Community College Instructors, Hollywood Style

There’s a new movie coming out (with the very uninspiring title, Larry Crowne) that features a community college speech instructor who clearly doesn’t want to teach, who pours vodka into her yogurt shake, and who falls for a student.

Oy vey. Alcoholism. Anti-intellectualism. Sexual Harrassment. Covers it all.

See for yourself:

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Crafting Academic Cover Letters: A Reminder

Creative Commons

 

I know I’ve written about this before, but just a quick reminder for those on the market for the late arriving community college job openings:

  • Please re-read the job description and make sure you meet the minimum qualifications: you WILL be weeded out if you do not, and since HR is overwhelmed, faculty designees, such as myself, are doing the weeding, and it makes me quite grumpy to find several folks a day who think they alone are qualified despite not meeting the minimum qualifications, though I do sometimes enjoy the verbal gymnastics that some candidates go through to try to make themselves appear to meet the minimum qualifications. My advice: if you wish to argue for meeting a qualification that you truly do not have, at least concede in the value of that qualification rather than dismiss it as irrelevant.
  • Please tailor your letter to the position:An eight page cover letter that includes a detailed overview of your current research, and a  list of graduate students you have worked with, by name, with their research project titles?   For a position teaching first and second year students? No. A cover letter that is only one paragraph long is too short; one that is over 3 pages is probably too long (and there is debate about 3). A letter that does not even mention the name of our college, or the position you are applying for, is just not going to make it clear to us that you truly want THIS position.
  • And yes, I know the software requiring you to upload documents is cumbersome, but you may want to double check before you hit submit: one candidate submitted hir cover letter 4 times (instead of including hir CV, for example).
  • You may want to update your reference letters, fyi: one candidate submitted letters that were all addressing a four-year old job opening at an entirely different type of institution. 
  • Yes, this one is a true oddity, so I mention it only for kicks and giggles: a cover letter written in the third person is very funny, and truly bizarro.  I’m curious: what professional fields require or encourage cover letters written in the third person?

Dear Search Committee,

Candidate Archie Simpson is simply perfect for your college. He has years of experience, and an admirable education to boot!  Let me tell you more about Dr. Simpson in as much detail as possible, and, while you read this fascinating description of Dr. Simpson, imagine you are hearing a big, booming radio personality voice reading it aloud to you. Believe me: you WILL hire Dr. Simpson after reading this letter!

It made me laugh at least!

Temporary Lack of Inner Resources

I went to high school right at that pivotal moment when those who argued to require students to memorize poems lost that argument. However, lucky for me, some of those teachers persisted.

I remember one of the poems I memorized.  It still resonates with me:

“Dream Song 14” by John Berryman

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) “Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.” I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

Clio’s recent posting about “living with these three goblins of dread, demoralization, and futility”  reminded me of the poem.  But while Clio describes classic burn out syndrome, I’m more bored. I’m heavy bored.

And I’ve tried to fight it.

Professionally: I’ve revamped my composition courses with new assignments and new approaches to evaluating student writing. I’ve volunteered to serve on not one, but TWO newly formed, potentially powerful, task forces. I’m trying to focus on a writing project (and I have so many fabulous ideas).  I’m spending time planning and daydreaming about one of my favorite literature courses that I will be teaching spring quarter.

Personally: I’ve signed up for another half marathon and will once again join the weekly “training” group with what is usually a great group of women.  I’ve added new novels to my Kindle, ones that I’m excited about reading.  I make sure I’m staying social, and not crawling under the covers with chocolates and Mad Men as Clio describes (though frankly, that sounds utterly wonderful).

Seasonal Affective Disorder? Perhaps. But the weather is oddly spring-like these days.

Our college will soon have several administrative-type positions open, and I am being actively courted by a variety of people to apply. I mean actively: phone calls, emails, asides in the hallway, chats over wine during happy hour, invitations for more chats during happy hour.  It is, naturally, quite flattering, and I’m finding myself somewhat intrigued.

And after spending the last 2 days grading papers for 8 hours a day, I find myself very, very interested.

But in my current state of utter boredom, my obvious absence of inner resources, do I have what it takes to even make it through the application process?  Would a new position really save me from my boredom? Or, as Berryman’s mother says, do I just need to go find some damned inner resources?

Deconstructing A Calendar Change

It’s a big deal, this change from late December to early January.

Not that you’d think it was a big deal if you read  this article, which, while fun to read,  is more of a tongue in cheek series of quips about the biggest change to happen within the MLA since, well, ever.

The annual convention is now held during the first week of January, rather than right after Christmas. This is a fabulous change for the vast majority of MLAers who, on a traditional semester system have most of the month of January off anyway; however, for those of us on the quarter  or early starting semester systems, the convention happens during the first week of classes. 

The article quotes one person, a graduate student, as dismissing this as a minor inconvenience:  “the first week is probably the best week to have to attend a major academic conference.”

Well, perhaps that’s true if you are a graduate student and perhaps your professor cancels the class because she, too, is at the MLA, but if you are the professor? And if you are a non tenure track professor working quarter by quarter at the will of the college that pays you?

I’ve arranged for experienced instructors to sub for me during the classes I will miss, but I still will have to deal with the fallout of missing the second day of classes for three sections.  The first week of the term is when we are required to take attendance, drop non attendees,then  deal with the wait list of students who want to add the class: administratively, the first week is a mess. The colleagues subbing for me know how to deal with the pressure we get from students during week one, and they are not at all looking forward to dealing with MY student pressures, as much as they care for me. 

Then there is the need to establish a tone for the class, create a class “culture”: this is what happens during that very important first week, especially when the term is only 10 weeks long. 

And about those 10 short weeks (not including Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, and the inevitable snow day): in a composition class, and I have three winter quarter, I need to get students started on the work that leads up to their first major assignment, the challenging rhetorical analysis, argument evaluation essay.  Because I did not want to make my subs lecture, I’ve created an in class group assignment that at least moves students in the direction of analyzing and evaluating an article they will read for day 2: the subs will facilitate (in some ways much more exhausting than lecturing). 

Now at my college, getting a sub requires begging other full time colleagues in my department (and the sub needs to be someone who has the credentials to “teach” the class) to sub for me with bribes of wine, cookies or return subbing. Sometimes, especially when I teach at a prime time, getting a sub within my department is impossible and I just cancel the class (something I simply cannot do during week one). 

But, I still get paid.  

For part time and adjunct faculty, missing classes means missing the pay check. And, unless they can get a full timer to sub for them, that’s what happens because if a part timer subs for anyone, that part time is required to be paid by the department, which, of course, is not encouraged, especially in a department that is usually overbudget by November.

This has led to a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” system where we sub for each other under the radar.  It has been working, but for those off the tenure track, it’s a risk. 

Should my college make allowances so that part timers/adjuncts/all faculty can attend the national convention of our discipline as part of our professional improvement? Well, that would be nice. But, there are other conferences we can attend, conferences that do not happen during the first week of a quarter: it’s difficult to argue that attendance at THIS particular convention is vitally important. 

But, you ask, what about those faculty members, TT or NTT, with job interviews at the MLA?

Oh, that’s right, there aren’t any.

There are other changes that I’m all for: sessions at the annual convention this year will now end by 6:30, allowing us all more time to get inebriated, and, presumably, more time to change the stereotype of MLAers as more interested in scotch drinking than sexcapading.

So there’s that.

Community Colleges: Canaries in the Coal Mine

MLA’s president Sidonie Smith has posted an article to the MLA blog titled “One MLA Serving All Faculty” in which she explains why the MLA should encourage more community college members to join the organization (there are currently about 800 out of the 30,000+ members). 

She begins by acknowledging the need to articulate with those colleges where the majority of students begin their college educations.  Then she warns her readers that community colleges are the canaries in the coal mine–they foreshadow the horrors that will trickle up to the more illustrious institutions of higher education. At the same time, those community colleges actually have, you know, jobs, so “our” graduate students need them. 

The MLA has been reaching out to community college faculty member since the 1980s;  in the 1990s I was invited to a breakfast for community college faculty. The Committee on Community Colleges was established to provide a forum for our members to become involved in the work of the MLA. In recognition of our minority status, the Delegate Assembly has special interest slots for two community college members so that our perspectives are represented within the governance structure.  The MLA offers incentives for local community college faculty to attend certain convention sessions for free, recognizing that many of us do not get professional development funds. Two years ago, there was a pre-convention workshop for community college faculty members.

We are certainly not being ignored. In fact, we are being courted.

I’ve enjoyed attending conventions for the last 18 years, and have  felt included in the professional organization in which I’ve chosen to invest my time, energy,  and money.  I’ve presented papers, I’ve participated in roundtable discussions, and each year, I take pages (pre-netbook) of notes on new books, new ideas, new classroom activities that I learn at this annual convention.

So, this article surprised and disturbed me.

Professor Smith does attempt to seek common ground with her first reason: we need to work together for the sake of all students.   However, after that,  the article is clearly addressed only to the 29, 200 members who are NOT community college instructors.  It sets a tone that is, unfortunately, not inclusive.  It was written ABOUT us, as if we weren’t in the club.

This is undoubtedly not intentional.  And perhaps, silly me, I shouldn’t have read it until after I finished grading final essays and dealing with stressed out students.  I may, admittedly, have my own inferiority complex.  But this article from the President of my professional organization seems unfortunately condescending when that is not at all her intention.

I need to craft a detailed response with specifics (the article is posted on a blog after all) after I’ve finished dealing with the essay that is 71% plagiarized; after I finished grading the remaining 45 essays on my desk; after I finish some work I have to do for the MLA Convention in LA.  A rational response, that doesn’t ooze with the angst from that chip on my shoulder.

Finals Week Funny

So this student walks into the final yesterday and immediately launches into a story about how the printer (you know, THE printer, the only one in the known universe) doesn’t work, so s/he can’t submit the final revision of the final essay the class has been working on for 3 weeks, due at that very moment. I let hir ramble for a bit, before asking, very politely mind you: “And you are?”

You see, this student is a familiar creature at colleges across the nation, and is particularly visible fall term, when newly hatched high school students who seemed to have been given passing grades for breathing enter our fair, open admissions, hallways and continue to use what must seem to them to be a very successful strategy:  Show up to class regularly at first, then begin to strategically miss those classes where the bigger assignments are due, and finally stop showing up at all for the last two weeks only to show up at the final with a fabulous tale of woe.  Then, when reality strikes in the form of the Angry Pissed Off Professor (A-POP), who says that, as per the syllabus, only students completing, and passing, ALL the major essay assignments can actually pass the course, whether or not they hand in the final essay, the creature responds with a look of total miscomprehension and surprise:

“But, I’m HERE for the final,” it says woefully.

 “Didn’t you check your grades, posted religiously online each week with an e-mail sent from me to you telling you that grades have been updated, and those students who are failing should consider dropping the course?” 

“Uh, no.” 

Of course not. 

And yes, I know, this really isn’t very funny at all.  I’m thinking she is a theatre major, and a damned good one, because that look of stunned surprise was just so real.

Professor Student

The first day of class is always a bit stressful. I couldn’t decide what to wear exactly (Is this suit too flashy? Do I have the right cap?). I was worried I wouldn’t find a parking spot, so I left a good 30 minutes earlier than I should have, forcing me to wait in the room by myself. I found a seat, and then tried to figure out what to do with my big winter coat and all my stuff: should I shove it all under the chair? Leave it in the aisle?

People started to walk into the room. I looked around nervously trying to decide which person was my instructor. Oh, yes, the instructor must be the one with the clipboard even though she looks 12. And it became increasingly obvious which students were joining me in the kindly titled “Advanced Beginner” class and which were there for the Masters class: we were the ones who had the new bathing suits, caps and goggles, and a certain cluelessness about where to sit.

Finally, the charming (but so young!) instructor called us together and swimming class began.

There are only 4 of us in this class and we do make an interesting group. Two of us are middle aged women: we know how to stay above water, and can sort of do a crawl, but not at all well enough to do more than a lap or two without total exhaustion and excess water inhalation. One of the men is also middle aged: he has a bit more experience but is trying to wean himself off the fins and kick board. And then there is the younger guy—though not as young as the 12-year-old looking instructor. He claimed, oh so modestly, to have little experience in swimming, but when the instructor asked us to show us how/if we could swim a lap, he powered easily and quickly. It took me a jealous minute or two to realize that he held his breadth the entire time, which is not exactly sustainable lap swimming. But he became my pacer: the guy I was going to learn to beat. By the end of the three weeks, by golly, I was going to lap him.

Because of this overarching goal of mine, the instructor asked me several times to slow it down so she could look at my form—and correct it.

So it seems that my motivation as a student was, and is, and will always be, competition. Undoubtedly I transmit that to my students in some way, although I tell them that it’s not a competition, and I use rubrics to prove to them that I’m grading based on very specific criteria (though admittedly, one criterion is the indefinable “wow factor”). I know I attract competitive students (I’m the honors advisor, too, so I’m basically surrounded by them), but I also have many mellow students who continue to take my classes, and who are not at all interested in the “A”.

Maybe they just like learning to swim with me?

Our swimming instructor is actually quite good: she learned our names easily (I know, there are only 4 of us, but I don’t remember the name of that youngish guy, and no I wasn’t distracted by his shirtlessness at all); she gave us concrete feedback on the way we kicked, stroked, held our heads. I thanked her at the end of the session, hopefully not in a kiss assy sort of way (not that she’s actually grading us or anything). By the end of the first hour I felt like I had worked out, and the tight quads and calves that I felt when I crawled out of bed the next morning are definitely going to make running the upcoming Xmas 5K challenging.

I’m a little envious of this young instructor, teaching a class of students who are highly motivated and who really want to learn to swim. It’s the last week of the quarter here at Ivory Coast Community College, and it’s been a week of excuses, but also a week of triumphs, as students practically yell “Aha! I think I’ve got it!” But most, admittedly, didn’t take my required classes because they really wanted to learn something new. I had to implant that desire into them or drag it out of them, depending on your teaching philosophy, which is, as most of you know, exhausting.

I’m so looking forward to being the student over the next few weeks: I will gladly take off the professorial glasses and neck scarves, put on my swimming beanie (and yes, you can wear such a thing backwards), and enjoy being in charge of only my own learning.