Wherein Shane Reflects on a New Job
So, I’ve been a bad contributor. I’ve selfishly been working and writing on my own projects and I’ve neglected this one. That isn’t to say that the importance of Comm Ed has waned in any way. It’s more likely that my brain has been taxed on the Academic/ school front for these past several weeks and when I had time to sit and write, I wanted to write something else.
But the end of a semester is an opportunity for reflection. I’ve done plenty of that, too. I’ll do my best to organize this in some sort of easy-to-follow format, but I have several thoughts. Before I get into it, though, I will say that there is plenty that I like about this new job. Most of my colleagues are nice, I have a great set of program coordinators, an awesome chair and dean, the campus is pretty, and the town has many options for fun (many more than Covington). Also, here is a picture of my office!
Let’s start here because I think this probably explains my absence better than anything else I have to write about today.
1. The State System: In Georgia, part of what makes working at a community college great is that the community college belongs to the university system. This makes transfer easy, and it means that a community college’s first-year comp would (or should) be similar to a university’s first-year comp. That organizational model also makes it easier for the 2-year schools and the universities to communicate with each other.
Here, the university system is separate from the community and technical college system. In fact, this year the two systems have finally approved what could be called a “Common Core.” Now, if a student graduates with an AA or an AS they are guaranteed admission to one of the state’s universities (but not all of them). In other words, one university has to be willing to accept them, but it’s a bit of a gamble on the student’s part.
This has changed the curriculum, then. Comp 1 and Comp 2 (a course in writing in the different disciplines) are both offered, but only the American Lit surveys will transfer, so those are about the only surveys offered now. This doesn’t bother me much since I teach American Lit anyway, but it did lead to a lot of people feeling butt-hurt over not getting to teach their favorite classes. I think this common core is a positive step, but I don’t think it’s done.
2. Developmental: Now you are quite familiar with the developmental English courses where you teach now. We call our courses Developmental Reading and English (DRE) and there are three levels. I’ve only taught DRE 098 which is the final level before curriculum courses (or Comp 1). Each DRE course is designed to be taken in eight weeks (this is state-mandated). There is no 16-week version. Each course has a common read (we read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks…I write about that experience here). Teaching reading strategies is a new beast, but it’s fun, and the book is good. Then, we teach three formal writing assignments (an exploratory essay, an annotated bib, and a research essay). Everything is very controlled in the course. There are no exit tests or in-class essays (unless I want to do them). There is no anonymously-graded final. OH! And these courses have seven contact hours per week.
3. Course Load: Now this was a bit of a transition, but only slight. You know I’ve worked for colleges in the past where I had to teach more classes than any person should. My load here is, again, six courses a semester. This is balanced, though, with the 8-week DRE. If I do one of those at a time, then I’m still only teaching five courses at any given moment.
4. Lab Day: Lab day is one of the best things about this job. Every DRE and freshman-level comp course gets one class period per week in a computer classroom. This allows for so much hands-on instruction and drive-thru conferencing. It just takes a little manipulation of the schedule so that lab days always hit on the write instructional days.
5. Student Populations: Now this is big. I’m working in a sho ’nuff military town now. A huge percentage of our students are active military and another huge batch are former military. Another big group is married to military or raised and moved around by military. Beyond that, the town has it’s share of crime issues, and I have many students trying to get their lives together after wrapping up a prison sentence. At my last job, my campus saw about 2500 student bodies a semester. This school sees about 12,000. The unique challenges and perspectives that they bring, though, help keep me fresh, and they really drive home for me what we are trying to do here with Comm Ed.
So what does this have to do with Comm Ed?
Well, I suppose it has everything to do with Comm Ed. This is a school that gets really hung up on its systemic demands and practices. The bureaucracy is strong and at times overwhelming. But there are a ton of really great people who are doing really great work. The English department chair wants her faculty to be creative and engaging, and she’s helping me figure out how to bring the student open mic here. There is more community here–a closer sense of camaraderie among faculty.
Whenever I was sitting in my office during the days leading up to my first semester, I thought, “This is a school where they want me to treat these students like numbers–like some kind of robot sheep.” But as soon as I walked into my first class, I saw people. I will always see people, too. I met people with real and legitimate issues that can’t be accounted for through an algorithm. And most of those people passed my class. Not because the system wants me to pass a certain number, but because I was willing to work with the human issues in spite of the system. The system will never account for the myriad of things we will encounter in a 16-week course, and to default to the system in those times of crisis is weak.
Now, looking back, I definitely got better at certain aspects of the Comm Ed project/mission/enterprise. First, I think that my sincerity took a big leap forward. This happened due to my DRE courses. They need sincerity. Maybe I’ll write more about that experience next time.
I hope this was an alright post for you, friend.