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:

No Parking

As Dead (good lord, Annie, get some sleep) Dean Dad has noted, the enrollment boom at community colleges is fairly widespread.  Despite creating/enlarging two parking lots, and partnering with a church down the way to allow for overflow parking (with a shuttle bus running back and forth), parking is more abysmal than ever.

On the upside, I’m getting lots of walking in since I can walk from home while the weather stays summery.

On the downside, snow is in the forecast for tonight. Yes, snow. Ok flurries that won’t stick, but still….

So, yes, we are swamped with students, and this is affecting us all. The Advising Center, despite hiring 2 new non-faculty, full time advisers, stayed open 10 hours a day the week before classes began to accommodate the rush of new students. Faculty were asked to to do an extra day of advising that week, too.  But since literally NO new tenure track faculty were hired for this year, that means all of these new students will be assigned to the existing full timers, and we must meet with each student one-on-one sometime between now and mid-November.

In our department alone we’ve hired so many new part time faculty members, that we’ve run out of mailbox space (not to mention the overcrowded part timer offices).  Many of our new part timers are relatively new to teaching (we don’t live in a big enough city to draw on a limitless pool of experienced part timers), thus in addition to the dozens of new student advisees, we are also being asked to mentor several new part timers, each.

Those saints who are working for less than minimum wage, but that’s another story.

So, are there ANY benefits of this massive (I’ve heard 40% increase bandied about) surge of students?  Ya betcha.

  • The students are highly motivated: so far I’ve found the percentage of students still engaged after week 1 of the term is much higher than usual. Perhaps because they are still so thankful to have gotten into the class (I had wait lists of up to 20 students), or perhaps because they are truly inspired by the motivation of others around them.  They are the usual diverse group (high school drop outs, honors students, veterans, returning adults, native born locals, and those who have lived and traveled widely), but they seem to be more motivated and engaged as a group than usual.  It’s wonderfully energizing for me.
  • The possibilities: when enrollment dropped at the turn of the century, we cut the variety of humanities courses we were offering (when only 4 students enroll in a course, it’s immediately put on the chopping block), and focused on offering more sections of composition.  Now, we figure we can offer a course on, say,  Milton (no offense meant) and we’d have 50 students registered in no time.  The Curriculum Committee is already flooded with new course approval forms for next year.

So, as of the start of week 2, I’m mostly happy with the changes.  Students who were on mostly wait lists did manage to get some classes (maybe not the ones they wanted, but still…) and we are a lively campus for more than the peak 4 hours a day now, with students everywhere, all the time, 7am to 9pm, hanging out on the quad, streaming into the tutoring center, the library and the cafeteria, and already popping in during office hours.  I love it.

Now let’s hope the energy, on both sides of the prof desk (do any profs actually sit down at “their” desks in the classroom?)  is sustainable.

Summertime Blogging

The Academic Blogosphere (the blogging world in which I live) seems to go on semi-hiatus once classes end—or at least once they end for you semester system schools. We on the quarter system are still plugging away for 2 more weeks. Interestingly, I’ve found few community college instructors who are bloggers (as is also true with the academic novel—there are few that focus on community college faculty and students—another interesting gap to explore).

But I’m finding that the relatively light blog-reading the last few days has allowed me to get more done. I’m also less writerly these days myself: I have a list of blog ideas, but little time or inclination to pursue them right now. Instead I’m doing the usual end of term/start of summer chores:

  • Reading research paper drafts—in fact, this activity should take every waking moment of the next week despite the high attrition in those classes. Most intriguing fact from this term’s papers: I have THREE papers on “evil” and one intriguing paper on women who choose to be exotic dancers.
  • Reading my online literature class’s weekly postings—this week, they are on Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver, two of my favorite writers, so I’m looking forward to reading their postings. Yet, unlike the research paper classes, this class has no attrition, so I have 40 postings and responses to look forward to….so far, they seem to be getting O’Connor’s wicked sense of humor (and, as always, critiquing the hapless grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”). So far, no one has taken me up on my prompt asking for an analysis of why “Everything That Rises Must Converge” appeared in the season finale of “Lost”.
  • Fine tuning the big speech I’m giving this weekend. I have the meat and bones nicely organized, but now I need to work on wording and delivery, and I should time myself, I suppose. Anyone know how long 1700 words should take to read in a New York-velocity accent?
  • Choosing textbooks for fall—yes, it’s ridiculously early to even think of such a thing, but I’m already a month late on my fall book orders.
  • Planning the summer vacation—this summer, it’s hubby’s turn to plan our vacation in August (itinerary, hotels, etc etc), but I suspect he’ll need a little pushing. Yes, I’m obviously the pushy one in this relationship….
  • Gearing up to teach two back to back online classes this summer—luckily, both are graduate level, small classes, focused on researched writing.
  • Training for two half ½ marathons in June
  • Assorted social gatherings every weekend for the next few weeks (funny how mostly introverted faculty start becoming social and extroverted as the term winds down). One gathering is a “Pure Romance” event: think Tupperware-type party with dildos and edible panties.
  • Still reading “light and uplifting” fiction each week in the endless task of finding a community read book. Has anyone read The Help by Kathryn Stockett? That was has been added to the list. Right now I’m reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: a beautiful novel, not unlike Jewett’s The Country of Pointed Firs in terms of structure (each chapter focuses on a different character in this small Maine town), but so far, I wouldn’t call it “light” fiction.

I suspect in a few weeks, once the grades are submitted, the speech is done, and the gatherings are over that I will be able to do a few meaty blog postings. Till then, I’ll probably just do hit or miss links to interesting stories and sites, which I hope are at least mildly amusing (well, they are amusing to me, and perhaps that’s all that counts in the Daily Me world?).

Community: College for Losers?

Big news in the community college world: loser struggling station NBC has announced a new sitcom for the fall called “Community” starring Chevy Chase as an older, lecherous, student in a Spanish study group. 

You can watch a 4-minute preview here 

If you watch the promo, note the gorgeous cafeteria with all the windows: this is a community college with swag.

I laughed, a little, and felt slightly ill at the inevitable “community college is for losers” joke, but it looks like NBC will try to emphasize the tagline, community colleges are for those who want a second chance, in an attempt to redeem themselves (and prevent cc presidents from taking their Harley’s across the country in protest).

Alas, from the clip at least it looks like the series missed the greater opportunity to mock cc instructors and is, instead, focusing on students (which are, admittedly, a potentially more varied group). 

As someone who has been mentally drafting my own cc-centered academic novel for years  (try finding one: the only one I found was written in the 50s and is terrible–can’t even remember the title right now, but I’ll dig for it), I’m thrilled that at least some sitcom writers have recognized the satirical wealth of such a setting. But, I’m also well aware of how such a satire can backfire on the professors who dedicate so much of their lives in support of the community college mission, and to those students who make incredible sacrifices to get an education.

I’ve spent my entire 20-year academic career teaching at very different community colleges: it’s often impossible to generalize about them. Some serve mostly traditional-age students; others mostly retraining adults–most serve both populations. Some hire PhDs for their transfer programs; others refuse to hire PhDs. Some are fairly well-off because of high property tax income; others clearly struggle with uneven state funding each year.  Some are one of many colleges in urban areas; others are the only college for 100s of miles. I can go on. Dean Dad has written about all of these issues, and more….

Here’s the press release summary: 

From Emmy Award-winning directors Joe and Anthony Russo (“Arrested Development”) comes “Community,” a smart comedy series about higher education…and lower expectations. The student body at Greendale Community College is made up of high-school losers, newly- divorced housewives, and old people who want to keep their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity. Within these not-so-hallowed halls, “Community” focuses on a band of misfits, at the center of which is a fast-talkin’ lawyer whose degree has been revoked (Joel McHale, “The Soup”), who form a study group and, in “Breakfast Club” fashion, end up learning a lot more about themselves than they do about their course work.

Obviously, I have many future blog postings on this topic…but right now I have some supposed “misfits” to teach.