Four weeks into the semester, one of my students e-mailed me. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m behind in my assignments because I didn’t get my book yet.” She proceeded to tell me that she initially couldn’t afford the book. Then, when she had the money the bookstore was out of the book. So she ordered it on-line, but it didn’t come yet as there was a problem with her credit card. So, she wrote, “I’m hoping I’ll get the book before our first test.” Our first test is a week away and covers four chapters.
My first thought was, “Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?” Before responding to her e-mail, I contacted my department. It turns out that the department has an extra copy of the book that I can place on reserve at the library. I could have done this from day one if I’d known! Looking at the e-mail again, I realized that, even at this point, she didn’t ask for help. She said she was just writing to make me aware of the situation. She even apologized for her “drama filled life” that she “can’t seem to escape.”
As I’ve said many times before, I feel like it’s not the subject matter that I teach. The subject matter is just the medium through which I teach life lessons to my students. In this case: ask for help. Sooner rather than later.
“Maybe she was embarrassed to tell you she couldn’t afford the book,” my sister offered as I relayed the story to her. That could very well be true, and I know it’s a hard thing to admit. However, if this student is in her first year of college it isn’t going to get any easier to afford books. So I’d rather she let us know about her problem now as there may be a way to fund the purchase of books.
I wrote back to her telling her I wish she had told me earlier. I said I would immediately put the book on reserve at the library for her. I suggested some other ways for her to get access to the book. Then, I told her she’s her best advocate. I told her people are willing to help her, but can only do so if they know she needs help. I explained that there are options out there that she doesn’t know about – and that she’ll only find out about them if she makes her needs known. I said that she could avoid a lot of the “drama” she spoke of if she asked for help as soon as she thought she might need it.
But here’s the thing. I find the lessons I’m teaching my students are usually ones I, too, need to be reminded of. Just a few days ago I asked for help on a project I’d been trying to do on my own for quite some time. I finally realized it was something that needed to get done, but I didn’t have an interest in doing myself, and I had the money to pay someone to do it for me. So I made the call. I asked for help. I found someone who loves doing this who was delighted to help. The relief I feel knowing that it will get done is worth every penny. And I would have never felt that relief had I not asked for help.