We’ve been busy. Organizing, mourning, resting, strategizing, spending time with loved ones – not to mention all our paid (+unpaid) labor as academics.
As TSW writers and readers know all too well, our work (every dimension of it) didn’t just begin nor will it end with the change of any administration. For many of us though, the work (every dimension of it) feels more urgent now than ever.
There’s a lot more to say, and lots of voices we want to feature in this space to speak, to listen, to make change.
And we also need to – and do – act “in real life.” *
There is SO MUCH to do though, that it can feel overwhelming. And in our role as academics, especially in a climate that wants to censure topics and conversations in the classroom (Exhibit A, Exhibit B) and eliminate academic freedom by eliminating tenure (Exhibit A, Exhibit B), what can we do?
I think lots of things, and lots of “small” things that add up. Which brings me to:
A woman’s place is in the syllabus.
I am writing from the 11th week of our semester and kicking myself. What was I thinking agreeing to write a post at the end of April? So here you have my most honest and unfiltered thoughts now that I am nearing the end of my first year teaching community college full time.
Wow. It is hard. It is brutally hard on my body in a way that is completely unfamiliar from my previous experiences in higher ed. Teaching so many students at two different campuses requires much more communicating than I have done as an academic introvert. And it’s not just the teaching/ meeting with students/ grading responsibilities. While my students try to complete freshman writing, they are dealing with childcare worries, hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction in their families, and significant health concerns. Continue reading
At this time last year, I was waiting anxiously for a large research university in Texas to call. At this time two years ago, I was waiting anxiously for a comprehensive university in Georgia to call.I felt like a lovesick teenager, constantly checking my phone, my email, the department website, anything that would give me some idea of what was happening. In both cases, the offer had been made, and I was second choice. Long negotiations left me in limbo for months after promising campus visits. I must have known on some level that this was the situation, but hope and despair take turns running your life while on the job market; neither has a basis in logic. One day, I was sure I had a job, the next, I was sure I would never get one. Both schools kept me on the hook until mid to late April before finally letting me down easy. The second time, I knew I was done. I accepted a job offer at a Community College and have been making sense of that choice ever since.
I love quit lit. It got me through those final months when I knew I might keep trying indefinitely for that tenure-track research job without ever getting one. Continue reading
I’ve been an academic advisor, teacher, and research mentor for three years now. I’ve done ok at figuring out the nuts and bolts of teaching and advising, and I’m doing better with understanding how to be there for students as an empathetic ear. As a teacher and research advisor I’ve gotten more flexible about my expectations given the fact that most of my students are non-traditional. Overall, I think I’ve made progress in learning how to be supportive and encouraging of students’ goals, while also realistic.
Each student comes into college with their unique set of abilities, resources, and drive to succeed. They also come with a set of expectations – perhaps simply of achieving a degree, or of getting straight As in their chosen major, or of getting into a top graduate program. Many students at my College are high achieving and could fit in at any top-tier university, and they achieve their goals. Others are relatively apathetic… ‘Cs (or Ds) get degrees’; they aren’t going to do that well, but they’ll pass the classes and get a bachelors, also achieving their goals. Others realize for themselves that they are not reaching their own expectations in their chosen major, and transfer to another department of their own accord.
The students that I continue to struggle with teaching and advising are those that are not achieving their own college expectations but can’t make the hard decisions that entails. Even worse are those whose college expectations for themselves were mismatched with the expectations of the program or the career they have chosen. Continue reading
I came to work at a California Community College during an exciting time. In 2014, Governor Jerry Brown began allocations of $100 million annually to address equity at community colleges across the state. When I showed up at my first set of meetings last year, we had a keynote on systemic racism in American education. Each campus now has a Student Equity Committee deciding how to use our funds and looking at research-based plans on how to correct institutional mistreatment of historically disadvantaged populations. Having been in higher ed at a liberal arts college (undergrad), an R1 (grad), and now a CC (faculty) I can say that I have never seen such institutional attention paid to equity. Rather than a hollow diversity celebration, it seems that California Community Colleges are both acknowledging and addressing (with funds!) their abysmal histories of exclusion.
Barbara Bitters provides some useful terminology to get at what is meant by educational equity:
“The educational policies, practices, and programs necessary to: (a) eliminate educational barriers based on gender, race/ethnicity, national origin, color, disability, age, or other protected group status; and (b) provide equal educational opportunities and ensure that historically underserved or underrepresented populations meet the same rigorous standards for academic performance expected of all children and youth.” Continue reading
This semester I’ve had a teaching leave. Fifteen weeks to focus on research and getting papers out and research done. I had lofty ambitions for this semester, and slightly unrealistic expectations for how much I could do.
The cut down version of my plan (after planning my semester with far more, realizing that was not going to happen and re-planning with less) was to get 2 papers written and submitted, with one of those resubmitted. Another paper drafted, and one major grant submitted.
My softer goals were to spend more time in the lab at the bench, attend 3 conferences and speaking at two of them (lined up well before the semester), and increase the time I spent reading broadly and thinking about the future of projects happening in the lab.
So how did I do?
As a teacher of literature, I am often examining with my students the idea of voice in a piece of writing. What is it? Where is it? How is it produced? What is our reaction to it? How does it interact with content? How might the voice employed intersect with the cultural concerns or historical events of its time? Though often a challenging exercise that requires much prompting and directing from me, I often think the voice of a work of literature acts as its consciousness, so to neglect it is to bypass important tenants at the core of the humanities: examining what it means to be human and examining the power of words among others.
As a teacher of writing, (which I am for the remaining half of my courses), I don’t stop there. I challenge my students to develop their own voice in their writing. This is a nearly impossible task as the majority of my students enter my classroom with stilted college preparatory writing skills and they are, on the whole, mediocre at that. To them, writing has always been an act in service to something else. A paper is a product for assessment–a recitation of knowledge rather than a new opportunity to learn. The voice of the paper is nonexistent, accidental, or, worse, an audience-less and purposeless imagination of what they think their teacher expects. While students can often get by with this, and sometimes even do well in the “right” class, for my mid- and upper-division writing courses, I want my students to not only develop a voice, but one that is authentic. Continue reading