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:

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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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1 Comment

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One response to “The Interview

  1. Great interview. I must say that I like not teaching my students daily, but as you stated, I enjoy seeing them. There is such a difference in teaching at the college and high school level. I have greatly enjoyed my high school teaching experience. There have been days, but all in all it has been rewarding.

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