Hitting the Brakes

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

I have a Non-Traditional Student (NTS) in one of my classes this term.  I had the feeling from the onset of the class that her taking this course might be a little burdensome.  She is married to a member of our armed forces who has been deployed to the Middle East.  She missed classes due to migraines, missed important assignments and fell behind the rest of the class. It looks like she is going to have to withdraw from the course to avoid a failing grade. This is both atypical and typical of the NTS.

It is atypical because NTS are often meticulous about their work and usually have perfect attendance.  They are the ones who stay after class to discuss various issues with the professor.  Sometimes they just want to chat with someone their own age!  The NTS rarely is late with work and the work is usually in the “A” and “B” range.  The above student had not fallen into those patterns this school term.  I knew that something was out of kilter.

It is, also, typical because her situation represents how NTS must incorporate advancing their education into their current life that is filled with responsibilities.  The obligation to fulfill assignments for a college course seems trivial next to the life-threatening circumstances of a loved one.  Worry, and the illness that may result from it, can be overwhelming.  When this happens, it is time to hit the brakes.  Stop your formal education, if necessary, and tend to those things in your personal life that require your attention.

The opportunity to attend college will always be there.  No matter where you are, no matter how old you are, there’s going to be a place for you in the classroom.  There are times in our lives when we must put our dreams on hold.  But doing so does not mean that you have abandoned your goals.  When the obligations and pressures of your life outside of school demand your full attention, you need to respond to those obligations.  If you do not, you will be unable to concentrate on your studies and disaster may result.  In turn, a few poor performances in school may be enough to convince yourself that you “can’t do it.”

When crises happen, allow yourself the time to get through them.  A crisis can last a few days, or, sadly, a few years.  No matter how much time is required to alleviate the problems at hand, do not desert your dream. Often it will be the dream that will sustain you during those tough times.

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