The Horse to Water Story

I have been teaching math for 28 years. Even as I have recently been asked to perform the duties of a Dean I still have taught a math class in the Fall semesters. I have seen many successful and, unfortunately, unsuccessful student stores. I have seen my teaching techniques evolve over the years from my attendance in many teaching conferences and workshops. I’m confident that I’m better at my profession than I once was. But, you knew the “but” was coming didn’t you :-) , as you look at success rates of students over the many decades the change is not earth shattering. I believe it is because of the old quote  “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”. I always preach to my students throughout the class that I know they all can succeed in this class if they put the proper time into it. I remember one particular student. She was your normal, fresh out of high school, student. She came to class most everyday but didn’t speak up much unless called upon. Her test scores were not very good through the first half of the class. One day when I was passing back one of the tests she asked me about what she could do to improve her grade. My first thought was, where were you the past 7 weeks when I’ve talked a lot about good practices. But, I simply asked her “Tell me what you have been doing with this class?” She told me, it wasn’t much as I suspected, thus I said “I think that if you would go to The Math Solution when possible to do your homework where you can get instant assistance, and come to my office for answers to your questions when needed, and not be afraid to ask about items you are uncertain about in class, and spend at least 1 hour each day doing your math homework, you will see a definite improvement in your grade. The next test was 72% and so I wrote a nice note on the top of it encouraging her. The next was even better, so as I was passing back the test I said “You are doing very well keep it up.” She smiled and said “You were right, I just needed to put in the time necessary to do well. I wish I had listened to you from the beginning of class.” I smiled back and said “Better late than never.” She was able to raise her grade up to a B by the end of the semester. It is a joy, as a teacher, to have those moments where you get to see a student’s light bulb come on! Just like with people who are struggling with addiction though, unless a person makes the choice to do right, all the leading in the world isn’t going to make a difference. I do everything within my power to create fertile soil in the classroom but unless a student applies him/her self, knowledge just isn’t going to grow.

I have been fortunate to have had many good student stories. I hope your life has been filled with them too!


The Job Interview

 

The job interview is one of the most difficult rhetorical situations that exist. In the job interview we must sell ourselves to a prospective employer using both written (resume supplied prior to the interview) and verbal (the actual interview) forms of rhetoric. A person’s ability to communicate effectively, regardless of the position for which they are applying, is the first qualification under scrutiny. In an interview, to communicate effectively that you are the best person for the job, the rhetorical aspects to consider (and ultimately master) are content, language, dialect, and effective delivery.

The questions posed in an interview restrict the content, but the rhetorical skill to master in this situation is the ability to provide substantive answers detailing your qualifications without rambling or straying from the intended topic. Bitzer says, “A situation which is strong and clear dictates the purpose, theme, matter, and style of the response” (223). Later he adds to this saying, “One might say metaphorically that every situation prescribes its fitting response; the rhetor may or may not read the prescription accurately” (223). The interview structure at Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) is a formal process. The human resource department reviews the interview questions for potential legal issues and fairness to all applicants before an interview committee may use them. Each member of the committee has a sheet to score the answers and write key phrases or words that support the score. They are looking for specific responses to the questions – a perfect example of the situation Bitzer describes. In the past four years, I have interviewed eleven times with Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD), at three different campuses and in front of several different committees. My first interview, a phone interview, was my first experience with this type of questioning and with the committee style of interviewing. When the interview was over, I was sure I had done horribly due to my inexperience with this type of situation. I thought I had not “read the prescription accurately” and not being able to see the reactions of the committee members, my audience, I could not gage if my responses were fitting. Although it is a very structured setting with a clear purpose, it is still a difficult rhetorical situation to interpret and left me feeling very inept. The interview setting is one where it is crucial to understand what response is required and to deliver that response clearly.

While the questions restrict content, the vocabulary of the culture restricts the language of the interview. To show your knowledge of the organization and type of work they do, you must be able to speak their language. For entry-level positions, the knowledge can be general and broadly applied. When I interviewed for the first time with MCCCD, I knew general bookkeeping terms, practices, and was able to apply them broadly in the interview. Not knowing the specific language of the institution was detrimental during a management level interview when I was asked for an explanation of my knowledge of fund accounting. My initial reaction was that I had no idea what they were talking about; after some prompting I realized I did know what it was and had a fairly good understanding of fund accounting but unfortunately, did not know that was what it was called. Although I understood, and could explain the concept, I did not appear knowledgeable because of my initial reaction to not knowing the term. I was not hired to that position; I was excluded from that community in part due to my lack of knowledge of their vocabulary.

Even with a thorough knowledge of the community and an ability to use the language appropriate to the field, a dialect may make you seem unintelligent. Dicker speaks of this when he talks about language and cultural stereotyping, “…hearing one’s native language spoken with a regional accent different from one’s own, or hearing one’s native language spoken in a variety associated with a particular sub-culture, can trigger thoughts and feelings about the people who speak that way. Language is therefore a means by which cultural stereotypes are transmitted” (6). It is difficult for me to accept when Dicker says, “A single standard English exists only in theory, in the pages of English grammar textbooks” (7). He also states that, “To many speakers of standard English, AAVE sounds like a corruption of the standard, English spoken in a lazy or uneducated way” (7). If as Dicker claims that, “…they are bidialectical, and can move back and forth from one to the other as the situation warrants”, then the job interview situation is a time when an AAVE speaker should use Standard English (7). However, according to my family and my teachers, there was never an appropriate place to use non-standard English.

When content, language, and dialect come together perfectly it is then that the ability to persuade your audience is optimal. In an interview, your goal is to deliver the message that you are the most qualified candidate for the job and that the interviewers would be fools for not hiring you. Corbett states, “…most rhetoricians would acknowledge the importance of effective delivery in the persuasive process” (145). In an interview, you are selling yourself to your audience – your ideas, skills, and worthiness to be a part of their organization. The manner in which you deliver this information is a key element in persuading them that you are the best person for the job. Corbett also says, “Skill in delivery can best be acquired, of course, not by listening to theoretical discussions of this art but by actual practice and by analyzing the delivery of others” (145). As I stated earlier, I have interviewed eleven times in the past four years, additionally I have served on two interview committees, and I now feel very confident in my interviewing abilities. I have applied, and interviewed for positions that I knew were unlikely possibilities but they offer opportunities to improve my responses and feel more comfortable with the process. By serving as a committee member I get a greater insight to the process as a whole, I know better what the interviewing committee is looking for when I’m in the hot seat, and I can note the behaviors and responses that were unfavorable in other interviewees. Repeated exposure to the interview process has allowed me to refine the delivery of my qualifications (content), in a language and manner appropriate to the organization, resulting in two promotions in a short period of time.

In a job interview, we use our best rhetorical skills to garner the acceptance of a stranger and influence their decision about our value as a potential employee. Corbett states, “But if, as we are told, the ability to use words to communicate thoughts and feelings is our most distinctively human accomplishment, there can be few satisfactions in life that can match the pride a person feels when he or she has attained master over words” (148). We put our best foot forward and hope it doesn’t end up in our mouth.

 

 

 

References

 

Bitzer, Lloyd, “The Rhetorical Situation”

Corbett, E.P. J.  “Introduction to Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student”

Dicker, Susan J.  “Language and Identity”

The Beach

 

The Beach

Reading the winter issue of my alma mater (California State University, Long Beach), brought my focus back to where it needs to be! After a rough fall semester, I found myself questioning my work and what I do at GCC. My entire career has been in teaching developmental reading and it has always been “the place I want to be.”

In “The Beach” the college president was quoted as saying: We have to get over this notion in higher education of blaming the student, the student’s high school, family or low-income status. These are students who already have beaten the odds by showing up at our door. We can define paths for their success.

 I realized that is why I am here – to define my students’ paths for success. The program they are in, where they came from, where they have been are important, yes! However, in spite of it, I am here to teach them how to read and “I am here to transform them!” That’s what I want to be doing and that’s where my heart really is.

Yesterday, a colleague asked how my semester is going and we concurred that we really like our new students and are looking forward to this semester. It occurred to me that maybe it’s not just the new students but my renewed focus for my work! Yes, it’s going to be a great semester! (Thanks to The Beach!)

Student Affairs…By Any Other Name

 

What is Student Affairs?  What does it mean?  Why should I worry about it?

At GCC, we use the phrase “Student Affairs” but other colleges call it Student Services or Student Development.  By another other name, “Student Affairs” is the group of dedicated people focused on student success through their academic courses and also in developing the whole person.

Many years ago when I started my career as a member of the Faculty, teaching Mathematics at South Mountain Community College, I never even entered the Enrollment Center, other than to drop off my grades (this was way before SIS and electronic grading, we actually had paper grade sheets).

I never considered how my students made their way to my class, I was just so happy to have a full class and to teach a subject that I really enjoyed.  But most of all, I was so happy to have a captive audience that I could mentor, encourage, inspire; to help them believe in their ability because I truly believe that people are more mathematical than they believe and can do more than they believe possible.

Later, I realized, and truly appreciated, the army of individuals dedicated to serving our students  Staff who are as passionate about helping students reach their goals as the faculty.  Staff who go above and beyond to reach the students.

I am honored to serve as the Vice President of Student Affairs at GCC.  My amazing and dedicated team is split into two groups:  Enrollment Services and Student Life.  I’m going to use the next six weeks to share stories of student success and to help strengthen the bridge between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.  As we all know, it takes a village…and we all have a part to play in student success, but most of all, as we move forward to the next 50 years of GCC, our programs will be strengthened as we continue to work together.

Making the Most of the First Five Minutes

 

I have the pleasure each semester to observe faculty from across all disciplines teach.  I look forward to these observations because it allows me to learn and grow as a teacher myself, seeing what is working well in our classrooms .  Some of the most successful teachers I have observed utlize the first five minutes of class to set the tone for they day and to excite their students about learning.  They accomplish this by:

1. Greeting students by name as students enter class.  A friendly, individualized good morning or good afternoon goes a long way to establish a positive rapport.

2. Thanking students for coming to class.  Many students have made a great sacrifice to be at GCC, so the recognition of them making the effort to be here can also help establish the positive learning environment.

3. Beginning class with a writing prompt to activate prior knowledge and set the stage for the learning ahead.  While taking attendance, one instructor has students reflect on a question or prompt that either reviews material from a previous class or the reading that was assigned.  Another instructor asks students to complete a practice problem while settling in.  In both instances, learning takes place as soon as students arrive.

4. Reviewing the objectives for the day.  Some instructors write the day’s learning objectives on the board; others verbalize to students what will be accomplished.  Either way, instrutors set the stage for students by indicating the goals for the lesson and what students will hopefully learn.

The first five minutes of class are valuable minutes to establish the positive classroom environment and to set the stage for the learning for the day.

Coke and a Smile

 

I’m a bit of a Coke-Cola nut and one of my favorite ads of all time is begins with, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”.   As a kid listening to that song I couldn’t think of anything nicer than to share my favorite beverage, sing, and do kind things for other people.  Yes, yes as a child you can see that I had some “coke bottle” thick, rose colored glasses, but really what would our campus look like if each of us were intentionally more kind?  If we started going above and beyond to spend our days showing kindness to each student, staff, faculty, and administrator we come into contact with, what would the possibilities be?  Would we see more smiles, more openness, and even more successes!721382f18bc997290421999a15d6cdfd

If you’ve taken time to read this post I challenge you (as I’ve challenged myself) to focus each day to be kind to those you encounter.  I’d enjoy hearing about your experiences over a Coke…on me.

Who is teaching me?

 

My journey, working with students with disabilities, began when I took a position as an aide in a 4th grade classroom assisting a very large 9 year old boy. He was born with Prader-Willi syndrome. In case you are not aware, it is a congenital (present from birth) disease. It affects many parts of the body. People with this condition are obese, have reduced muscle tone and mental ability. They also want to eat constantly because they never feel full. My responsibility was to sit next to him and keep him busy and engaged with what was being taught in class. I also had to monitor and make sure he wasn’t snacking. When I took this job I had absolutely no experience working with students with disabilities. During my teacher education block, there was a 1 credit class on mainstreaming students. Certainly not enough for what I would encounter in the following years.

I went on to get my Masters in Reading and it was there that I would gain some book knowledge about learning disabilities. Again, not much practical and hands-on experience. Then I landed a position as Coordinator of Disability Services at a small private college in NY. Here I got the opportunity to support students with mostly learning disabilities (LD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Wow, if it weren’t for my colleagues in the field and Google, I would have been totally lost in the complexity of the American Disability Act (ADA) and the agency of the Office of Civil Rights and how they hand down rulings for colleges based on discrimination cases. Not only did I have the challenges of learning the laws and guidelines but of also learning about different types of disabilities and how it might affect their access to the physical and learning environment.

I have come to realize that my learning didn’t just stop at the completion of those two degrees nor did learning cease even after a certain amount of years doing the same thing.  For me, and the type of career I have embarked upon for 15 years (and counting), LEARNING is something I do every day. Being open to learning is a necessity because the field of disability services at the college level is fluid and ever changing, every student is different and has different needs and every day is a new situation.

So who is my teacher? I will share in the following posts.

What your zip code may be saying about you.

By: Eddie Lamperez, Coordinator of Institutional Effectiveness

Glendale Community College has a diverse student body. The zip code in which a student resides can tell us a lot about them. The top five zip codes for GCC students include four that surround GCC Main and one that is adjacent to GCC North.

  • 85302 (1,438 students). Location: Glendale. Median Household Income: $47,884. Most common educational intent: university/college transfer. Most common ethnicity: White. Percent that are first generation students: 58%.
  • 85345 (1,329 students). Location: Peoria. Median Household Income: $49,014. Most common educational intent: university/college transfer. Most common ethnicity: White. Percent that are first generation students: 64%.
  • 85308 (1,245 students). Location: Glendale and Phoenix. Median Household Income: $70,701. Most common educational intent: university/college transfer. Most common ethnicity: White. Percent that are first generation students: 40%.
  • 85301 (1,103 students). Location: Glendale. Median Household Income: $31,254. Most common educational intent: university/college transfer. Most common ethnicity: Hispanic. Percent that are first generation students: 72%.
  • 85303 (789 students). Location: Glendale. Median Household Income: $52,301. Most common educational intent: university/college transfer. Most common ethnicity: Hispanic. Percent that are first generation students: 67%.

If you are from the zip codes that surround GCC Main then you are more likely to be Hispanic or White, working class or middle class, and a first generation college student. If you are from a zip code adjacent to GCC North, then you are more likely to be middle class or upper middle class, White, and have parents who graduated from college. Regardless of zip code, your intent is likely to be transfer to a college or university and earn a bachelor’s degree. We embrace the  diversity of our students at GCC; helping all of our students achieve their goals is our mission.

Learn more about GCC students by visiting: http://www2.gccaz.edu/departments/administrative/spa/research


BTW I like chocolate chip cookies…

 

Academic feedback and chocolate chip cookies…hmm…quite a story here!

I allow my RDG 091 students to form novel study groups based off their own personal interests. This has been a huge success, as many of my students coming in to my classes HATE to read.  The fact that they are provided some choice in what they read, discuss, analyze, and evaluate goes a long way for the overall buy in.

What surprises my students is I let them know that I am also reading their chosen  books…yes all 15 novels for both of my RDG 091 classes. They are asked to create a schedule over a six week time frame. I then model a lesson on what active reading is, and allow them to practice in class with a selected article. For many students they don’t understand active reading because they read something  and can’t remember what they read five minutes later.

For their first seminar meeting they bring their Active Reading Journals to class. I enjoy flowing in and out of the groups, listening to them discuss the seminar prompts. I love when they “test” me to see if I have really read the same assigned section! By the second seminar meeting it is a given:)

The students then always ask, “Are you really going to read all of our responses?” Actions speak louder than words. When they receive their graded journals back with written feedback they have their answer. It is a true pleasure to have a student come back and respond to a question I wrote on their paper, or to make a connection to one of my responses. This type of academic feedback leads to an important aspect of teaching….the connection you have with your students!

You always get one though….which leads me to, “BTW..I like chocolate chip cookies.” This was randomly written in the middle of one of my student’s responses. He laughed when he read my response. He told me “Ms. you are the first teacher to catch this. I do this every semester to see if the teachers are reading what I write.”

This student came back to me the following semester, and I take that as a compliment, and affirmation that as an educator making that connection is what matters the most!

 

In Cat Puke and Making a Difference

 

How do I make a difference?

That’s a difficult question on a difficult day.
My day began this morning, early, when I stuck my elbow in cat throw up. Before I realized what I had done, I managed to rub the tender pink puke all over my black pants.

I changed pants and reported to my 8:30 a.m. ENG 091 class where I had to face my students with professionalism and aplomb. I had to keep in mind the new best practices I was learning for active engagement through the recent MCLI LearnShop in Scottsdale when all I wanted to do was go back to bed. Besides the cat puke, I have custody issues for my youngest son weighing on my mind. I am Out of Sorts. I do not want to be In Charge today.

I don’t know how I make a difference. I’ve been teaching at the college level for over twenty years now, and I still can’t answer that question. But here’s what I do know: that I *do* make a difference. It’s just really difficult to articulate how because my job is to arm my students with the necessary writing skills they need as they go out into the world. Once they’re out there, I only know what’s going on when they check back in, and that only happens every so often.

Still, I say this: teaching is an act of faith. To me, it’s as much an act of faith as taking Communion on Sunday or observing Lent. It’s as much an act of faith as raising one’s child to be the best person he can be and hoping it’ll work out when he or she is twenty-two and living in another city.

How I make a difference, I think, is by believing this, by believing that I make a difference, however it is that I do it. *What* I do doesn’t make nearly the difference that my mindset and belief allows me to make. That’s where the power is, and it’s where and how I make my decisions–through my utter belief in that which I cannot articulate. Professional development? Yes, please. A conference that takes me away from my family? Yes, please. An MCLI workshop that forces me to drive an hour in rush-hour traffic in a direction I never go in? Yes, please. I accept these opportunities for professional growth because even though I don’t know specifically how I make a difference, I know, deep down, that I do. And that’s what keeps me moving forward semester after semester, year after year, even on the rare days that begin with inadvertent submersion of my elbow into a pile of waiting cat puke.

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