Category Archives: Adjunct Faculty

Sharpening Divisions, Pronounced Tribalism

In 2014, in an editorial in the New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote about the unfortunate financial situation college students often find themselves in, but went on to describe other aspects of college:  “While these [financial] goals are important…there’s another dimension to college, and it’s one in which students aren’t being served, or serving themselves, especially well. I’m referring to the potential — and need–for college to confront and change political and social aspects of American life that are as troubling as the economy.  We live in a country of sharpening divisions, pronounced tribalism, corrosive polarization. And I wish we would nudge kids — no, I wish we would push them– to use college as an exception and a retort to that, as a pre-emptive strike against it, as a staging ground for behaving and living in a different, broader, healthier way.”

Do you agree with Bruni? I do. And I think our students are at a special disadvantage here, since so many are struggling really hard with financial issues and multiple jobs, live with their families, stay in high school groups, don’t mix in a dorm, and are not exposed intimately to people different than them. I encourage students to go ethnic events on campus and offer extra credit for it, but some are disinterested and many simply do not have the time.
Recently, the students interviewed each other for an introductory essay of the other person. In brainstorming questions to ask each other, one student asked tentatively, ” Can we ask them how they feel about politics?”  I agreed this is an important issue in our country today, and answered that they did not have to ask this question or answer this question, but that it was an appropriate question to ask if asked respectfully, such as “How do you feel about the state of America today? What do you think would make things better?”  We discussed importance of being agreeable even if we disagree.
Do you have strategies you use to help students reduce the “sharpening divisions and pronounced tribalism” of our society?
 

The Strength of the Base of the Pillar

As adjunct faculty, our power inside and outside the classroom is like night and day. We are not full-time; our job is always at the whim of funding or enrollment. We don’t advise students or get the chance to participate in most staff meetings. How can someone with so little power have a positive impact on the workplace when they are, by most respects, the lowest member on the totem pole?

The answer is to use the position to your advantage. As an adjunct there is very little danger involved in sharing your ideas or asking questions. You have the advantage of avoiding workplace dynamics, the so-called “water cooler talks” or “he said she said”. As the lowest member on the totem pole, you have the advantage of being part of the team while also being outside of it. It is tough to make enemies as part time staff, so be brave. If you have an idea, go ahead and start talking it over with other adjuncts to see how it is received. If it goes well, suggest it to your advisor or department head. Making suggestions and taking an active part in trying to help those around you will help you shake any feelings of self-doubt you might have. Not all of your ideas might be used right away, but by sharing them, you are showing everyone that you do have ideas, and you do want to help. The other thing you can do is ask questions. You will find that most educators are more than willing to help you in your hour of need. Helping, after all, is part of what defines us as educators. Asking other adjuncts about their ideas or solutions is encouraging to them. When someone comes to you and asks for your help it shows that they have faith in you, that they trust your opinion. Trust and kindness often go hand in hand.

So don’t be afraid to share ideas and ask meaningful questions. By doing these two things a dialogue and community is created. Support others when you see them trying to reach out, and seek out support when you need to. By moving past your fear and realizing the impact you can have, even as an adjunct, you will encourage kindness and understanding in the workplace.

 

Finding Inspiration from Isolation

This year marks the three-year anniversary of my teaching solely online as an Adjunct Faculty at GCC. At first glance teaching from the comforts of home might seem like a win-win situation, but I can assure you there are many setbacks, each of which deserving its own article. The most obvious and problematic setback is that of isolation. I don’t get to see my students face-to-face unless it is via a rare Skype conference. I don’t get to have my treasured lunch outings with Gary or Andy. I don’t even get to participate in Assessment Day or Adjunct Appreciation. I am, by most respects, a ghost in a machine that sometimes sends out e-mails and makes videos to remind the world I exist.

So where do I find inspiration in such a situation? Fortunately, even behind a keyboard and monitor, there are those who have managed to help keep me improving my courses and teaching, and grading all those essays.

Although not a part of GCC, my wife’s support is essential to my improvement. She is a workaholic, a zealot for her career and passions, and a stickler for punctuality. Her work ethic and drive have, over the course of our fifteen years together, rubbed off. I do my best to seize what opportunities come my way now, one example being that I volunteer as an emergency substitute teacher at my community’s local school. When my schedule permits, I get to work with and teach children ranging from kindergarten all the way to High School seniors; it is a blessing, and something I would not have pursued if not for my wife’s example.

Despite being a solid twenty-hour drive away from campus, I still treasure my conversations with the faculty at GCC. This includes both full-time faculty and fellow adjuncts like myself. Alisa Cooper has been my bedrock ever since I left the desert valley. Her drive and curiosity about new and exciting technologies has prompted me to reform how I approach online learning, all for the better. During her time as my direct supervisor she pointed me in the direction of opportunities and helped me correct and learn from my mistakes. Thanks to her I am now a video fiend. I’ve started my own youtube series of power lectures, and made myself less of a digital phantom to my students by posting videos and voice overs regularly. This continued with Beth Eyres who took over for Alisa after “Dr. Coop” (#cooperize) moved to the CTLE. Beth has helped me feel like I am still connected to the English faculty and community at GCC. She often informs me about events that I can take part in from a distance, like this blog. Most importantly she has made me feel like a contributor. I have worked as adjunct for four colleges in my ten years as an educator and she was one of the first supervisors to make me feel like my opinion mattered. Helping to create and develop the online English 101 shell has been one of the best experiences of my career, and I have Beth and her faith in me to thank for that.

Inspiration, even in isolation, is not hard to find when you stay in contact with the right people. My family at home and my family at GCC continue to be the right people to help me improve and better myself every day.

 

Repairing the Damage

I’ve always loved reading and writing. Throughout most of my education, it was never particularly difficult for me to complete English assignments, even if I wasn’t particularly engaged. I wrote the assigned essays with relative ease, even if I didn’t care about the topic, because I liked having my opinion heard. I read the books I was given, even if I hated them, because I loved reading. Reading and writing came easy to me, and I took it for granted everyone else was the same way.

Of course, it helped that I had teachers that encouraged my interests and skills. With the exception of one teacher: Mrs. Michelson, sixth grade Language Arts teacher. To this day, I don’t know what I had done to aggravate her, but she seemed to have it out for me. She actively discouraged my point of view on matters discussed in class, to the point where I stopped raising my hand or speaking up entirely. Further, she often criticized my assignments as having “too many details” or being “too long;” she only marked the issues and never gave me any praise on what I had done well. Nothing I submitted to her was good enough for her approval, nothing I said was worthy of leaving my mouth. My voice was stifled, my opinions outright discouraged. I learned to hate English class, and perhaps would still to this day had it not been for my seventh grade Language Arts teacher, Ms. Smith.

When I decided I wanted to be an English teacher, it wasn’t because I was thinking of all the supportive and wonderful English and Language Arts teachers I had had throughout the years, or all the encouragement I had received to pursue my dreams. Instead, I thought of all the burned out teachers my friends and I had witnessed over the years. I thought of all the negative experiences inside of a classroom. I thought of Mrs. Michelson. Of course I wanted to emulate the teachers who had inspired me, but more than that, I wanted to be the teacher who undid the damage of the bad teachers, the burned out teachers, the teachers who had simply stopped trying. I never wanted my students to feel the way I did in that sixth grade classroom, and in other classrooms in high school and university.

That’s why I do what I do. I like teaching English here at GCC because it gives me the opportunity to begin reversing the effects of the teachers who had wronged my students, who didn’t make them feel that they were worth listening to. I do my best to engage my students in a multitude of ways, to get them to think critically and then transfer those thoughts onto paper. The writing is usually rough and needs a lot of work, but it’s a start. The goal is to have them not necessarily “master” writing by the end of the semester, but gain confidence in their own abilities and in their own voices. They may not leave my class at the end of the semester loving reading or writing, but they see the need for it in the college and university environment. What’s more, they feel that they deserve to be in the higher education classroom.

 

Greetings!

Greetings! Not as in “Greetings, Earthlings!”, but as in “Good Morning, Students!”  I am teaching a late-start ENG101 class, so it is the beginning of the semester for me. I know we were all taught to stand in the doorway of the classroom, greeting each student, and shaking their hands as the semester begins. I do that the first day.  I also try to individually welcome them every day, though often I am welcoming them as a group. I always write on the board, before any information, “Welcome Back!” What prompted me to write this post, though, was that I recently read that it is a spiritual act to initiate greetings and smile at as many people as you can, every day. The initiation, rather the passive reaction, is considered very important, as it is a signal to the other that you see him/her as a unique person deserving respect and honor. Since I read this, I am increasing my initiation of greetings on campus, smiling at people I don’t know instead of shyly narrowing my focus to where I am going, and the response has been so positive. As I believe most of us do, I try hard to pronounce the student’s name correctly, not settling for “however you want to say it”, but working hard to say it correctly. (I do this not only to show respect, but also to re-enforce the importance of words. )Even if the student smiles at my bumbling attempts, it seems to be appreciated. Though most students respond positively to a hello and their names, I always have a few students who look right past me and do not respond; as a result, I sometimes stop addressing them in this way. However, today I was determined to keep up the practice, even if ignored! And the student who had been ignoring me actually gave me eye contact and a slight smile! So hello to you, my fellow posters! Please send me any other tips you have for starting to build community and trust at the beginning of the semester.
 

The Dance General – A Story of Change

Here’s a story about “change” on many different levels.

Most of my students take my Art of Storytelling class because it is required, and they believe it will be the easiest of the required electives they have from which to choose. They usually come into class “suspicious” of the teacher. Who are they? What do they know? And unconsciously, “will I be able to relate to this teacher?”

In the first class of the semester, I begin by going around the room and asking each student to tell us “why” they are taking this class, aside from the fact that it is “required”. Most of them end up saying “because it is required”, and then I have to pull more out of them.

Then, I tell them about myself…
Here, I could list all of the things I have done, all of my accomplishments, degrees and accolades. I could also tell them, “I am the kind of person who…” and list all of my qualities.

Since I teach storytelling, I try to “teach” the topic by actually telling stories. (The video is a five-minute video recorded live at the Arizona Republic Live Storytelling – 9/15/2011)

Afterwards, I ask them what they know about me now, and do they think they will remember these things? My story “shows” them who I was, how and why I changed, and who I am today. It’s a more compelling way for me to introduce myself to them… as a teacher AND a person. And self-deprecating, humorous stories most always show people that you are “human” and have the ability to laugh at yourself.

This usually changes the way they think about the teacher who is leading the class…and the class itself.

 

Flipping the Classroom, One Video at a Time

The “flipped classroom” is all the buzz lately. I really like the idea of it, and I have tried to get students to prepare ahead of time so we can do interactive activities during class. In addition to this, I assign projects that require students to apply the knowledge from their study.

Last summer, my ACE students were struggling with an activity and asked for more time in class to do the project. I obliged, with an agreement that they would have to watch the lectures outside of class. I spent the better of two afternoons recording the lectures using Screencast-O-Matic and Power Point slides. They were not perfect, but they worked, and the extra in class time to help students apply the material was awesome!

Last week, as we were working on an in-class activity about the atmosphere, one of my students remarked, “I wonder what it would be like to be a storm chaser!” Many others responded, and a great discussion ensued (I love when that happens!). I do know a storm chaser, in fact, she is a former student – and I even have had her come as a guest speaker before. So I contacted her, but unfortunately, she is now working a “real” job, and cannot get away during my class time. The next best thing is to make a video of her presentation.

…Here I go, trying out something I’ve never done before. Oh, wait, isn’t that professional development?

This time, instead of talking over Power Point slides, I thought it would be more engaging if my speaker could do her talking in front of a green screen and then display her photographs or video behind her. Lucky for me, the CTLE can help with that. I met today with Cheryl Colan to learn more about how it’s done, just to see if it is a doable project. We had so much fun! I even made a video of myself with instructions for my speaker about what she should prepare when we are ready to film. It took about an hour to film and publish the very short video. I even put one of my own storm pictures behind me. Here I am, finishing up the recording (Cheryl suggested I put this picture in my post):

6x6-screenshot

The CTLE has a recording room, complete with green screen, computer loaded with the right software, camera and microphone, special lights, and even a teleprompter. Cheryl also told me that when you reserve the recording room, you are also reserving her services – that way she is available to help you through the process.

I definitely learned something new today! I know this video will probably be the only project of this kind for this semester, but little by little, I might just end up with a collection of them.

 

Find Your Passion

The above image shows the results from last week’s poll and has nothing to do with the content of this week’s blog.

Week 3 Blog – Find Your Passion

I have a problem with following directions. I am always looking for the road less traveled. Our theme this week is about professional development, and I want to get to the heart of the matter, but with a twist.

Let’s face it, we don’t love our jobs every day. We tell our students to find a career they are passionate about so that they will “love” their jobs. Well, we all know that is an unrealistic expectation.

In order to have ultimate job satisfaction, you have to be passionate about SOMETHING. You have to make time for the things that you love. If you are an artist, you should be drawing, painting or designing. But you don’t have to do it at work. You do have to make sure you take the time to do it at some point in the day!

Take a look around at your work colleagues. You can see who is bringing passion to work. It’s like the good life is flowing over into their otherwise ho-hum life.

Take me, for example. Louise likes her job, she has a passion for health and fitness and loves teaching. Her job can be overwhelming and repetitive at times. Her true passion is swimming. When she swims, she is able to be creative and excited about her job, constantly coming up with something new and fun to keep it from feeling overwhelming and repetitive.

When Louise does not take the time to swim, she is grumpy and overwhelmed. Her professional development is directly affected by whether or not she gets to swim (her true passion). There are other obvious health-related benefits from swimming that get her blood flowing and her brain working, but jogging on the treadmill does not have the same effect, because she is terrible at running (not her true passion).

So what does this have to do with professional development, you ask? Everything. The point of professional development is to get better at what you do, to stay current in your field of study, and to network with others on the same career path. You can’t do any of that without passion. Let your passion for your “thing” overflow into your work life and you will find that your professional development will take care of itself. You will find yourself seeking opportunities that you would have otherwise missed.

Here is your call to action for the week: “What are you passionate about and are you spending enough time doing what you love?”

p.s. My “actual” professional development consists of an annual conference with the American College of Sports Medicine, nutrition seminars, various  MCCCD FPG workshops, and my favorite: CTLE offerings throughout the year. I have immense appreciation for the work of the GCC CTLE crew of Meghan, Alisa, Mark and Cheryl. They are oozing with talent and I love to learn from them.  ls

 

Helping Those in Need

I read with hilarity that our fearless 6×6 leader had to cut a workout short, at Orange Theory, of all places, in order to salvage Ben & Jerry’s ice cream from a melt down in her car of disastrous proportions.

I am devoting this post to help someone in need. So if this resonates with you, consider this a gift!

Fortunatley for me, I am lactose intolerant and I generally give up sweets for Lent anyway.  So, I am donating my ice cream prize from last week to anyone who is daring enough to share a time lapse video of themselves completing a 20-minute workout!

I am also taking a poll to see if our dedicated Write 6x6ers would prefer a whole-food snack as their award for completing their weekly challenge.  The results of this poll will be shared next week! Please choose your poison and submit!

People will generally eat what is put in front of them and a sweet reward is always welcome! But if you are trying to make a positive change in your eating habits, my guess is that you will appreciate having a reward that contributes to your health!

I was going to file this blog in the never-to-be-published archives, but have been egged on by our fearless moderator, as it seems that she might be up for the time-lapse video challenge. Who knew?

In the spirit of Valentine’s day, take care of your heart with healthy eating and exercise so you have the energy and strength to send your love to the world.

 

 

 

Trickle-Down Help

The theme this week is asking how I have helped someone. I could go on about all my amazing successful students, of course. (There is nothing more rewarding than mentoring students.) Instead, I want to highlight how I have been helped … and how hopefully that help has trickled down to the students.

Before I came to the community college, I taught science in a Montessori Elementary setting, and I also handled the tough behavior issues that went beyond the classroom. I felt pretty good about classroom control and helping students learn from their behavioral mistakes.

Funny thing though, Montessori Elementary classroom management techniques don’t always work in a community college setting – for a host of different reasons. I can no longer ask students to check their cell phones in at the door. Moving people’s seats during a lecture doesn’t go over very well. Students who misbehave cannot be sent to another classroom, and they don’t get detentions or “write ups.” They cannot be asked to write a reflective essay on their behavior. Adult students expect a certain amount of freedom – after all, they ARE adults!

I know I am not the only one who can spot a problem brewing. When we see this, we must decide how far to take it. I usually start by speaking to the student individually. I can suggest, cajole, offer, etc. to students who need help to visit the appropriate support service (counseling, testing center, library, writing center, etc.) – but sometimes those students just do not follow through. Then, when the student is not getting what he/she needs outside the classroom, it shows up in classroom etiquette and other disruptive behaviors. As soon as it becomes a distraction to the learning of the others in the class, we have options and support.

The Behavior Intervention Team, a committee through the Dean of Student Life has helped me handle a specific difficult situation and become a better teacher at the same time. I had a student that was significantly disruptive and I frankly was concerned for his mental health. I started by having an informal conversation with Dr. Trisha Lavigne (fellow faculty are amazing), and then I followed through by filing a report online. I wanted the record to be in the system, but it was only in there for informational purposes. It is important to track things like this, as if the student repeats the behavior for another instructor, we at least have a paper trail. After the initial report was filed, we decided to have someone call him and offer services to help him get on track. Trisha gave me some words to use when speaking to the student about it. He got agitated, and the next class period, his behavior was even worse. I knew I was going to have to speak to him again, this time about his grade and what he was going to need to do to remain enrolled in the class. This is where Lt. Nate Achtizger helped me. He sat in the classroom and assessed the situation, then he sat outside the conference room when I met with the student. His feedback helped me feel more safe when the student was around. In the end, the student ended up dropping the class, which was helpful for everyone else – and maybe for him, too. Whew! Dodged a bullet! All through this process, Dean Monica Castaneda was aware and ready to step in if I couldn’t handle it.

The bullet was not dodged for long, though. That same student enrolled for another one of my classes this semester. Again, Dean Castaneda spent time emailing and talking with me to be prepare before the semester even started. While we tried to get the student to get the services he needs, he has refused. He is, however, doing much better this time around. And so am I. I know I am supported – the team has my back. I have established a new rapport with the student, and maybe, if he continues to not be disruptive, I will be able to reach him. Maybe he will eventually follow through on getting the services he needs. Just maybe. I hope.

So to answer the question, “How have you helped someone,” I can say that the GCC community has helped me. And in turn, hopefully, I can return the favor.