Dear Single Parent Student

Blocks + Books

A few weeks ago I came across the following news story, and it has resonated with me for many days:

Professor Holds Student’s Child (CNN)

I have NO idea what it’s like to be a single parent. In fact, when my husband must travel for work, the few things that I am left to do in his absence are minimal compared to the endless tasks single parents willingly take on to be everything at all times to their children. It really must require superhuman strength.

Last year I had the privilege to teach a single mother and, I must confess, it was eye-opening. If I could write a letter to this young woman, here is what I would say:

Dear Amazing Student (who happens to be a single parent):

Thank you for inspiring my journey in motherhood. I wish that I could share your perspective with all of my students, as I know it would make them strive to be more. I would like to share with you why I believe you will be a success in your life’s endeavors.

Your dedication to the important things models to others what a gift it is to learn. Your furious notetaking on a bright yellow legal pad showed your peers that an education should never be taken for granted. On days when you looked fatigued, you motivated me to slow down, take a breath, and lighten the mood with a cheesy story or two. You always smiled, even when I wasn’t funny.

I see great potential in you to change lives. You willingly signed up to complete a significant group project with the only student in class whose first language was not English. In that, you not only embraced challenge but also worked with him every step of the way to ensure his success. He was an in-season collegiate athlete at the time, so this was no small task. You demonstrated for others that growth and opportunity lie in adversity.

From your speech to your dress, you commanded respect for our classroom community, and you contributed rich life experience insights. Despite being a nontraditional student, you allowed your unique voice to be heard without fear.

In writing this letter, it suddenly makes sense to me why you did not disclose your motherhood to me until the end of the semester. Perhaps this is the decision that you must make every day – to work hard, to inspire, to be a role model for your child and not dwell on the details of your struggle. After all, with the innumerable duties you assume as a mother AND a full-time student, who has time for that? I admire your resilience.

Thank you for teaching me. If I should ever “teach” you again, you are more than welcome to bring your son to class. I would like to thank him as well.

Cheering for you always,

Professor Fortenberry

In full disclosure, my former student granted me permission to share a small part of her story. May we all aspire to encourage others with our lives.

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