I have a little story about Pete, a student in my sociology class several summers ago.
Pete was in the classroom when I showed up for the first meeting. He had already read the course outline and purchased the textbook. In short, Peter Teller (Pete) came across as someone who wanted to succeed.
“Today’s class taught me a lot about myself”, Pete said after our first class.
“Glad to know that, Pete. I hope you’ll find this course interesting”, I replied.
“It’s very interesting. All my courses are really useful. I wish I had gone to college as a twenty-something. This is ten years later with a family and no time to lose”, he volunteered about himself.
“What are you studying?” I reciprocated with curiosity.
“Travel and tourism management”, he smiled with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ll be a travel agent and work my way up”.
“How much longer before graduation?” I genuinely wanted to learn more about this student who stayed to talk with me.
“If I pass all seven courses this summer, I can finish another seven this fall and graduate at Christmas”, Pete revealed a course load that seemed enormous to me.
“Seven courses this summer? Wow, you must work very hard”, I hid my disbelief behind benign optimism.
“I get up early and go to bed late. But my wife and I know if I do that for another two semesters, I can start working fulltime after Christmas”, Pete assured me.
“My wife, Angela is a bookkeeper. She encouraged me to get an education. She even wakes me every Saturday for work, and she makes sure we stick to our budget”, he started to tell me about his family.
“So your wife is a bookkeeper, and what’s your job?” I became very interested in this family living on a shoestring.
“I am a tour guide. I take visitors to Niagara Falls every Saturday morning and bring them back in the evening. It’s steady work, the money’s not bad, and I can pay for tuition and some of the rent”, Pete was honest about his responsibilities.
From Pete, I also found out he and Angela had a nine-year-old son, and that the couple had met while working together in retail when Angela was attending college part-time. Back then, Pete had never thought about much beyond survival jobs.
Pete had acceptable high school grades but little family encouragement to try college or trades school because tuition seemed out of reach.
His parents ran a small diner in Scarborough that they sold for a modest return when Pete was twenty-two. As a young man, Pete knew how to work at a diner but not much else.
“So I tried retail, but the money just wasn’t there”, Pete said sheepishly. “I wanted to do more, but all my options meant school or training and money I didn’t have.”
“But Angela pushed me. She said it wasn’t enough just to be cute and clever. She said if we were to have a future, both of us had to make more than minimum wage. Then Angela finished college and got a full-time bookkeeping job. She promised to help me if I went back to school”, Pete was grateful for his fiancée’s support even back then.
“But I hummed and hawed for another few years in retail hoping to make better money as a supervisor. Well, the money just wasn’t coming but I couldn’t go any further with only high school”, Pete candidly assessed his career limitations.
Pete and Angela did marry while he was still thinking of school. However, on a tight budget, they hung on to a small apartment even after the birth of son, Joshua.
“We’ll have to live there until we can afford a bigger place”, Pete appreciated the family’s sacrifice while he was in school.
“Joshua must look up to you and Angela”, I said with sincere respect for the family's determination.
“Oh, the little guy does his homework when I do mine – we’re study buddies that take up the whole kitchen table. Josh thinks his mom is the smartest person with money”.
That summer, Pete did stand out in my class of twenty sociology students – not because he earned the highest marks, but because he tried the hardest. With a family to raise and bills to pay, he did his very best with all seven courses – getting up early and going to bed late every single day. With his family’s support and sacrifices, he earned an overall B+ average.
That’s the story of Pete who studied sociology with me several summers ago. It's one of many shared stories of the challenges and successes of adult learners.
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Mina Wong has taught post-secondary social sciences since 1999. A lifelong learner, Mina is also interested in adult education, prior learning assessment, educational research, and learning
styles across culture, gender, and economics in different parts of the world.