I have a wonderful student this semester who sits in the front row every week. She isn’t a genius, but she works hard and is doing well. Around midterms, she told me that this is her fifth time taking this particular English course. The reasons she wasn’t successful the first several times around are varied, and I won’t get into them here.

What impresses me is that she hasn’t given up. She’s here, again, in the front row, making it work this time around. She’s learned from her many failures and seems to be doing things right on Attempt 5. I respect that. I’m not cutting her any breaks, but she doesn’t need them. She’s learned about herself and how to be a good student. I asked her why she keeps coming and trying after so many disappointing semesters.

“I have to do this,” she told me with steely eyes. “I don’t have a choice. I have to get an education for my family.”

I work on the U.S.-Mexico border. My students are almost uniformly poor; many speak English as a second language. Not all are noble, don’t get me wrong. But as I read their papers and learn about their lives, I am impressed again and again by their perseverance. Things go so very wrong, yet here they are in my English class, trying to improve their lives.

I’m grateful to know them. I try to give them an education that will serve them well in their other college classes and their lives in general. It really is the least I can do.

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