my Masters in Literature at SF State, and I took last semester off, so I haven’t been on campus since June. I’ve been looking forward to getting back to school and working that part of my brain again. I arranged a sitter to pick my child up on Tuesdays, bring him home, and get his dinner under way. I’ve purchased one of the several books for the class, and I’m ready to get started.

When I walk into the classroom, though, and ask the very young woman who is sitting inside if she is there for the Emily Dickinson class, she says no, she’s there for English 214. Not English 760.

Oh, I say. Maybe I’m in the wrong room.

I check my schedule and confirm I’m in the right place. As more people come in, though, it becomes clear that I am not in the right place.

I walk up to the professor’s office, on the fifth floor, to see if I might catch her before she goes to class. She’s not there. I walk back down to the second floor, to see if the English graduate office is open. Nope. I walk back down to the first floor, to see if there’s a directory or something that will tell me what I want to know. Of course there isn’t.

I see an older woman who looks like she knows where she’s going, so I hop on the elevator with her and assail her with my struggle. I ask if she can help me figure out where I’m supposed to be. She, of course, says yes, and I follow her back up to the fourth floor. She checks the master schedule.

“English 760 meets on Monday night, not Tuesday.”

I can feel myself about to cry, so I thank her quickly and leave. I drive home too fast, yelling at cars who get in my way. I don’t cry, but my frustration is overwhelming. I can’t take a Monday night class! That doesn’t work for me!

After I let the babysitter know she no longer has a steady, Tuesday-night gig, I go online, find another class that, honestly, I’d rather take, that happens in the middle of the day, Tuesdays and  Thursdays. Perfect! I try to register, but I need a permission code, so I email the professor (who I’ve had before, so I happen to have her email address AND a nice rapport with her). She sends it to me, along with a warm greeting and the make up reading assignments. I navigate the ridiculously user-unfriendly website to drop the Monday night class and add the T/TH class. Voila!

I realize: This is similar to what my students will go through when they go to college, but it will be even more overwhelming. What will they do when they need to change their schedule? when they can’t find their class? I have the time, experience, and patience it takes to navigate this kind of situation, and STILL I almost flopped myself on the floor of that woman’s office and had a temper tantrum. Many of our students don’t have the attention span or the technology or the willingness to engage with the middle-aged lady in the elevator to say, “Do you work here? Will you help me?” I worry about them.

Wednesday, Feb 11 – 2:00 pm
Overheard between two seniors and a sophomore, as we are walking the track for the women’s fitness class we are participating in:

Senior #1 to Senior #2: “But I want to make it big!”

Sophomore, who didn’t hear the first part of the conversation: “You want to make what big?”

Senior #1: “No, I want to make it. Big.”

Soph: “Right. Make what big? Your ass?”

Senior #1: (frustrated) “No! I mean I want to make it! I want to make it, big time!”

Soph: “Right. What do you want to make big?”

Senior #1: “I want to make it in the world! I want to do it in a big way!”

Soph: “Oh. Yeah.” favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!


  1. Dave

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. They have a profound impact on the way I go about my job as a teacher. Mostly, they make me laugh and cry (but not too much).

Please share your brilliant insights!