The Pressure is on for English Teachers

freshmancompI teach English at GCC. Technically I teach Freshman Composition, but we say English when asked what we teach. Composition is writing. This is a very interesting considering I majored in English Literature. You know: Beowulf, Shakespeare, Austen, Joyce and Lawrence. I was never taught to write beyond ENG101 and ENG102 in undergrad, but I was expected to do it in every literature class I took. I eventually graduated with a degree in English Literature. So what kind of job does one get with a degree in English Literature? Education or teaching is the number one option. So here I am, teaching English at GCC.

What you can garner from that short story is that most college students get very few opportunities to learn how to write, even when you are studying to be an English teacher. I eventually earned a masters degree in education where I learned to teach writing, but composition classes prior to that were minimal. That is why ENG101 and ENG102 for our students is so crucial. For most it will be their only opportunity to learn to write for their college careers and life in general. Those important skills they learn in Freshman Composition include:

  • Written and other communication skills
  • Understanding complex ideas and theories
  • Research

So the pressure is on for English teachers – ENG101 and ENG102 teachers. These are important skills that go beyond just writing an essay. We’re trying to teach students to think critically, read critically, research critically, and then write. That’s what makes Freshman Composition challenging for students. For the most part, students know how to write or they should considering they just spend four years in high school learning how to do it. But college writing is different. There’s more at stake considering this may be students only chance to learn these skills. Yet many students don’t see the importance of these two courses. They take it for granted.
As I sit here reflecting and writing, I’m all that more thankful for the English teachers I had at Phoenix College and Yavapai College. Because with out that foundation those instructors instilled in me, I really don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing today. And I don’t just mean teaching English. I mean blogging and writing all over the internet in social media sites, writing emails to my colleagues, and writing in my profession. I’m thankful I have the skills, written and other communication skills, critical thinking skills, and research skills, to do my job and do it well.


I’ll miss you when you’re gone

Most of us who work as teachers find that working with students is the most important reward of the job. I believe it is beneficial to build some kind of relationship with each student in the class to help determine how to best to meet individual learning needs. These relationships are build over the course of the semeseter – and all to often, they end after final exams.

On the first day of a new semester, I often wonder how I will make the class have a cohesive camaraderie, and if it will live up to the one I taught the previous semester, or in previous years. People are often quiet and shy, and are not showing their true colors yet.

I spend a bit of time getting to know them by hanging out before and after class, providing comments on work turned in, walking around and interacting with small group discussions, sending emails regarding missed assignments, and offering help whenever its appropriate. In some cases, students will offer information about themselves – like work scheduling, family obligations, and outside activities. This gives me the opening to talk with them individually about more personal things.

Right around mid-semester, things start gelling, and people are talking and interacting. I know all the names in the class, and I generally know a little bit about each student other than just their student life. They also seem to be more comfortable with each other, and are more willing to contribute in class. The begin forming community.

By the end of the semester, the students genuinely enjoy being with each other. I have bonded with them, and we have a thriving community atmosphere. Often, as we are wrapping up for the semester, I might mention that we only have 2 or 3 class sessions left, and some students are visibly disappointed – and I am too.

Once the class is over, I miss the students. It seems like I only have them for a short time, and I want to know how they’re doing, and what they’re up to.

I am always so happy to run into former students at the college, or in the community. I saw one student in the enrollment center one day, and she emailed me later expressing her difficulty scholarship funding. I was able to share her story with the right people, and she was able to get what she was promised – and it made it possible for to continue going to school. Another group of my former students coordinated their schedules, and are purposefully taking classes together this semester.

Our time in class is short, and I have memories of many students long after the semester is over. I often wonder if our impact on students is limited to the time we have them in class. I know they have impacted me. I would love to see some comments on how others have retained contact with former students.


The Energy Enigma

It’s a weird thing about energy. It’s hard to capture. At the end of a hard day at work, it can completely evade us. On most Friday evenings, I think it gets buried in the sofa cushions with all of our lost articles.

We have all learned that energy cannot be created or destroyed. So where does it go when we are searching for it the most? Maybe there is a different formula for the type of energy we are all looking for?

Would you believe me if I told you that energy could be created by expending energy?  i.e. Energy begets energy. It seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it. How can I create energy if I don’t have any?

Personal example: Today I came home from work after eight hours of interviews, which consisted of sitting in a chair for most of the day. My energy meter was hovering around “empty,”  in the red zone. I had 20 minutes of free time before going to pick up the children.

I had a choice: I could melt into the sofa for a 20-minute nap (sounds delicious); or I could put on my running shoes and go run around the local park. I’m not much of a runner, but the weather was so nice and the park looked so inviting. I opted for the run.

Miracle of miracles! My energy meter was back in the green zone, and I was back in action and singing songs with the kids in the van. My brief exercise session also gave me the energy to write this blog before the Friday night deadline and fully engage with my online classes for the evening.

When you repeat this type of behavior on a regular basis, you come to rely on a brief exercise session to get your energy back on track. In fact, a brief exercise session can function just like a cup of coffee in the morning, but the benefits are far greater and last a lot longer.

There are hundreds of personal testimonials and research studies to be found on this topic.  Here is just one such post that I enjoyed reading.

If you are up for a challenge, try replacing your morning coffee with an apple and a brisk walk. I guarantee you that your energy meter will soar! (I triple dog dare you to write a blog about your experiences.)

Photo “borrowed” from Dr. Alisa Cooper.

p.s. I know you have an apple in your office if you have been keeping up with your Write 6×6 blogs!  :O)



I F$#%*!@ don’t want your help!

Oh the student interactions we all must patiently work through! The above title is an actual email response from one of our students  when invited to participate in the Early Alert Pilot program. As if the email, in all its colorful intensity, did not express the student’s  feelings well enough he decided to come by personally.   At the time it would have been so easy, and certainly justifiable to send this student on his Public Safety escorted way.  As a spoiler, this did not happen.

In the community college each of us are called to educate, to bring growth,  and to transform our students whenever we can.  It is with those ideas in mind that we are an institution of many chances.  It wasn’t known if is behavior might be because he was  a first generation student, or for that matter, had any one or multiple combinations of a possible issues, because it really didn’t matter.  Since what was known for certain is that he’s our student (GCC’s) and in need of our guidance to succeed.  Yes, his words (in writing and spoken) were offensive but putting the reasons aside here was that moment to make an educational difference.   One which could help a student change,  grow, and move towards transformation. Student Success is impeded by a variety of elements but one of those elements should never be those of us who are suppose to guide.

After steering the student into a civil conversation it was determined that not only did he need the program, he also needed a lot of assistance simply understanding college concepts. Since the initial contact he’s been met with several times and although he still struggles,  a relationship and the conversations are continuing.  Our students need a place to mess-up, to find direction, to have those hard conversations, and to build healthy relationships.  I’m proud to be apart of a team, and a institution that strives to create such a place.  Go Gauchos!!


Out With The Old, In With the New Part II

Two Is Better Than One…

I think we probably all have those lessons that we have taught for years and feel pretty good about. Why fix something that is already working, right?

Sherry and I discovered a way to improve our unit on point of view – give them two points of view! When Sherry and I decided to combine our classes we did not expect it to be so successful…in fact it was mostly an ingenious way to get in my PAR observation of Sherry before the end of the semester!
SHERRY: Lesson Transformation…

I admit I was a tad nervous team teaching with Cindy, but the overall lesson actually flowed beautifully…

We had our CRE 101 students come together for a mini-lesson on point of view. When planning we sorted and chose different current event cartoons to use. We had our students intermingled from both classes; it was interesting to observe the change in dynamics of some of our student’s personalities.

The eye-opening part of this experience is Cindy and I transitioned well with each other, added comments based off what we were each saying, and the students’ responses and questions monitored and adjusted where our lesson headed.

Upon reflecting, we commented on how comfortable we both felt. Both classes were also given the opportunity to reflect, and clearly enjoyed the experience. They made comments on how it was interesting to see what students from the other class were thinking, and what type of questions they asked. They also commented that hearing the lesson from two teachers enhanced their understanding.
CINDY: Combining our classes benefited both teachers and students. In total our students were together three times, including one information literacy lesson taught by Renee Smith. We tag teamed very well – filled in for each other as needed and did it naturally so students were equally comfortable. And Sherry is right – the most valuable lesson for me was about timing. Even after all these years I always seem to over plan and run out of time. I sense that it stresses out my students as much as it stresses me out! And surely it is not effective teaching!

Once again the mentor-mentee relationship is reciprocal: Sherry is modeling for me how to plan and pace my class time more effectively. When we taught together, the lesson flowed better, students were engaged and interacted with each other, and we feel they received a better presentation on point of view – 2 points of view!

SHERRY:  As we have continued in our planning, it is evident that we bring out the best in each other….for example….I make it relevant for the students and I share my time management minutes, right Cindy? 🙂

Cindy keeps me on my toes by asking the hard questions that connect to our student outcomes, and keeping our expectations high!



Success is not just from attending class!

Community college life can certainly have its share of fears, accomplishments and yes, even set backs. It really can be a worthwhile endeavor if you find your niche in “college life”.  For some it may take only a few weeks and others it might take longer; however, the most important task “I feel” is to find your niche, that place that just feels right. If you seek out a club, find one. If you want to join an organization, do so. If you need a mentor, seek one out. If you want or need to find a job, then the career center on campus will help you find one. You really should find social circles in which “you the student” can feel like a valued participant. If you do one or more of the above mentioned things, your success rate has or will rise.

Being a GCC Ambassador

It’s pretty cool when you are recognized off-campus as a GCC employee, especially when you aren’t wearing your Gaucho Gear. We go through the internal process of:

  1. Why is that person staring at me?
  2. Do I know this person? Should I know this person?

Then they say, “You were my _____ teacher at GCC!” and then I think:

  1. Wait, what am I wearing right now, do I look presentable?
  2. How did they do in the class?
  3. How nice that they remembered me and their experience at GCC!

So then I get over my fears of being caught at the grocery store in sweats, with no make-up, and actually settle in to learn about where  they are in life and what they are doing currently.

This is the most rewarding part.

As much as it’s healthy to carve out a piece of your life just for you, when you live, breathe and believe in higher education, it is hard to separate that part of your life. Whether we know it or not, we are all ambassadors for GCC. I had this conversation about seven years ago with Rick Watts (you might know him) as we felt so strongly about the honor and privilege of representing GCC when outside of work hours.   Jim Reed and I frequently celebrate these occurrences, as this is a huge source of pride for Jim (I know, really!).  I love to work with people who feel this is a career with benefits beyond pay and who understand the impact they can make – these are my fellow ambassadors!


I am a Teacher!

When I tell people I work at a community college, they usually ask if I teach and I always say no I work in the business office. Earlier this week I realized that I do teach, but my students are not enrolled in courses taught at GCC, my students are the faculty and staff at GCC. We know in the Business Office that it is not easy navigating the fiscal processes. On the Fiscal page of our website it says, “Our goal is to provide employees with the tools and guidance necessary to secure the goods and services essential to providing a quality learning experience to our diverse student population.” We are here to teach and guide and we do that so we can all succeed in our jobs and not pull our hair out while doing it.

As a fellow employee stated to me earlier this week, “Every day is a learning experience.” I am glad I make a small contribution to the overall learning going on at GCC.


Making a Small Difference with Faculty Observations

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my role at GCC is having the opportunity to observe and evaluate our faculty teaching in the classroom.  This evaluation occurs for our probationary faculty members and is a chance to see our talented faculty in action.

Although I do not proclaim to be a teaching expert (we can always grow as an instructor), I do believe I have some expertise to offer through my experiences teaching middle school and community college English courses, as well as my having completed over 50 evaluations in my four years at GCC.

This process is even more rewarding when I have the opportunity to observe a faculty member for a second time during his or her first five years.  This past fall semester, I observed a few instructors for the second time; I found this to be very productive as it gave me an opportunity to witness firsthand their growth as instructors.  In multiple instances, I observed faculty members intentionally modifying their teaching style to increase opportunities for student engagement.  I observed faculty members paying close attention to their movement and position in the classroom.  I observed faculty members strategically calling on a number of students to respond, to ensure students have equal voice during discussions.  And, finally, I observed faculty members using informal classroom assessment techniques to check students’ understanding of the day’s content.

By no means do I think those changes occurred because of direct comments I made or because of the evaluation summaries I wrote.  But, I do think these pedagogical changes occurred because those faculty members took the time to reflect on their teaching practice, something I hope I stress when I talk to faculty members’ after an observation.  Classroom evaluations are very meaningful for me; and, this process is even more gratifying when I have the opportunity to see the incredible growth and enhancements to faculty members’ teaching practices.


Top Five Changes in Higher Education in Reference to Compliance

By: Jay Kahl, PhD, Compliance Coordinator

When we think of higher education, we often think of ivory towers, hounds tooth jackets, and late-night study sessions.  Well some of us do.  Others experience higher education as part of their path while they work/parent full-time, trying to fit yet another task into their day.  While our collective experiences differ, higher education has experienced many large tide changes over the years, many in respect to Compliance. Below are 5 of the biggest changes in my opinion:

1 – Title IV Alignment – each institution that accepts Title IV funds from the federal government has to meet certain requirements.  These run the gambit from how funds are dispersed to whether Constitution Day is celebrated on your campus. Over the past 20 years, these rules have become increasingly complex, asking institutions to do more in order to remain eligible for Title IV funds.

2 – Program Integrity/Gainful Employment – in essence, these rules were brought forth to ensure that students would not leave an institution with a mountain of debt and be unemployable. While the reporting requirements are nebulous at times and we may question how useful this information is to students, this is another requirement to item #1 above. Where reporting in the past has looked to student success as indicators, we now see that new indicators may point to long-term program feasibility.

3 – NCAA/NJCAA (National (Junior) Collegiate Athletic Association) – recent developments have highlighted the need for these rules, but the NCAA/NCJAA has seen a large increase in changes regarding player eligibility, recruiting, and gifts.  Lately, student athletes have been attempting to unionize as they feel they have been cut-out of the overall profit margins.

4 – ADA/504 (Americans with Disabilities Act) – with more advanced technology, students with disabilities have more access to educational resources than they have in the past. This increase in access also means that students who may have not pursued higher education in the past are more willing to give it a go. ADA and Section 504 ensure that students with disabilities are not discriminated against, and these rules need regular updating as increased access is realized.

5 – Title IX – similar to the above, Title IX ensures that students are not discriminated against based on gender. With recent reports regarding the proclivity of sexual assaults occurring on college campuses, these rules have garnered more national attention. Institutions are being asked to take a much more active role in preventing, investigating, and (sometimes) litigating cases of assault on their campus as well.

Where will we be in the future as it relates to Compliance in higher education?  I would argue that we will see some streamlining of reporting and disclosures, but that each of the above items will continue to be further delineated and expanded upon.  More than likely, that means gainful employment for those of us who can stomach Compliance.

For more information on Compliance, please visit