I began my part-time college level instruction in evenings while working at the Patuxent River Naval Complex in Maryland, in an area where Maryland had expanded their University of Maryland College system to more rural communities needing a local way to continue their education. It was there where my personal view that people working hard during the day would make better students at the college-level than young folks going full time at their family expense. I had spent over two full years doing just that myself to earn a Master's degree and it proved true at the undergrad level as well. Those full time employed and night school college students ran rings around the others, wanting learn and wanting to be able to use that time to enhance their value in the job market while the immature just liked the social contact and it was hard getting them to crack the books and their grades showed it. But a few years later when I returned to the land of my birth, I had the opportunity to teach at night in an environment where teaching was a joy.
After moving back to Hampton Roads in the 1980's, it wasn't long before I started a small marketing business and became an active small business member of the local Chamber of Commerce, supporting other small businesses and making many valuable contacts. One was the head of a business education program at Hampton University and as we talked, he told me I'd be perfect as an adjunct instructor at the school. After some serious thinking, I did so and it was one of the most interesting educational experiences I had in my life. The student body was made of a mix of African Americans and a large contingent of Black Africans from all over the continent. There were also a smattering of Caucasians in the student body as well which made for and interesting but always respectful discourse in the classes. But the African students were the ones that I really enjoyed, for they worked harder and with more determination than I had ever seen in the classroom and the reason was clear. To earn the opportunity to come to Hampton, they had competed for scholarships from their home country and failure in the educational endeavor was not an option. Many were young and married with children back home and they came to the United States full time until they graduated, with some in four year programs. On several occasions after class I would have coffee with them and they'd tell me what they had to deal with. For the married ones, it was particularly difficult for they would not see family until they graduated. They could receive mail, but they said it wasn't safe to send anything of value either home or coming their way in the mail due to corruption. I was told that it was the rule rather than the exception with their postal service. Yet they persevered, and did well, and they taught me something very special about teaching. and what is that, you might ask?
A good teacher is really someone who can present material in a way that makes the student want to take the information provided and search for more information with passion. If the passion can be instilled, then the hardest part of the job is done. Teaching is a process of getting a student interested in the subject and then turning their excitement loose to find more. Yes, there needs to be some direction and guidance but if the teacher can instill energy, excitement and a reason for someone to develop the desire to learn, the rest comes easy. And with those African students, it was made so much easier by their determination to master whatever was put in front of them that they arrived for their first class with. Maybe the hardships they had faced back home and being given and opportunity to change their expectations did most of the work, yet they depended on me to get the discussion going and provide experiential evidence of where it could go. Then the would run with it.
One thing I always did at the start of a quarter was to ask each student why they were here. For the students with tuition paid for by their parents, often they didn't have a good answer and said it was because they were expected to go to college. For the Africans, they had particular motives and goals and they all related to going home and making their life and the lives of their countrymen better and worthwhile. Looking at the problems and issues they must have dealt with when they returned to the reality of their native land and the challenges it would present, I only hope they held true to their values and worked for good instead of taking the easy way out and became a victim of so much of the corruption that so many would face. I likely will never know how things went for any of them, but I hope my faith and my love of freedom had a positive impact on their future. And I also know it was one of the most rewarding things I ever did in my life. Life is all about the many experiences we face in the course of life and I thank God every day for letting me experience them.