Tag Archives: community college

Teaching: It’s More Than What You Do

Once upon a time, many years ago, I was at a gathering of educators and was involved in a group discussion with several veteran instructors. We were discussing all manner of education-y things when one senior instructor said to us, “you need to stop letting this be SO important to you. This is your job. It’s a job. It’s not who you are.”

I disagreed then. And I disagree now. Because, I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, teaching is not just a job. It is, in fact, who I am. Or at least a very big part of who I am.

I’ve often thought about doing other things for a living. I’ve thought of leaving public service for the private sector. I’ve thought of making more money. I’ve thought about going to work for 40 hours a week, no more, no less. I’ve thought of giving up the late-night grading sessions, the constant e-mail checking, the daily insults to my intelligence and dignity.

But I can’t. And I don’t really want to. Because even though there are days when I hate my job, I love it. And it is me. I can’t do anything else. My students try my patience and shred my last nerve…but they also challenge me. They make me want to slam my head against the wall, but they also inspire me to try harder and be better. They make me try harder and be better (because if I slack off even a bit, they will eat me for lunch).

I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to get them to figure out whatever it is I’m teaching that week. Sometimes I come up with a new idea the day or hour or five minutes before class. And when it works, the payoff is amazing.

And knowing that, understanding it, and being willing to work towards that (as opposed to a nice Christmas bonus) is not just what I do for a paycheck. It is who I am.

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Filed under Higher Ed, Teaching & Learning

Run down, way down…

So here’s the thing: this last week, I completely and utterly failed at anything domestic: I did not cook, I hardly cleaned, laundry did not get done…and so on. I did, however, work my butt off at…well, work. I had meeting after meeting after meeting. And then I had some more. And of course, I had to actually teach my classes. And it was the week for student complaints. And I had papers to grade. And I didn’t sleep for…I don’t know…days? Insomnia and I are tight like that.

As I explained to someone on FB the other night:

A regular full-time faculty load is 5 3-credit hour classes per semester. As Department Head, I’m granted a 2 3-credit hour release for administrative work. So I currently teach 3 3-credit classes a semester, which is 9 hours of class time each week.

We work on the Carnegie unit system that assumes 2 service hours (course prep, planning, grading, etc.) for every credit hour, so presumably 15 credit hours/ week is 30 service hours/week. But
let’s get real: we actually usually spend more that the Carnegie suggests. Then, we have a mandatory 8 office hours/ week bringing us to 38. Then, you add in committee work, college service, academic advising, etc. The work week for which the State pays us is 37.5 hours.

So as Dept. Head, I do 18 service hours for teaching + 8 office hours per week. The remaining 11.5 is supposed to be for administrative work, including program development, hiring of faculty, training of faculty, scheduling of courses, and like fifty-two other duties that include, but are certainly not limited to, things like ordering all texts for the department, conducting inventory, and responding to student complaints/concerns regarding classes, instructors, any anything else that might bother them. I spent at least 8 of those hours in meetings this week. And another 3-5 writing reports and or creating presentations (or parts of presentation/reports) related to those meetings.

So…yeah, add in the complete inability to sleep at night, plus a little sinus problem I’ve been battling….oh, and covering for not one, but 2, instructors who are out…I’m a little run down. Hence, the lack of blogging and/or doing anything else, including keeping up with any and all household chores.

On the upside, I succeeded at my job. And I did well and right by my students. And stood up for my employees–even when it meant I took a hit (or two) myself. And my students…they learned. They learned some important things. And I know because they told me or showed me. And there’s always that.

Oh, and my husband still loves me and reassures me it’s completely fine that we ordered pizza for dinner twice in the last two weeks and ate all our lunches and several dinners out.

Luckily, the weekend means cleaning, laundry, and cooking, so I’m just about caught up and ready for Monday again.

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Filed under Community College, Higher Ed, My Life, Teaching & Learning

From This Week’s Lessons: Embracing Interdependence

One of this week’s objectives for my College Skills classes was to get students to understand that they need to develop a college support network and embrace interdependence for success.

So one day we did two activities:

1. The Chair Lift (adapted from Skip Downing)

2. Video Clip: “Finding Green Food” from The Land Before Time.

In the chair lift activity, one student sits in a chair at the front of the room.  His job is to remain seated in the chair.  Another student is instructed to “cause the chair to rise 18 inches off the floor.”  Generally, I choose a good-sized male student for the chair and the tiniest female student possible for the “raising of the chair.”  The rest of the class is instructed to observe and consider what they would do in the “chair raiser’s” position.  The chair raiser usually struggles at first, walking around the chair, pushing it a little, making a half-hearted attempt to lift a side of it, and declaring things like, “This is impossible!” Sometimes one or both students involved in the demonstration ask questions as they try to figure out this puzzle.  All the while, I just keep repeating the directions: “Your job is to stay seated in the chair.” and “Your job is to cause the chair to rise 18 inches off the floor.”  Eventually, the students observing will begin to offer suggestions until finally they determine the task is possible if several (usually at least 4 who are instructed to be careful and lift with their legs to avoid injury) of them work together. I follow this with a minute paper: “What’s the life lesson here?”

Next, we watch the clip from The Land Before Time.  My students get super geeked out about this movie.  Apparently, it’s quite popular with their age group.  I never have to summarize the plot for them; they do it themselves.  If you’re not familiar, this is an animated adventure film starring anthropomorphic dinosaurs in search of The Great Valley, a place that has been spared from the devastation of a series of catastrophic events (earthquake, volcano, etc.).  As plant-eaters, they need to find “green food” despite the fact that most of the land is now barren.  In the clip, they find a tree with green leaves way up at the top, and have to figure out how to get to them since none can reach the leaves alone (including Petrie who should be able to fly but can’t because he’s too scared and has never learned).  Here’s what happens:

The Land Before Time


We do another minute paper: “What’s the life lesson here?”

Students then do pair/share, followed by small group discussion about these life lessons.  They write out what they’ve learned to share with the large group, and then we go over those lessons together:” don’t be afraid to ask for help, “sometimes a seemingly impossible goals is possible with the help of a team,”  “don’t be too proud or stubborn to seek help when you can’t do it alone,” and so and so forth.  This leads to a mini-lecture on building your college support network and an assignment to begin doing that via the Staff Interview Assignment (only after we’ve already done “appropriate e-mailing), where students are forced to go out on campus and engage with one of a list of volunteer staff members.


Filed under Higher Ed, Teaching & Learning

Accepted: My Presentation for the SC Assoc. for Dev. Ed.

My proposal was accepted, and I am officially on the schedule for the 2013 Conference of the South Carolina Association for SCADEDevelopmental Education (SCADE). The theme of the conference is “Reaching for the Stars: Achieving New Heights in Developmental Education.” The focus is, of course, on community college students, and on helping students in transition succeed. If it goes well, I intend to submit a similar presentation to the National Association 2015 Conference. This is the summary and abstract of the presentation:

Title: Creating a More Successful Maiden Voyage: Applying Principles of Student Success to Developmental Classes


Only about 32% of the Titanic’s passengers reached their destination. Community college students don’t fare much better on their maiden voyages: only about 33% of beginning full-time community college students obtain an Associate’s Degree. This session focuses on what we can do to help improve our students’ odds of survival.


If we want to help students “reach for the stars” and “achieve new heights,” we have to help them navigate the voyage there. At 2-year colleges, only 54.1% of students persist from the first year to 2nd, and the drop-out rate at public 2-year colleges is 47.7%. Only 1/3 of beginning full-time community college students obtain an Associate’s Degree; only 39% seeking a bachelor’s degree actually transfer to a 4-year college, and only 8% actually obtain the BA or BS within 5 years. As developmental educators, we know that our students are particularly at-risk of “sinking” in the sometimes rough waters they experience on their maiden voyage into post-secondary education. We can help increase their likelihood of success by encouraging them to embrace the four most powerful research-based principles of college success:
1. Active involvement

2. Use of campus resources

3. Interpersonal interaction and collaboration

4. Personal reflection and self-awareness

At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be able to identify the four most powerful research-based principles of college success; will understand the importance of purposefully creating activities and assignments to encourage students to embrace those principles; and will have specific examples that illustrate how to create such activities/assignments.


Filed under Developmental Education, Higher Ed, Uncategorized

We Take All Kinds

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: community colleges take all kinds. Literally. We take all kinds of students.

Just today, I talked to a young woman who’s trying to find a way to complete her high school diploma requirements. And when she only needs a few units to get that diploma? It’s essential to find a way for her to make that happen. We do that.

I spoke with a woman about getting both her GED and her Work Keys certification. She has a good job, makes decent money at one of our local plants, supports her young son. But she wants something more. We have that. She doesn’t want to spend her whole life in the plant. We have basic education and workplace training and certifications.

I heard from a 60+ year old woman who told me how she married young, raised a family, took care of elderly parents and then an ailing husband. She always wanted to come to college. She started today, and may be the most excited student I’ve seen so far. This is her dream. We do that.

I met with a military veteran–a man who served in Iraq and received nerve damage as a result. He can no longer serve our country the way he did, but he wants to find another way to give back. He wants to find a career about which he’s as passionate as he is this country. We can help with that.

I met with a student I taught last year. She passed my class. She came to talk to me because someone told her, “you can’t do it.” She didn’t register for the classes she could have. I told her, “You can do it. I know you can.” And I helped her register for and get into the classes she needed. We do that.

I met a student who said, “I’m the first person in my family to ever finish high school. And the first in college.” We do that.

I had a class full of 18-year-old, straight-out-of-high-school students who stared at me, disbelieving when I told them college is a whole new ballgame requiring a whole new set of skills. They don’t believe me now. They will. And they’ll learn. We do that.

We do a lot. And so do our students.


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A comic in honor of the new school year…

Syllabus Comic

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July 30, 2013 · 10:33 am

We are the community college–Democracy’s college.

One time, back in May, I argued that “Access to education and the opportunity for upward mobility is the American Dream. ” And the community college provides that access. In fact, that’s why community colleges exist!

Make no mistake: the community college is an American invention; it’s Democracy’s college.

Prior to the community college, higher education was reserved for the upper classes. One might even say college helped draw the lines of class. As noted by the Truman Commission, college was “an instrument for producing an intellectual elite.”

But the birth of the community college changed that by becoming “the means by which every citizen, youth, and adult, is enabled and encouraged” to better himself through higher education.

The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal:” The community

college opened the door of opportunity for every American–and we’ve been holding the door open, providing universal post-secondary education ever since.  

The Statue of Liberty bears an inscription: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It may as well be the motto of the community college. Our door is open to everyone.  And we are many things to many people. We have multiple missions: career/workforce training, university transfer, developmental education, lifelong learning.

Did you know that there’s a community college within a short commute of 90% of the US population?

We are about accessibility.

We are about opportunity.

We are about community.

We are about the American Dream.

We are the community college–Democracy’s college.

{And we ( or really just I) have a disclaimer.}


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Campus Resources and Student Success

Did you know? Approximately 70% of community college students report knowing about their college’s academic support services. But 65% report never using them (CCSSE).

Yikes! That’s crazy! Especially given the fact that studies show that students who use campus resources self-report the positive effects of utilizing those resources! They get more out of the college experience and are more likely to successfully reach their educational goals.

So what’s the disconnect? We’ve done our part as the metaphorical health club, right? We provided them with the tools for success and even made sure they’re aware of them, but still, the vast majority say they don’t make use of those resources!

I guess we could just throw up our hands and declare ourselves done! But as I mentioned yesterday, as employees at the college, we sort of take on the role of the personal trainer.  We not only have to let students know these resources exist, but we also have to show them how to use them and the value of using them. Otherwise, even if they know about them, they won’t use them to their benefit (sort of like how I heard those giant bouncy balls were good for exercise, but one never did anything for me until my trainer showed me what to do with it—then I felt the pain!)

In our Freshman Seminar classes, we do this by actually forcing students to engage with staff who work at the Tutoring Center, the Financial Aid office, the Library, Student Life & Counseling Services, and so.  We take them on location and our staff offer them workshops during class time.  We connect assignments to these workshops.  And it seems to work. Our Career Services personnel, for example, report that after we bring our classes to their center and introduce them to the people and services, they almost always see those students again.  Obviously, taking them to Career Services encourages them to use that resource later—even when it’s not required. The same holds true for the other resources to which we introduce them in our class.

Here’s a little secret about our students (in case you didn’t know): they don’t do optional. If you want them to appreciate the value of campus resources, you can’t just tell them they’re valuable—you have to show them.  When we take them as part of the class, it isn’t optional.  And our students who take the Freshman Seminar class have reported via CCSSE that they use campus resources at a MUCH higher rate than the regular population.

But not all of our students take the Freshman Seminar class. So the next question is how do we go beyond awareness? How do we get students to embrace and utilize campus resources without a class as a vehicle for doing so?

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My Mind’s on the Money

You want to talk about completion? Let’s talk about money.

{Just click here if you’re not familiar with my ongoing discussions regarding the college completion agenda.}

Community colleges are under a lot of pressure to increase completion rates.  But if we’re going to increase completion rates without grade inflation or otherwise compromising the academic integrity of the institution, we have to address more than just academics.  One major area of concern, especially for the community college, is money. National studies indicate that financial issues play a huge role in student persistence to graduation. A review of the available research tells us this:

  • The average full-time community college student had more than $6,000 in unmet need in 2011-2012.
  • 66 percent of young community college students work more than 20 hours per week to help pay for school and their home and family obligations.
  • 58 percent attend college part-time to accommodate work.
  • In one study, 33.4% of adults gave cost as a barrier for job-related education, while 25.4% of adults reported cost as a barrier to non-work-related education.
  • More than 70 percent of students who drop out of community colleges cite financial burdens & work obligations as their main reasons.


Clearly, money (or lack thereof) is one of those “insurmountable obstacles” I discussed at the end of last week.

Students who don’t have the financial means to afford the full cost of attendance (tuition + room/board + living expenses) are far less likely to successfully earn a credential.  Those students are likely to attend school part-time and to work 20+ hours/week.  And we know that both of these situations factor into persistence (or lack thereof).

We also know that around 42% of community college students miss out on Pell grants simply because they fail to file a FAFSA. And filing a FAFSA is associated with higher within-year persistence rates amongst low-income students.

So money’s a problem—but there are some solutions (i.e. financial aid); however, if students are not aware of those possible solutions, they cannot take advantage of them and will fail despite their availability.  Many of our students lack what’s commonly referred to as “college knowledge;” we cannot assume they know how to attend college or how to apply for financial aid (or even that it exists!).

So what’s that mean for student success? Remember—we’re like a health club; we have all the resources available to get our students into shape (or to degree completion). But like the personal trainer, we have to show students those tools and how to use them (Gosh knows if my trainer hadn’t shown me how to use the equipment, I’d probably just have stumbled around the gym hurting rather than helping myself).  It means that community colleges, as open-door institutions committed to accessibility, must provide students with timely and accurate information about the tools available to them—the tools that will help them overcome those overwhelming obstacles. One of those obstacles is the cost of attendance. And the tool to help afford it is the FAFSA—and our financial aid counselors who are ready and willing to help students complete it.  The earlier we get that information out to potential students, the better.  (Attention future college students: FILL OUT YOUR FAFSA—sooner, rather than later).

Of course, money isn’t the only non-academic obstacle…but that’s for another post. Today my mind’s on the money.

Don’t forget: I have a disclaimer.

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What Can I Do For Student Success?

In a meeting today, I mentioned some of the top reasons students fail to stay in and complete their education. One colleague asked me to elaborate. This post stems from that.

This is a list of the Characteristics/Factors that have the greatest effect on student attrition:

      1. Level of student preparation for college-level work
      2. Student study skills
      3. Adequacy of personal financial resources
      4. Level of student commitment to earning a degree
      5. Level of student motivation to succeed
      6. Student family responsibilities
      7. Level of job demands on students
      8. Student low socioeconomic status
      9. Amount of financial aid available to students
      10. Student personal coping skills

This comes from the most recent What Works in Student Retention report created by ACT and comes from research at community colleges (they do separate reports for 4-year institutions).

Overwhelmingly what research across the board tells us is simple: students drop or stop out of college because they encounter what they consider to be an insurmountable obstacle, which is exactly what so many of the things on that list are. We also know that most often the obstacle seems insurmountable because the students feel little to no connection (or sense of belonging) to the college. Students who engage with faculty, staff, and peers and make use of available campus resources are, thus, more likely to stay in and finish school.

So the questions for each of us employed at a community college are these: what can I do to help students overcome the potential obstacles to their success? How can I help foster a sense of connection and belonging? How can I encourage students to develop working relationships with faculty, staff, and peers? How can I encourage them to make use of all the campus resources we have available?


Filed under Community College, Higher Ed