I am willing to name names, and I have two.
First of all, Laura Dodrill.
When I arrived at GCC in the fall of 2012 fresh from out-of-state, I had absolutely no prior experience teaching for a school in the Maricopa system. I was coming from a community college in New Mexico where I had tenure and seniority in my department. I was coming from a school where the number of full-time faculty in the English department (about 12) was about one-third the number it is here at GGC. In short, I was coming from a place where I felt I made a difference in many ways beyond teaching. While teaching here felt as fulfilling as it did there right from the start, I was now at a much bigger school in a much more complicated system. Weeks and semesters were passing, and I was surprised at how long it was taking me to feel a part of GCC in any other way than teaching. Sometimes, I simply felt adrift. I would go to meetings in my own department and not recognize everyone I was sitting amongst.
But there was Laura.
Laura was assigned to be my FYRE mentor. FYRE is the First Year Residential Faculty Experience (or something really close to that). That meant that Laura had to mentor me for an entire academic year. She did so willingly and with aplomb. She answered (with incredible patience) my most basic questions, including how to use my office phone. I would send her emails asking what acronyms meant (FEP, FYE, SOP, FPG…) . She would answer cheerfully. She brought me a plant for my office. She checked in on me from time to time popping by my office. Right from the start, (to use current parlance) I knew she had my back. She still has my back. I can call her, write her, or go to her with any kind of concern. That kind of relationship–the kind where I know my mistakes will be forgiven and my concerns will be heard–is so precious to me that it has made me want to be a better teacher and colleague, and it made me want to find my place at GCC.
And then Laura introduced me to Celeste.
When it came time to plan the 2014 fall schedules (one year in advance in 2013) Laura suggested I join her and Celeste Walls in teaching an FYE (First Year Experience) learning community. Laura and Celeste had already done this together. Laura would teach a Counseling and Personal Development class (CPD), and Celeste would teach an Introduction to Communications class. I would join them by teaching a Developmental Composition course (ENG 091). Because scheduling is planned so far in advance, I had never met Celeste before the first time the three of us sat down in early August 2014 to align our plans for teaching the FYE that coming semester. We had emailed each other prior to that but had never met as a threesome in person.
What transpired for me this past fall was far more than being one-third of a learning community. Because Laura, Celeste, and I met so regularly to debrief about our cohort, we formed a bond. And Celeste Walls became the second person at GCC (besides students) who inspired me to be a better person, teacher, and colleague. I wanted my class to match her class. She has high standards for everyone — her students, her colleagues, and herself. I wanted to meet her standards. Furthermore, if I was having trouble drawing out a shy student in my class, I could ask for her and Laura’s advice. If an assignment didn’t go well, I could debrief with them and figure out what went wrong. I could present either one of them with challenges I was having in the classroom (and not just the FYE classroom, but in any one of my classes), and they’d respond thoughtfully and make suggestions. But what I love most about Celeste is that she’s really interested in what I say. She leans forward to listen when I speak. She sets a high professional bar and simply through her actions, those around her are encouraged to reach it.
Laura and Celeste aren’t only outstanding teachers and colleagues. They are the kind of people who reassure others by making a place for them in the community. Largely because of them, I’ve been able to settle in. Who wouldn’t be inspired hanging around with people like that?