This is part two of a series of the story of a teacher in Arizona, her journey, and why she had to leave. If you’re not read part one, you can do so here.
How we are raised sets our lot in life, especially when we are children. While Christina had aspirations, she didn’t have guidance or role models. Undoubtedly, her family was loving and supportive, but school was just where you sent your kids during the day. Education wasn’t part of their family story, it wasn’t part of who they were. No one in her family had more than a high school diploma and none of her sisters would even make it that far.
Christina’s lot in life, unless she chose something different was to get a job, get married and get pregnant, the order is optional.
In 6th grade, Mrs. Mantz, having had Christina’s older sister as a student, was convinced that Christina was no good…just another one of those Snyder kids, all good-for-nothing cheats, not to be trusted. The harder Christina tried to do well, to break the mold, the more convinced her teacher became that Christina was just a typical Snyder. It all came to a head one day when Mrs. Mantz told her, “Just quit already, you’ll never even graduate from high school.”
To an eleven year-old girl, with a background like she had, aspiring to become a teacher, this was a crushing blow. The insult stung even greater coming from a teacher! Christina wanted to teach, wanted to help others and give back to her community, that’s what teachers were supposed to do. Devastated, Christina shut down, thinking along the lines, Mrs. Mantz is probably right. Going to college wasn’t something the Snyders do anyway.
By the time Christina started high school, her dreams of teaching had all but died. Christina saw what happened when you dared dream of another path. She’d let her eyes stray from the well worn, established and safe trail taken by all Snyders before her.
After all, Christina felt, Mrs. Mantz was right to notice I was straying from the expectation and come snipping at her heels like an over-caffeinated border collie, chasing me back to the place the Snyders belonged.
If not for an incredible teacher that provided Christina with inspiration and the emotional safety to open up, she’d likely never have changed from that course.
Mr. Loop taught high school English. He challenged Christina intellectually and treated her with the respect someone would show a peer. Christina felt empowered, smart and capable. Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Loop’s belief in Christina’s ability to do more than her family had done, to become a teacher, gave her the resolve to make her own way in life.
For a child from such a background to dream of something different as an adult, something even more than “get out of this place,” is a risk in ways difficult to appreciate. Change is always fraught with turmoil and angst, but not just suffered by the person making the change. From the family’s perspective, there’s much at risk and they often feel threatened. What if she fails? If she failed would it mean that their stock just wasn’t cut out for anything different, anything more? There’s always the belief, “Well, I could go to college if I wanted, it’s just not who I am.” If Christina tried and failed, what would that mean for the prospects of other Snyders?
But, if she went to college and graduated, would that mean that she was saying the rest of the family wasn’t doing well enough by her standard? Those left behind are left to wonder, “What’s wrong with how I am, how I live?”
First generation college students have a heavy burden to bear. First, there is the weight of trying to do something in conflict with family expectations, and all of the baggage that comes with being the first. The financial difficulties, and the fear of the unknown can tax one’s spirit! And for a first generation college students there is no blueprint for how to be successful in college. There’s no one to give sageous advice about how to navigate the hidden obstacles in college. None of them have done this before. And in Christina’s case, there wasn’t even an example of how to do well in high school, much less college.
First generation college students have to learn their course materials as well as develop new habits, totally unlike anything they’ve experienced, in order to do so. This is why 90% of first generation college students do not graduate college within six years!
Christina did graduate from college, finishing in the top 10% of her graduating class at Washington State University for her Bachelor’s in English. She continued in school to earn a Master’s in Education, fulfilling the teaching requirements for Washington State.
But, there were no teaching jobs in Washington, or across the Columbia River, in Oregon. Not only would Christina have to withstand the demeaning treatment by Mrs. Mantz, and strain family relations by doing something different than the family expectation, then figure out how to be a successful college student, Christina would also have to do something else Snyders just didn’t do. She was going to have to leave.