Coming out of the closet

 

I am a lesbian. That is certainly not a secret. When I arrived at GCC in 2002 I was president of the Gay and Lesbian employee organization for the district (now Equality Maricopa), and I immediately became co-advisor of the LGBT student group on campus. I was out to my fellow employees, but in class, I tended not to talk about my personal life.  Every once in a while, during the before class milling around, a student would ask me  something like “How does your husband feel about being married to a psychology professor?” I would respond with “I don’t have a husband, I have a wife, and she was a psychology major in college so I think she is OK with it.” Usually the student would apologize for asking, for reasons I don’t quite understand, and then we would move awkwardly forward with the class.

Then, a few years into my time at GCC, the psychology department lost a long time adjunct instructor who had been teaching our LGBT studies class. We searched for a replacement, but we were only able to find someone for one semester. Ultimately, I decided to teach the class. It was as a result of teaching that class that I learned how important being out of the closet could be to my students.

Many of the students who enroll in the LGBT studies class are looking for something. About half of them are straight allies looking to learn more about LGBT people. The other half are students who are themselves members of the LGBT community, and they want to know more about the environment at GCC for them, the laws that pertain to them, the social environment in Phoenix, and many other things.  I learned a lot about the importance of someone like me being out from these students. All of the students told me they had not had an LGBT instructor, and I knew that was probably not true, they just did not know that they had.

A couple of semesters ago, I was teaching an Introduction to Psychology class where a student asked me a question about my husband and I answered in the typical way, that I don’t have a husband, I have a wife, and then I shared the answer with them regarding my wife. During my office hour, one of the students in the class, who was presenting as male, came to my office and told me that he was transgender, but he was afraid to be out on campus or with his family. I listened, I told him what I knew about transitioning, but I mostly listened. I gave him contact information for a transgender activist I knew personally. I continued to check in with this student during the semester. As the semester ended, I was worried about him because I knew he was living his life in a way that was not consistent with who he was inside. I knew he was living in fear of his family finding out. I knew his being closeted was eating him up inside.

This past week, I ran into that transgender activist friend of mine. She told me that she had recently been in contact with one of my former students, and she told me the name. I was so happy to hear that now that student was presenting as female, the woman she really is, and was doing well. I would not have had the opportunity to get to know my student if I had not been out in my class.

We all have closets that we can come out of with our students when appropriate. Maybe we ourselves attended community college, or maybe we were first generation college students who had to learn to navigate academia and we made it through. Maybe we went to an elite university and we can dispel myths about what they are like. Maybe we worked two jobs putting ourselves through college and we can relate to their experience. Maybe we can just listen to them sometimes, and try to connect them with resources. Sometimes for students, just seeing that someone like them can be a college professor, or administrator, or professional, can help them see themselves achieving their goals.

I want to encourage my colleagues to consider coming out of their closets.

Let’s Talk Assignment Schedules

 

At first glance, nothing seems quite as boring to talk about than assignment scheduling, right?  But the way you set assignments up says a lot about your attitude toward your students and your philosophy of education.

For a time I taught online for a Midwestern university where the policy was that all assignments were due Sunday midnight – no exceptions, because the program appealed to working adults.

While I adhered to the Sunday-midnight rule (of course!), I was relieved to come to Glendale and have more flexibility in my assignment scheduling.  While the “one-night” rule is perhaps convenient for student schedules, in reality it doesn’t work very well for overall assignment scheduling or learning:

  • When all assignments are due one night a week, some assignments are sitting in the submission “queue” a day or two or three while other assignments are sitting there more or less days.
  • The same thing happens in reverse on Sunday midnight: I consider myself a good instructor, but I still can’t grade all assignments from all my classes instantaneously – or usually even all assignments from any ONE class in one day.
  • So again, some assignments sit longer than others in my “grading” queue.
  • Now think about what all these delays look like to the students, who ALSO don’t do all assignments instantaneously or at once – how long has it been since they submitted their first assignment until they get feedback and a grade on it?

In manufacturing and computing, this “do it all at once” phenomenon is called “batch” processing.

So what is the better solution?  The answer is to maintain a regular schedule for assignments, but spread it out and do a little at a time versus one big “batch” each week.  I set up a 2x assignment schedule for my three classes as an adjunct.  It looks something like this (note that assignments are due at midnight — a student preference, I asked):

Class A:  Assignments due Monday and Thursday midnight

Class B: Assignments due Tuesday and Friday midnight

Class C: Assignments due Wednesday and Sunday midnight

No assignments due on Saturday (instructor gets Sunday “off” – yeah!)

What does a 2x, spread-out schedule do?

  • Students still have a regular assignment date – but now it is “dates,” i.e. twice a week, a schedule they can count on and get into a rhythm with
  • Students get more timely feedback from the instructor
  • Students are less likely to struggle or be confused long
  • Students get feedback on work done before more assignments are due
  • Instructors grade a little bit each day versus one grading “marathon” once a week
    • And probably do a better job
  • Instructors know almost immediately if a particular assignment is problematic or confusing to students, and can adjust as needed and more quickly.
  • The instructor and students now have twice the “touch” points – times when they are communicating with one another, providing feedback and reactions and questions and responses (essential in any online class)

One other thing to note about assignment scheduling: When I have a hybrid or FTF class, I do NOT have any assignments due from that class the day class meets.  Why not?  Because I want students to focus on the lesson, be engaged in our (short) time together, and not be so concerned about that assignment or wiped out from an all-nighter the day before.  I also want to go over that assignment with them before they do it – they do better and I get more of what I am looking for – which makes my grading easier as well.

The amount of work you do as an instructor in a 1x  or 2x assignment schedule is ultimately the same – but by making assignments due twice a week, you will give your students more timely feedback and a much better chance to succeed – and most of them will appreciate it.

You might even like the “every day but Sunday” regular schedule better yourself.

Learning is hard work!

 

In “Enhancing Rigor in Developmental Education,” the Scaling Innovation team discusses productive struggle: “the ultimate goal of instructional activities that require productive struggle is for students to develop a healthy disposition toward uncertainty in their pursuit of skills and knowledge they will later revisit and apply in other contexts.”

My favorite story of the week exemplifies productive struggle.

Students were to read about critical thinking and define the 15 critical thinking terms used in the article. My goal is to have them start using the language of critical thinking. Not surprisingly, they returned with 15 dictionary definitions that did not mean much! My next goal was to get them to use the dictionary to learn all they could about the words (as opposed to just copying down definitions they didn’t understand.) They read through dictionary entries and found new synonyms, learned how to use the pronunciation symbols to figure out “how to say it right,” discussed etymologies and how knowing the word history helped them remember and understand how the word came to mean what it does, realized how knowing the part of speech helped them use it correctly in a sentence, and argued about the “appropriate definition for the context” in the article.  Sounds boring but they were engaged and admitted that maybe dictionary.com is not always the best option for really learning new words.

When we were finished, a  student said, “Teacher, when I came in here I thought I knew everything but now I know I knew nothing!” I asked her how that felt and she replied, “It feels great! There is SO much to know!”

Learning is hard

Getting students to work hard is hard work! From the grumbling gentlemen in RDG081 who refuse to justify their answers to critical reading students who can’t write in complete sentences, it takes me several weeks to get them to struggle productively but it is beginning to surface that they are learning and that it feels good!

 

Announcements on CANVAS

 

 

I have found utilizing the Announcement option on CANVAS has been an effective way to reach my students. After every class meeting, I create an announcement based off the date. I include what we covered in class (linking any power points and videos), along with posting the next class period’s homework.  If students are absent, I also link any recording sheets or articles they will need.

I have had many students provide feedback on the fact that I use this feature in a face-to face class. It helps them stay on track, especially since most of them all have smart phones. They do have a paper schedule, which we always go over in class, but this provides another type of support.

Another benefit is students do not have an excuse on not having their homework completed if being absent.  It is still due, absent or not.

It is also a great way of holding them accountable…..I refer them back to CANAVS and the date in question.

 

 

Exercise is Medicine for Stress

 

The people have spoken! According to the survey results from last week’s blog, the number one reason that GCC employees exercise is for…wait for it…relief from stress.

The stress relief gained from just one exercise session can last for 60-90 minutes! This is due to the release of endorphins – chemicals that act like pain killers!  According to WebMD, “…that feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.”

Just from reading some of the awesome Write 6×6 blogs, you get a sense of the anxiety and tension experienced by employees and students alike. You don’t have to read the blogs to know the amount of pressure we are all dealing with.

test-anxiety

One of the most common stress responses felt by students is test-taking anxiety.  You know…that feeling when you have stayed up all night to cram for a big exam, and realize the next morning that absolutely nothing was committed to memory. The exam paper staring up at you. Panic sets in. Eyes dilate. Heart races. Breathing increases. Sweat beads begin to emerge, but nothing coming from the brain.

As employees we may feel similar tension related to deadlines, presentations, forging through “red tape,” miscommunications, personality conflicts, cultural differences, personal beliefs…the list is endless.

So grab your work buddy and take them for a brisk walk around our beautiful campus! Encourage your students to move more every chance you get! Be the role model and show people in a positively active way how you handle your stress!

Don’t think you have time to exercise? Watch this video, “23 and 1/2 Hours,” and I promise it will make an impact on your decision.

Next week I will tell you about all of the wonderful on-campus opportunities to move more and have fun doing it. If you can’t wait ’til then, come find an exercise professional on the west side of campus! We are here to serve you!

Results from the survey “My Benefits of Physical Activity.

More energy (have enough energy to play with the kids after work, stay productive after lunch, take care of the house on the weekend) 75%
Less chance of colds and flu 75%
Relief from stress 100%
Increased productivity (feel confident that I can accomplish all I want to do and invigorated when I get things done) 75%
Clean thinking (able to concentrate, sort things out clearly, and solve problems) 75%
Healthy and strong bones, joints, and muscles (lower my risk of injury, tackle heavier household chores, and try new activities) 75%
Increased vitality (feel alive and full of energy, like I can take on the world) 50%
Better quality of life (stay active in retirement, keep up with family and friends on vacation or around town, do things for myself) 50%
Stronger, healthier heart and lungs (climb stairs without huffing and puffing; become more active and less fatigued around town or on vacation) 75%
Better sleep 75%
Decreased feelings of depression or anxiety 75%
Improved physical fitness 75%
More effective weight control (be able to reduce or maintain weight) 50%
Reduced risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes 50%
Brighter mental outlook (feel good about life, ready to take on the day, and confident that things will work out) 75%
Reduced risk of colon cancer 0%
Healthier and longer independent life (reduce my risk of disease and maintain my independence as I grow older) 75%
Improved self-esteem and self-image 75%

 

 

Feeling Disgruntled?

 

This week was extremely difficult for me.  I woke up Monday morning with a sore throat.  Tuesday and Wednesday I stayed home with what I presumed was the flu.  When I returned to work on Thursday, it was to find our office in crisis mode due to a water leak and seven rooms worth of classes needing to be relocated.

I have to admit that I was feeling disgruntled to have such a disruption and abundance of work dropped on me when I myself was just trying to survive the day and not keel over from being sick.  Nobody likes walking into an emergency, especially when they feel like they’re dying inside.  However, as the hours passed and the day was ending I felt a sense of accomplishment.  I was reminded that every day I’m here I’m making a difference in a student’s life.  Whether it’s on the forefront or behind the scenes, we make a difference to students.

When I applied to MCCCD it was because I wanted to be in education, not because I wanted “a job”.  I wanted to help students achieve a sense of fulfillment in obtaining their educational goals.  I may not be in front of them during classes, heck I’m not even in front of them during the registration process, but I know that I’m making a difference in their success.

So I guess my story is for those of you who are feeling “not as motivated” as usual, for those of us who are feeling a little down or disgruntled even.  Just remember that we’re here to make a difference and that everything we do should be done with pride, joy, and self-satisfaction because what we do matters.  It matters to the students who are out there making an effort to better themselves.

The Beauty of GCC

 

As this New Year came I found myself needing to make changes and one of those changes was to get out of my chair during the day and walk the campus.  I have found that not only are the walks a good form of physical exercise, but it also has been personally and intellectually stimulating.  If you have ever have the opportunity to explore our campus you will find many lovely little spots. One of my current favorite spots is a mixed bed of flowers that grow in a riot of stunning shades and sizes.

Like the flowers there’s another wonderful spot I enjoy, which is on the main mall.  The other day I took a moment to sit out under the umbrellas and listen for a while.  I soon noticed that as people passed by I could hear several exquisite languages.   I then began to look up and down the mall and I saw all types of beautiful people, from all over the world.  I was filled with an understanding that although our world is in turmoil we of all ages, origins, religions, socioeconomic stratum, etc., can come together and enjoy the “flowers” of this educational institution.

 

A Gift from Thomas

 

After teaching at the college level for over two decades, I have heard so many stories. And each new story doesn’t diminish the one before it.  All week I’ve been wondering which story to tell, which one to choose.

Then, Thomas came by my office just yesterday (Thursday of this week) and gifted me with this one.

For seven years, Thomas was a U.S. Marine. In an introductory email to me earlier this semester, he told me that the transition back to civilian life has been much more difficult than he ever expected and that this has been a primary source of struggle for him in his daily life.

Thomas is one of my ENG 091 students this semester. He sits in front and asks questions. Sometimes, he even teases me and gives me a hard time. Early in the semester, this made me wary. Then I realized he wouldn’t feel free to act that way if he didn’t feel comfortable in my classroom, and so I started to banter back–just a little.

Yesterday, after class, he asked if he could come by to see me. My regular office hours didn’t fit his schedule, and he wanted to make an appointment. I don’t know how many other faculty have noticed, over the years, that students don’t drop by in person like they used to. They are *much* more likely to email me a question than come by my office, even if they’re just in the next building over. So when Thomas said he wanted to come by, I made time for him.

He arrived at my office a full five minutes early. He folded his six-foot-long plus body into the office chair that I reserve for visitors. Shyly, he took out a paper out of his military-issued backpack. “This is my paper for the assignment you gave us last week. I’ve never written anything like it before. I want to know if it’s any good. Am I even on the right track?”

I had assigned Thomas’s class a 2-3 paragraph descriptive paper wherein they were asked to capture a specific place on campus using words. Thomas had explored the Life Science building with curiosity. He’d tried using all of the techniques that we’d talk about that week in class: figurative language, sensory details, objective and subjective details. It was all there in an interesting draft that was full of his voice. His sense of purpose was clear: look around at your surroundings every day. It’s too easy, his paper concluded, to take for granted where we work or go to school daily. Beauty, his writing reminded me, is everywhere. Even in a campus building that I walk by at least twice a day.

I told him that his paper was rich and meaningful and, most of all, well written, and he seemed stunned. He admitted that all three of his classes were going well this semester, and that being at GCC was finally helping him ease back into civilian life.

He told me that while a Marine, he had served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and near Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, he was charged with helping a town construct a potable water system. He was helping people have better lives in the most basic way. With war in the Middle East going on for years now, it’s easy to forget that our military provides so much humanitarian aid around the entire world, and this was one of Thomas’s jobs.

Suddenly, several emotions converged at once. I realized that this young man who had spent time in some of the most dangerous parts of our world, who had held weapons in his hands on a daily basis, had been intimidated by a 2-3 paragraph writing assignment. And, in a time when students don’t often elect to communicate face-to-face, he had summoned the courage to come talk to me in my office. He left my office with a big smile on his face. He’d done well on his draft. He made an important connection with a teacher, and, without even knowing it, he had brought me a tiny part of the world just by coming to my office. So then the biggest emotion of all washed across me, and it stayed with me all day: it is for these moments and interactions–it is both to collect and participate in these very stories–that I teach.

How can we make college work for everyone? (complete w/references)

 

A challenge facing higher education professionals today is the issue of student success; why do some students persist in college and flourish, while others leave?  Researchers have hypothesized, measured, and made recommendations on this topic using seminal theories such as Astin’s (1984, 1999) theory of student involvement and Tinto’s (1997) updated longitudinal model on student departure and integration. Additionally, Rendón’s (1994, 2002) theory of validation has been found to be effective with non-traditional college student populations while the Social Identity Theory (Brown, 2000) has been used to illustrate the connection between group membership, self-esteem, external behaviors and student success. Despite, or perhaps because of, the plethora of theories, the field remains muddled as investigators are not using the same variables nor employing similar methodologies to define student success, a construct critical to accomplishing the mission of higher education.

As these theories are explored, their similarities become apparent; leading one to believe that they are not distinct and separate, but rather overlapping and evolving from each other. Rather than viewing student development theories as separate entities when attempting to understand the elements contributing to student success, the theories should be viewed as overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. Each theory contains elements of previous theories, but also builds upon the other to create a more accurate and relevant model for those it seeks to serve.

By understanding the integration and synthesis of applicable theoretical frameworks and conceptual principles related to student success, practitioners and researchers alike can move forward with designing and assessing programs intended to foster success in unique student populations, such as ours. Acknowledging the challenges facing our young people as they transition to college and beyond requires student affairs staff, faculty and counselors to utilize a theoretical framework that includes the student’s past, present and future while understanding the multiple roles these individuals are expected to juggle. Balancing these expectations, roles and outcomes is critical to the success of our student population.

References (I wasn’t kidding!)

  • Astin, A.W. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 25(4), 297-308.
  • Astin, A.W. (1999). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Development, 40(5), 518-529.
  • Brown, R. (2000). Social identity theory: Past achievements, current problems and future challenges. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30, 745.778.  doi:10.1002/1099- 0992 (200011/12)
  • Rendón, L.I. (1994). Validating culturally diverse students: Towards a new model of learning and student development. Innovative Higher Education, 19(1), 33-50.
  • Rendón, L.I. (2002). Community College Puente: A validating model of education. Educational Policy, (16), 642-667. doi:10.1177/0895904802016004010
  • Tinto, V. (1997). Classrooms as communities: Exploring the educational character of student persistence. Journal of Higher Education, 686, 599-623.

From 1980 to 2014: How has GCC’s student body changed?

 

By: Busaba (Owan) Laungrungrong, Institutional Research Analyst

In 1965, Glendale Community College (GCC) was established to serve the higher education needs of the West Valley. Since then GCC’s student population has changed in a number of interesting ways. Here are five facts about how our student body has changed between 1980 (the most comprehensive data available) and 2014.

#1   GCC’s student enrollment headcount increased 65% from 1980 until 2014. During that time the number of Full Time Student Equivalents (FTSE) has increased 58%.

#2   One of the most drastic changes over the last 34 years has been the change in the racial/ethnic composition of GCC’s student body. The number of students who self-reported as being “white” has declined from 87% in 1980 to 47% in 2014. In contrast, the number of self-reported minority students at GCC went from 13% in 1980 to 53% in 2014. Hispanics had the largest percentage increase of 24% during that time span.

#3   More female students have always been enrolled at GCC than males since 1980. The gender gap remains stable at roughly 54% (female) and 45% (male) during 1980-2014.

#4   The average age of GCC students decreased from 28 years in 1980 to 25 years in 2014. The number of young students (under 25 years of age) accounted for the majority of students at GCC in 2014; 38% of students were under the age of 20 and 69% of students were under the age of 25. The decrease in age is attributable, at least in part, to GCC adoption of dual enrollment in 2001.

#5   Since 1980, the majority of GCC students attend part-time. In 2014, one-third (34%) of students enrolled full-time. However, the percentage of full-time student enrollment has increased by 21% between 1980 and 2014.

Owan blog

Learn more about GCC students by visiting:

http://www2.gccaz.edu/departments/administrative/spa/research

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