By Jana Carver
“Never let anything hold you hostage.”
It was a strange concept. I’d never thought of my life as a hostage situation, and yet a little more than one year ago, a man I highly respect was saying these words to me.
His name is Kermit, but I know him as Mr. Britt. Mr. Britt is an Adult Basic Education math teacher at Guilford Technical Community College’s Greensboro Campus, and I was in his class.
To explain why I was in an Adult Basic Education class instead of college courses would be a long story, so I’ll just say this: I didn’t have the best experience with education. Things got hard at home and school became a weight I could no longer carry, so eventually, I stopped going.
You might be thinking how that was a bad decision, and I would have to agree. But what you have to understand is, for me, it did not feel like it was a decision. At the time, it felt like it was unavoidable.
So in 2014 at age 19 I was a high school dropout with too many dreams to count and absolutely no idea of how I could ever make any of them happen. I walked into GTCC because like many others I have goals, and school was the logical first step in reaching those goals.
When you go for your diploma at GTCC, you have two choices: Adult High School or the GED program. I did not test into either of these. Instead, I landed in Adult Basic Education math. Adult Basic Education classes are the classes before the classes before college.
“At age 19 I was a high school dropout with too many dreams to count and absolutely no idea of how I could ever make any of them happen.”
So imagine for a moment that it is your first day of class. You are about to walk into the classroom. You’re nervous. You’re scared. You’re worried the teacher will take one look at you and see exactly how under-prepared you are. But more than anything, you are humiliated because you have to go to this class because you messed up, and now things aren’t the way they should be. You walk in anyway, and there is Mr. Britt, a tall man with a boisterous voice, but his words are kind. He uses them to build you up because somehow he can see just how much you have torn yourself down.
I was lucky to be put in his class. Not everybody gets Mr. Britt, and not everybody wants Mr. Britt because everybody knows about Mr. Britt. He expects a lot from his students, and that can be intimidating, but what is even more intimidating about Mr. Britt is how he sees your struggle, pulls it into the light and makes you face it. He has no problem telling you how it is.
It took him less than three weeks to learn my story. I remember standing at the white board after class, working on a problem that I was sure I was never going to get, and I remember telling him so. When he asked why, I said, because I’d never learned it. He said, “You’re learning it now.” Well, the look on my face must have told him that that wasn’t good enough because the next thing he said was: “Jana, don’t ever let anything hold you hostage.” And in that moment, I realized that I was a hostage. I was a hostage to myself. I was a hostage to my thoughts, to the belief that I was not good enough, or smart enough, or that I would never deserve a good education. I was a hostage, but I also realized that I didn’t have to be. I was there. I was trying.
I walked into Mr. Britt’s class with a math computation score of 6.8. That, combined with my math application score, put me right at 8th-grade level math. I was a hostage.
I walked out of Mr. Britt’s class with a score of 12.9. That is the highest score you can get on that test. I was a hostage.
From August to December, I took my GED classes. I tried for my GED in December because I wanted to start curriculum classes at GTCC in the spring. The GED has four parts: social studies, science, English and math. I passed all of them with honors. I was a hostage.
By January, I entered COM-231 — the very first class of my college career — terrified. I thought for sure I was going to fall flat on my face, but I finished my first semester with all A’s. I was a hostage.
On June 6, I graduated with my GED and received a diploma that says “honors.”
I was a hostage, but I’m not anymore. And I have to thank Mr. Britt for that because I don’t think I would be here without him.
— Published Dec. 17, 2015