community college

Have I written about the community college gig yet? It seems like I’ve meant to, but it’ keat me kind if busy. If I have, feel free to forgive me and move on.

When I was young-ish and hopeful and maybe arrogant and in graduate school, I eschewed the very idea of community college because my perception was that that meant teaching almost exclusively composition, and I was willing to teach composition to get through grad school, but that was about it. A wise woman gently corrected me with her experience of loving the teaching and teaching both comp and lit.

When I finished graduate school, it was the height of the recession/housing bust–which hit the Inland Empire particularly hard–and there were no jobs to be had, full-time, adjunct, or otherwise. I also, at that point, had two very small children.

I made one attempt at a job search and didn’t even get a nibble, not even a call-back for more information. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I began to work at the church, and the undeveloped call of ministry developed delightfully, but I always knew that teaching offered better pay, and that at some point, once the kids were in school, I should get back to it. But there was that original concern again in a different form, adjuncting, wherever it might be, private, state, or community college, meant teaching composition. I’ve had plenty of training and plenty of experience, but it has never been my first love.

Thanks to a church friend, I got a quarter’s worth of teaching business writing at the state college. The pay was good. The experience was demoralizing. I was definitely teaching for the paycheck. There were moments of course, and students, who made it “worth it,” but mostly it was just hard work.

And then a conversation in the hallway at church led to the discovery of a retiring literature professor at the community  college and an interview with the interim dean who was a friend of my friend. It turned out no one on the faculty wanted to teach the Brit Lit survey and they needed an adjunct for the job. Enter an adjunct candidate with an early Brit lit Ph.D. plus experience in both high school and college teaching. It was perfect timing, Providential even.

And so this year I have taught the entire British Literature survey + a developmental composition class this year. In the Brit Lit class each semester was different (c. 500-1799 and 1800-2017), but that meant that a handful of students carried over and took both semester. The comp class was the same prep which meant new students, but I got to use the same syllabus and refine what I had done.

Here is what I have learned: I love community college. I am totally enamored. The students want to be there and care about what they are learning in a way university freshmen never did in the comp classes I taught through grad school. There are a few kids straight out of high school, but most of them have at least a couple years of maturity and experience and defined goals for being there.  The two classes are at the extreme ends of community college: a comp class 2 steps down from English 101 and a fully transferable lit class. The composition students, at least those who stick with it, have a tremendous amount of determination and perseverance.  The lit students are bright and interested. Yes, there are concerns as these kids have work obligations and family obligations and life issues, and I worry about them, but they are really trying, and they tend toward kindness. And that gets me every time.

That’s the students. As a teacher, I have autonomy in the classroom, yet there is support for faculty, including for adjunct faculty. The sort of sad state of things that has most classes taught by adjunct faculty means that they have things well set-up for adjuncts. We have a meeting each semester that I’d part administration and information, part staff development, and part inspirational. There are also workshops all semester long, a number of which we can receive pay. My schedule hasn’t allowed me to take advantage this year,  but I hope to next year.

finally, I have found that my work in the church and my work at the college have complemented each other this year. I am a better teacher for what I have learned about minstry, and the work I do at the school helps keep me grounded for the work I do at church.

It’s hard work, and I’ve been busy,  but it feels like it’s all come together for this time and this place. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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4 Responses to community college

  1. Deanna says:

    Delightful revelation!

  2. Kristin Berkey-Abbott says:

    Great thoughts here! When I started teaching full-time, during a different recession in 1992, the only job I got was in a community college. I desperately wanted a liberal arts college job, but so far, that opportunity has not come my way. The years have taught me that the community colleges of the nation are doing the work that I’ve always felt called to be part of: giving people an affordable way out of what keeps them trapped. My spouse teaches Philosophy at our community college and I teach English there, in addition to my full-time administrator job–both adjuncts, both happy.

  3. wanted to say that because of my age when I graduated high school (16), and my relative ulack of sophistication and naivite, Community college was the exactly right thing for me before I transferred to UCLA.. The researchers found that many of us did even better at UCLA than those who had been plunged in as freshmen. I will always be grateful for the easing in to higher education, especially when I had engaged and committed professors like you. Bravssima!

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