Back At It

I’ve been very remiss in my writing practice over the last year or so.  Part of that was a sort of cold-turkey response to my blog-post-a-day habit; for a number of years, I posted literally every day (I think I missed a St. Patrick’s day one year), but I came to the realization a while ago that the habit was stressing me out.  I didn’t want for writing to be a source of tension, so I dropped the writing (and replaced it with a facebook habit, but that’s another story).

My proverbial pendulum has swung back to center, though, and I’m realizing that my life is made better and richer when I’m writing; I take the time to observe and reflect when I’m writing, and I feel much more present in and connected to my life.  To that end, I’m going to wade back in to my writing practice, though I don’t think I’m going to jump into the deep end that I was inhabiting when I was posting something every day.

Another motivation for my writing again is that I like having a record of my thoughts and experiences, and over the last few years, my professional life hasn’t really been something that I’ve been eager to recount.  Since I left my job at the charter school under profoundly difficult conditions in the summer of 2012, I’ve worked a series of adjunct gigs at Local University and a few area community colleges, and while the jobs helped pay the bills (and helped keep me from going too deeply down the proverbial rabbit hole of professional ennui and despair), none of the experiences was especially noteworthy or exciting.

I’m hopeful that that’s about to change.

Last fall, my adopted daughter (here referred to as Sweet Pea) introduced me to a co-director of the charter school from which she graduated (after leaving the train wreck that was high school where I worked).  She felt that this woman – let’s call her Elizabeth – would resonate with me and I with her; we had, Sweet Pea assured me, a similar energy and we valued the same things.  She arranged for us to all meet over pizza, and before our drinks were even brought to the table, both of us knew that Sweet Pea was right.

We had an energetic (and energizing) conversation about education, about what we think is important in school (and what a lot of schools are missing) and, perhaps most importantly, WHY we’re in this business.  By the time our lunch was over, I almost wanted to weep with relief; Elizabeth gets it, and I felt like I could be enthusiastically myself without having to worry that I was “too much” for her because she, herself, is also too much.

A few days later, I got an email from Elizabeth asking me if I thought I could be “free in January.”  She was pretty cagey about the request, telling me that she couldn’t really tell me any details, but that she really wanted me and was “working on something that might interest” me.

Those were a couple of LONG months, I’m here to tell you.

Round about the middle of January, Elizabeth sends me a text message asking if I can meet to discuss what she’s been “working on” since we met in the fall.  It turns out that she couldn’t put me in a classroom, but she could get me a gig working as a one-on-one aide with a kid with mild Asperger’s.  She explained to me that she understood that this job wasn’t in my field of expertise, but that it was well within my ability (the kid was a joy; truly) and that it would position me to be ready to slip into a classroom job that she was sure was going to open up for the 15-16 school year.

Even though I was a little insecure about the one-on-one job – I don’t have any SPED training beyond a couple of classes I took as a graduate student – I trusted Elizabeth when she said it was a stepping stone, and I jumped at the offer.  The student I was working with was a senior who really just needed someone to help keep him on track (which was a good thing; all his classes were math and science based, and I was essentially useless as a content tutor, but I could help him with the executive functioning).  He was sweet and happy, and I started looking forward to going to work every day.

A few weeks ago, the other co-director of the school, a gentle giant I’ll call Pete, caught me in the cafeteria after lunch and asked me if I could stop by his office before I left for the day.

I’m going to let you in on a secret; no matter how old you are, no matter what position you hold, and no matter that you’ve never done anything wrong, when you get called to the principal’s office, you get nervous.  I KNEW that he was asking to see me so that he could talk to me about the possibility of my coming to work in a different capacity next year, but I spent the rest of the afternoon fretting that I’d done or said something I shouldn’t have, even though I knew I hadn’t.

In any event, he’d called me to ask me if I would be interested in coming on board as a faculty member next year (and got a chuckle out of my confession that a call to the principal’s office still makes me edgy).  He was very vague on the details – they hadn’t worked out yet what position I might fill or what classes or grade levels I might teach or whether the position would be a full or part-time – but he wanted to know if I wanted the job.

It was seriously all I could do not to squeal.

I’m still in a bit of limbo.  My senior has graduated, so I’m filling in as a floating aide around the school (a situation which I really, really don’t like, but it keeps me present in the community).  I had a meeting a week or so ago with both Pete and Elizabeth and was formally offered a classroom position for next year; though they’re still not sure exactly what classes I’ll be teaching and I’ve not been presented with an actual contract yet, the deal is essentially done.

I cannot express in words how excited I am to be back in a high school classroom again.  I haven’t been right since leaving my job at the charter high school (even though leaving was absolutely the right thing – the only thing – to do), and I’m very much looking forward to feeling right again.

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If You Don’t Want to Hear What I Really Think….

…. don’t ask me the question.

A former community college student of mine is doing some work for an Ed. class and sent out a call for answers to some of his questions about standardized tests.  Here’s what he got back from me:

Are standardized tests accurate examinations of a student’s (STUDENTS’) knowledge? (I can’t help it, N; I’m going to correct the grammar in your questions.  Deal with it.)

No, standardized tests are not accurate examinations of students’ knowledge.  Standardized tests, by their very nature, target narrow and specific slices of student capacity.  Standardized tests may be able to measure how well a student can retrieve information from a given text, for example, or how well they can answer a math question, but they cannot take into account a student’s creativity, problem-solving, or cooperative skills.  Because standardized tests are narrow in their scope, they can’t measure the ability of a student to make meaningful connections between, say, an historical event and a novel, or to apply a formula from math class to solve a physics problem, or to appreciate beauty in a poem or a work of art.  In short, the things standardized tests measure are not the things that we claim to value in our students, and they are certainly not an indication of how competent the students’ teachers are.

1. Do you feel standardized tests are important to schools (QUESTION MARK)  why (CAPITAL W) or why not?

I do not feel that standardized tests are important to schools; or, rather, I feel they SHOULDN’T be.  The facts on the ground say that standardized tests ARE important to schools; the results of standardized tests are being used to determine things like school performance (and, by extension, funding) and are now starting to be used to determine teacher quality (and whether or not teachers get to keep their jobs).  Schools have been shut down – or taken over – because of poor student performance on standardized tests, and these tests have historically been used to rate schools and determine the kinds of federal funding they’d receive (which makes exactly ZERO sense to me; the schools that do well are rewarded and the schools that do poorly are punished.  The reverse should be the case; schools with lower test scores should be receiving more support, not less).  So, perhaps you should reword your question.  ARE standardized tests important to schools?  In the current scheme of things, yes; they are vitally important – sometimes to the very existence of the school.  SHOULD they be important?  Absolutely not.

2. Do you feel that students try on the standardized tests (QUESTION MARK)  why (CAPITAL W) or why not?

The students who care about such things will try their best on standardized tests, as they try their best for the rest of the work they’re asked to do.  The students who do not care about such things won’t.  The really smart students – the ones who really care about their work but who recognize that the standardized tests don’t affect their GPA, or who pick up on their teachers’ or parents’ disdain for the uselessness of the tests – may or may not bother.

When I was teaching high school, I was honest with my students.  They had to take the NECAP – we had no say in that matter – and I made sure they understood how I felt about the tests.  I also told them, however, that the results of the tests were going to go a long way to determining the kind of rating that their school received and that the rating would determine whether a) the school received funding or b) the school would be put on a “watch list” for not making “ADP” or “adequate yearly progress.”  They understood that the stakes were high for their school, though not necessarily for them as individual students.  In the three years I taught at the school, the reading and writing portion of the NECAPs went up steadily, so I know that a) I prepared my students well for the tests (we had test-specific classes in the two weeks leading up to the test date) and b) the students took them seriously enough to do well.  Let’s not kid ourselves, though; we know for sure that there are some students who fill in bubbles to make a pattern and really don’t care about the results of the tests (and, really, why SHOULD they?).

3. Do you think there should be another method to test the knowledge of the student (QUESTION MARK)  why (CAPITAL W) or why not?

There ARE other methods to test students’ knowledge.  Teachers implement these assessments literally every day.  Essays and projects and portfolios and reflections and presentations and speeches and experiments and, and, and….  The question I think you’re asking is perhaps better posed as “should there be another way of proving to politicians that all students know the same thing?”

Look, the problem that we’re running into here is twofold.  The first, of course, is the intrusion of politics into education.  This is a complex and difficult thing to unravel because it deals with things like grandstanding (politicians claiming loudly that our schools are a shambles and “SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!” but having no idea whether what they’re saying is true nor how to address whatever problems may actually exist), the vilification of teachers (“our kids are coming out of school without basic knowledge of important things, therefore the teachers must be at fault!”), and a complete hypocrisy on the part of a society that SAYS it values education and then guts funding, attacks curriculum (google “Texas textbooks” to see just a sample of what I mean here), trashes teachers, and refuses to do anything to address the despicable conditions of our schools (we’re MORE than happy to build new prisons, but bonds to build new schools are almost universally defeated).  Add to that the incursion of interests that want to privatize schools (look into the motivations behind the GOP to push school vouchers, charter schools, and homeschooling movements to see what I mean here) and you’ve got a system under attack.

Our kids are NOT stupid.  They are NOT failing school because they can’t learn or because their teachers are bad.  They’re doing poorly because many of them come from poverty (a hungry kid can’t learn – see Maslow’s hierarchy).  Their home lives are unstable; their parents can’t find work (or work two or more jobs, or THEY work after school because they have to).  They’re doing poorly because they’re stuffed into overcrowded classroom with overworked (and under-paid) teachers who are expected to meet the needs of these diverse kids with little or no support and few if any materials.  They’re doing poorly because they’re expected to learn the SAME thing at the SAME time to the SAME degree and demonstrate that knowledge using the SAME assessments, and they recognize that that’s bullshit dehumanization and they don’t want to play along.  They’re doing poorly because, in our zeal to “achieve” to the test (and our desperate need to balance our ever-diminishing budgets), we’ve done away with art classes and music classes and gym classes and home economics classes and shop classes and have completely abandoned EVERYTHING we know about child and adolescent development in a desperate attempt to do the best we can under the conditions in which we’ve been forced.

I have a LOT more to say about this, but I suspect this may already be more than you need.  Feel free to hit me up with questions or points of clarification.

Love,

Mrs. Chili

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Quick Hit: Get This Right

FYI:

Breathe – with an E – is a verb that means to move air in and out of one’s lungs.

Breath – no E – is the air that is so moved.

Please get this right, especially now. It’s “I can’t BREATHE,” not “I can’t breath.”

Sigh.

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Giving Feedback

My students are working on an issue analysis paper.  Their assignment reads as follows:

Your next writing exercise of the semester is going to be executed in two parts; this is the first.
Begin by choosing an issue that is part of the national conversation, taking care to choose something about which you do NOT already have strong feelings.  For example, if you KNOW yourself to be staunchly pro-choice (as I confess to be) or enthusiastically anti-gun control, then do NOT choose those topics; you want something that you’re going to be able to stay open-minded and inquisitive about.

Some topics you might consider are listed below.

Begin by articulating the “topic/purpose/audience” trinity we discuss every week.  Be very clear about WHAT you’re investigating (many topics are complex; you do not have to elucidate every facet of your chosen topic), WHY you’re doing this work (remember that the purpose of this phase of your writing is to EDUCATE) and WHO your audience is (assume an audience who’s heard of your topic, but who doesn’t have any strong feelings one way or the other).

Once you’ve got that, go to the discussion board and post your results, then go and look at other people’s ideas.  Make sure you get the proverbial green light from me before you begin to research in earnest (though you may have done some light research while choosing your topic).  Use the discussion boards to ask questions (both on your thread and on others’).  Keep checking back, giving and receiving feedback; I do not want you to do this work in isolation (in fact, if someone chooses the same topic as you do, I’m not going to object to your working cooperatively on this).
Come to class on Wednesday with evidence of some pre-writing work – notes, articles you’ve found about your topic, youtube videos, interviews, ideas about books you might reference, guiding questions you’ll be asking about your topic.

Remember that you’re REPORTING here; you’re not to interject any personal feelings into this phase of this work whatsoever.  Your job is to present as full and complete a picture of the state of your issue as you can.  Present the viewpoints of the interested parties as comprehensively and fairly as you can.  Right now, I don’t want to know what you THINK – I want to know what you can show me about what OTHER people think, and about how you would describe the state of policy or condition surrounding this topic.

Some possible avenues of research (you do not need to choose solely from this list, but this is a good place to start):
• minimum wage      • voting rights
• abortion rights       • income inequality, either micro (male vs. female pay disparity) or macro (ultra-rich vs. very poor)
• healthcare (including the ACA, private insurance, healthcare costs, religious exemptions, etc)
• immigration
• welfare/public assistance (including SNAP, Medicare, or unemployment benefits)
• veterans affairs (including VA benefits backlog, veteran homelessness/unemployment, etc)
• elder affairs (Social Security, Medicare, retirement age, pensions, etc)
• workplace concerns (including trade agreements, unions vs. “right-to-work” and safety standards)
• energy policy (including oil/gas (production, transport, safety, regulation, etc), renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, etc), cost, access, regulation, etc)
• food and drug safety or policy (the FDA, obesity, heart disease)
• LGBTQ issues (including marriage, housing, workplace security, hate crimes, etc).
• foreign policy (aid, military presence, diplomacy, etc)
•  science and exploration (including NASA, medical/genetic research/funding, innovation)
• transportation issues (including rail, flight, cars/trucks, regulation and safety, innovation)
• Citizens United, lobbies, and money in politics (501C3 entities, the Koch Brothers, SuperPACs, etc)
• Banking/corporate regulations and “too big to fail”
• Issues around public safety (the Ebola situation as it pertains to American domestic policy; policing policies (including the utilization of military equipment by community police forces); sanitation, or vaccination initiatives)
• legislative process (how does our system actually work?)

Since giving the assignment a month ago, we’ve gone through several drafts of the paper in class, workshopping and collaborating to make the papers stronger, clearer, and easier to read.  We’ve talked about sufficient background, we’ve talked about avoiding the use of loaded or influential language, we’ve talked about introducing quotes and putting them in context within the larger narrative of the issue, and we’ve talked about how to ethically represent opposing viewpoints.  My hope was that all this time spent working closely on these specific papers would make them better.

Except… they’re really not.

I offered to give students specific feedback if they sent me their drafts, and I’m disheartened by what I’m seeing.  One student sent me a copy of the same paper I’d seen the week before; she’d made none of the changes I’d suggested in her last draft.  Another student struggles with clarity, and I spent 5 or 6 email exchanges trying to help her untangle a tortured passage in her introduction.  A student who hadn’t submitted a draft to me yet sent me her most recent effort yesterday and asked that I “look it over” for her (which, as every teacher knows, is really code for, “can you fix it and tell me everything I need to do so I can get an A”).  Here’s the response I sent her:

Dear Hannah,

    The first thing I notice right off the bat is that I don’t see ANY citations…

    I also notice that there is a LOT of prejudicial language in this essay; on the first page alone, we have “terrible crimes” and “rotting away” and the like.  Remember that your job here is to relate the FACTS of the issue, not to pass any kind of judgement about them.  Go back through your narrative and scrub out anything you’ve written that could be interpreted as your trying to influence the way your reader thinks about a particular facet of the issue.  Tell us the facts and trust us to make our own judgements about them.

    There are a number of places where you need MUCH more information.  What, for example, are the “Divine, Moral, and Martial Laws”?  How were they drafted, and why?  Who instituted them?  Did they have the desired effect? Why don’t we practice them anymore?  Do you expect your reader to be familiar with them?  More detail here would be warranted.  Also, what were the circumstances of Kendall’s conviction?  Was he convicted by a court?  Local, State, or Federal?  What was his trial like?  Who decided that he should be put to death; under what authority was that sentence carried out?

    See what I mean?

    You do a lot of generalizing – “many people question” – that sort of thing.  Remember that in analysis, the more specific, the better. You need to drill down and be VERY clear and VERY specific about exactly WHAT you’re talking about.  For example, when you say, on page 3, that “closure” is a reason for supporting the death penalty, what does that even mean?  Is one family’s closure going to be the same as another’s?  Is there EVIDENCE for this as a CREDIBLE reason to support state-sanctioned execution?  What does “serving justice” mean?  Honestly; *I* think that spending the rest of one’s life in prison, deprived of liberty and human interaction, is a FAR more “just” punishment for a heinous crime than the oblivion of death, so “serving justice” as an argument in favor of capital punishment doesn’t quite work for me.  Is there evidence that the death penalty – as we currently practice it – really IS a deterrent to other would-be criminals?

    See what I mean?

    Go through your essay point-by-point and really CHALLENGE yourself.  Can you PROVE your claims with evidence from your research?  Do all the points you make satisfy the “so what?” questions?  Have you given your reader enough background and foundation to understand the issue and form their OWN opinion about it?

    Keep working; you have the framework, you just need to sharpen your focus.

    Warmly,

        Mrs. Chili

I’m already pessimistic about how these papers are going to turn out.

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The Velveteen Rabbit

I’ve been teaching since I graduated with my Master’s degree in 2006.  In that time, I’ve worked for a medium-sized, state run public university (Local U.), a public charter high school (CHS), and three different community colleges (TCC, CCCC, and NSLCC).  I have been formally observed by a supervisor precisely three times; once at the now-defunct Tiny Community College (where I worked from 2006 until the holding company closed the school in 2009) and twice at Not So Local Community College in the next state over, where I’m currently employed; once last fall and once last week.

One of the things I hate – absolutely hate – about being an adjunct is that I’m professionally isolated.  While I’m technically a member of the teaching faculty at both schools where I currently teach (NSLCC and Local U.), I’m not a part of the teaching community at either school.  I am not invited to faculty meetings because adjuncts aren’t expected to attend, so no one bothers to let us know that meetings are happening.  I don’t know any of the teaching faculty at NSLCC, and I only know a few members of the faculty at Local U because I got both of my degrees there and some of the folks who were teaching (or going to graduate school) while I was a student are still there.  I come to campus at both of these schools at odd hours, teach my one class, then leave; no one notices my presence (or absence, it would be presumed) and I’m pretty much left to my own devices.  While that can be a very freeing thing (I wasn’t going to take the class at NSLCC if I were asked to teach another Intro to Writing class; the curriculum is set for that course and I hated teaching it last semester; I only went back because I was given a straight-up composition class), it can also be very, very lonely.

Those of you who’ve been reading here for a while know that I’m a very reflective practitioner of my craft.  I thrive on interaction and feedback, so this professional isolation is wearing for me.  I was delighted, then, to find out that Josephine, the Assistant Chair of the English Department, was going to conduct a formal observation of my class last week.  I was looking forward to having another teacher – one whose purpose was a kind of critical analysis of my lesson and my delivery – in my room.

I didn’t do anything different that day – in fact, I’d forgotten, until I was halfway to work that afternoon, that the observation was even scheduled (if I’d remembered, I’d have probably worn a skirt and a prettier sweater).  Josephine took an inconspicuous spot in the back of the room, and I conducted my class as I always do; the students did a little writing about a quote I’d chosen that morning – one that hinted at the work they’re currently doing for their current essay – and we discussed their responses as a whole group.  Then, I handed out some samples of an annotated bibliography and we talked about how to assess the credibility of sources.  About an hour into the class, Josephine quietly stood and left the room (choosing a really good time, in fact; she slipped out as the students were arranging themselves in small groups to work on an exercise on annotated bibliographies).

I received Josephine’s report on her observations in today’s post.  There are two standard questions the observer is asked to address; one about the target’s “…teaching effectiveness with regard to content mastery” and one about the target’s “effectiveness with regard to the ability to provide clear feedback…and to motivate and stimulate student thought.”  For both of these areas, Josephine found me entirely acceptable.  At the end of the form, though, there’s a section where the observer is asked to give an overall impression of the teacher’s effectiveness.  Here, Josephine wrote: “This was an excellent English Composition 1 lesson.  Professor Chili is an accomplished instructor who presents the course material effectively and engages her students in learning through reflection.  I am pleased to have her teaching once again at NSLCC.”

I have to sign and return a copy of the evaluation for the school’s records.  Along with the signed copy, I included a note to Josephine in which I expressed my gratitude to her for taking the time to come to my class, and for giving me feedback.  I told her about my feelings of professional isolation, and that getting positive reinforcement from a respected colleague had the result of making me feel a little like the Velveteen Rabbit; knowing that someone knows where I am and what I’m doing – and that they think I’m doing a good job – makes me feel real.

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“I Should be Deported… and I was BORN Here….”

The title of this post comes from a comment a student left on my civics quiz yesterday.  You’ll understand why in a minute.

So!  A few days ago, this video circulated around the internet.  In it, a woman interviewed a bunch of (ostensibly) Texas Tech students, asking them basic civics questions.

Their answers should horrify you.

Skeptical Chili was skeptical.  I mean, COME ON!  The CIVIL WAR?!  You don’t know who won the FUCKING CIVIL WAR?!  I wasn’t buying it, so I decided to run a little experiment of my own.  I put together a quick little, short-answer, true-false quiz that I’d give to my own students and see how they compared to the kids in the video.

Let’s just say I’m not skeptical about the video anymore.

I passed out the quiz and told my kids that I WASN’T grading them – like, to the point that they didn’t even have to put their names on them if they didn’t want to (and most didn’t).  I explained the Texas Tech video and my incredulity about its accuracy (I had to explain “incredulity.”  Sigh) and told them that I wanted to prove that college kids knew the answers to these basic questions.  I also told them that most of the questions were lifted straight off the INS website’s citizenship practice test.

Here’s the quiz:

Short answer:

When was the Declaration of Independence issued?

Against which country did we fight the War of 1812?  What famous building was occupied and then burned in that war?

When did the Civil War begin (the year or the event)?

Who was President during the Civil War?

Which side won the Civil War?

Where is Pearl Harbor and what happened there?

In WWII, the US fought WITH two other nations; which were they, and against whom were we fighting?

Allies:
United States
2.
3.

Axis:
1.
2.
3.

What are the three branches of the US government?
1.
2.
3.

How many years is a term of office for a Representative?
For a Senator?
For a President?
For a Supreme Court Justice?

How many terms can each serve?
Representative:
Senator:
President:
Justice:

What is the First Amendment and what does it protect?

The Second?

What does the 13th Amendment do (bonus points for correctly listing the date of ratification)?

What does the 19th Amendment do (bonus points for correctly listing the date of ratification)?

What did Susan B. Anthony do?

How old do you have to be to vote in US elections?

Under our Constitution, there are a number of powers that belong to the States.  Name ONE of these:

Who becomes president if both the president and vice president die?

How many Supreme Court Justices are there?  Who’s the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?

How many Senators are elected from each state?

How many representatives are elected from each state?

Name your CURRENT Senators and Representatives:

What did the Citizens United Supreme Court decision do?

True or False:

Illegal immigrants can have access to federal assistance programs like Food Stamps, Welfare, and Unemployment Insurance.

The US has a higher incarceration rate than any other nation in the world.

This nation was founded on the basis of Christianity and the Bible.

It is a crime to videotape police officers making an arrest.

In 29 states, someone can be legally fired because he or she is homosexual.

The United States was founded under the principle that all men and women can participate in the political decisions by voting.

The federal deficit has increased under President Obama.

Voter turnout for the most recent mid-term elections was the lowest it’s been since World War II.

Socialism, Fascism, and Communism are all words that mean basically the same thing.

I currently teach two composition classes at two different institutions; one is a state-run community college (though a fairly large and well-established one) and one is a medium-sized public university.

The class average for my community college kids was a 25.5, and the class average for the university kids was 48.5.  Seriously.  The highest grade of all of them was a university student, who scored a 79.

Most kids thought Susan B. Anthony was Betsy Ross.  A few kids thought Pearl Harbor is in Boston and was the site of the Boston Tea Party.  With ONE exception, all students thought that the deficit has increased under President Obama.  At least four of them thought that the First Lady becomes President if the President and Vice President die, and one kid thought that Clinton was President during the Civil War.

No, I’m not kidding.

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The Interview

One of my freshman writing students at L.U. asked me to answer interview questions for a project he’s working on in another class. Here’s how that went:

***********

Hi Mrs. Chili,

I was hoping you would be able to answer a few questions for a project I’m working on. I don’t need a huge response for each question just a sentence or two would be very helpful. Thank you so much!

1. What are the minimum requirements and/or degrees for your position; what degrees do you have and what schools did you attend to earn your degrees?

Scott, I’m assuming that we’re talking about my position with the University, yes? If so, the minimum requirement for this job, as far as I’m aware, is a Master’s degree in the subject area. I have both a BA and an MAT in English teaching (dual major in English and Education) from Local U.

2. What types of things are involved in a “typical” work-week for you – especially address what you do beyond what students see in the classroom.

I plan and teach two classes a week (well, four, since I teach at another college, as well). I research, evaluate, and retrieve information – including worksheets, handouts, and readings – for students. I choose materials (chapter readings, movies, other supplementary items) that will complement the students’ learning. I evaluate student work and offer feedback. I attend workshops, staff meetings and professional development seminars, and I reflect on my teaching practice by engaging in self-evaluation and journaling.

3. What do you most like about being a professor/instructor on a college campus, and what you do like the least? What’s one thing you like to do outside of your work?

I love working with students; they’re the reason I do this work.

I’m an energetic, enthusiastic advocate of curiosity and learning, and I love seeing even a little of that rub off on the kids I work with.

I’m passionate about my discipline and think that the skills I teach – thinking, speaking, and writing – are desperately important, not only so that students can engage in active and productive citizenship, but also so that they can be rich participants in their own lives.

I DISLIKE only seeing my students for about four hours a week for 12-15 weeks. I miss working in a high school where I was able to see students every day – even if I didn’t have them in class – and I dislike not having the time and space to build meaningful relationships with them.

I miss seeing students grow; the kinds of advancement I see in 15 weeks is very different from the kind I can – and did – see over the course of a school year.

I also dislike feeling professionally isolated; while I’m technically a member of the faculty here at Local U. (and at the other colleges at which I teach), I’m don’t feel as though I’m a part of the culture; I don’t really know any of my colleagues (that’s less true here at LU because I’ve been a part of the school for so long and know a number of the faculty from when I was a student), but time and other constraints keep me from being an active participant in the faculty.

I dislike the job insecurity; I don’t know, from one semester to another, whether there will be work for me going forward.
I dislike the pay.

Outside of work, I spend time with my family – I have a husband and two teenaged daughters (and four new cats!!). I love to go to movies and out to eat. I am politically active and spend a fair bit of time advocating for causes that are important to me – and trying to educate others about them, as well. Unfortunately, being an adjunct means that I have multiple jobs – at the moment, I have five – so I’m currently working 6 days a week and trying to make sure that I meet all of my commitments in a way that satisfies my standards, so I don’t have a whole lot of time for a lot of leisure activities…

4. What is the biggest obstacle/barrier you witness that gets in the way of student college success?

Honestly? Crappy public schools and a culture of “meh.” Somewhere along the line, we kill young people’s curiosity and drive. What frustrates me most is that we know – because we STUDY this stuff – how to do education in a way that’s energetic and interesting, but we refuse to do it; we insist on doing things the way we’ve always done them. That means that we force kids to sit quietly at desks. That means that we put too much value on the end result and not on the process. That means that we stigmatize mistakes and only value the “right” answer (whatever that happens to be at the moment). That means that we don’t teach values anymore – citizenship, work ethic, honesty and integrity – because we’re afraid of offending parents. That means that we undervalue teachers, make them afraid to lose their jobs, and turn them into test-givers rather than letting them be adults who are important and meaningful in young people’s lives. That means we end up with young adults who can’t write complete sentences, who have no idea how to study, and who have been taught that learning is a chore that should be avoided if possible. We’re doing school WRONG, and by the time a student gets to college, he or she has never been asked to be thoughtful, has never learned to take risks, and is afraid to admit that they don’t know something (you saw this in our class, even…). What’s worse, we end up with students who don’t really mind not knowing stuff….

You said you didn’t want really long answers, but I could go on about this for a very, very long time…

5. What do you think are the top three characteristics of a “SUCCESSFUL COLLEGE STUDENT” – in general, not just specifically as it relates to your class?

CURIOSITY! Relentless, energetic curiosity. GAH! If we had that, half the battle would be won.

Drive. I can be the most enthusiastic, engaged, passionate teacher ever (and I try to be!), but it’s all just an amusing two hours if the student doesn’t give a shit about their own education. The adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink is kind of the teachers’ motto; if you don’t care about what I’m teaching, you’re not going to learn and, contrary to what a lot of people might think, it’s not MY JOB to get YOU to care; it’s my job to do everything I can to get you everything you need to do well and be successful, but I can’t MAKE anyone care about anything.

Work ethic. Anyone can bullshit their way through college, really. Someone who has my top two characteristics, though, is probably going to WANT to do well, and so is going to do the things that they’re asked to do with at least some attempt at professionalism. That means doing the work – REALLY doing the reading, learning the conventions of communication in different rhetorical situations, and not just settling for “good enough.” I would extend that to include going above and beyond – seeking out other materials or experiences to augment their own learning – but at this point, I’d settle for students at least TRYING to make an attempt to be better than they are.

I hope that helps you. Let me know if you need me to clarify anything.

Warmly,

Mrs. Chili

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I got this as a thank you note in response:

Wow! That was great!  I really enjoyed hearing about your thoughts from the other side of the classroom.

In the project I’m doing we are taking a professor’s response to the questions and explaining how we may approach college differently now with some more advice.  I think what you said about people’s ability to be fine with not knowing something is a huge problem with people today, myself included.  It’s embarrassing when you don’t know something and you don’t want the stigma of being stupid.  I’m really going to try and figure out those times when I have that mindset and trying to look at it in a different way that might spark more of an interest.

You do a fantastic job trying to connect with your students.  I really enjoy your class and I’m sure many others do as well.

Thanks again :)

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This couldn’t have come at a better time.  I’m feeling really disheartened in my professional life, and I needed to hear that I’m not just spinning my proverbial wheels.

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