I have been in education for nearly 30 years under several hats. For the first 10 years, I worked among the support personnel. As I earned my degrees, I functioned as a lead teacher in special education and principal of a Christian school. And for the past 11 years, I have hung my bonnet in the Adult Ed program here in Waterville.

My experience is vast. My lessons and best teachings come from my observations of educators I supported in my earlier years. I experienced the empathy, determination, comfort, intelligence and influence that my former colleagues had for all of the children in their charge.

Each year, hundreds of children come through the doors at each level of learning. Out of those hundreds, many fall through the proverbial cracks. They are the lost souls on whose behalf each of us professionals, at whatever level we perform, makes every effort possible: to help them to believe – to trust – to care again. At some point, the spirit of these children grows weary. The daily trauma, lack of food, sleepless nights, moves from town to town, absences from school and unkempt lives break their spirit and they shut down to survive. They are lost to us.

As the years pass, it becomes more difficult to reach out and touch the heart of those who have learned to protect themselves by indifference. It is, for them, the only way to survive … to not care because caring hurts and hurting has gone on too long. Each year, as they graduate from grade to grade, they are increasingly challenged by their lessons. They develop behaviors and attitudes and begin to lash out.

While their bodies are still present, their souls left the classroom a long time ago. Their final blow to the academic world is to quit as soon as they can. So, they leave and try to make their way in the world without skills, without protection and without anyone to care for them. Their predicament worsens. They are flailing like fish out of water. There is no rest.

Now they cannot find work. They often get involved in legal issues that put more labels on them. They roam with no clear direction. At some point, many of these lost find their way to another academic program that may be the “right fit.” It is Adult Ed – which has been around in its current form since after World War II, designed to help the men who returned from the war complete their high school diplomas.

Today, for so many, Adult Education becomes that final safety net. It is the place where they bring all of their idiosyncrasies – good, bad and indifferent – and where they are accepted in spite of them. All of us who work in Adult Ed are professionals well trained to realize that it is not always about the academics (at first). That we must help our students get past the burdens they have carried for years before any learning can take place. That we must welcome them each time they return with the same enthusiasm, hope and energy that they need to draw from.

In the end, most come to realize that there is such a thing as a new beginning. We do not have the same restraints that traditional schooling does. We have time, flexibility and patience. Here is where students can find their way again and realize academic success, which is different for each one that comes through our doors. I am grateful to be a part of Adult Ed and to be someone who contributes to the success of our students overall.

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