Saturday, March 05, 2005

Two-Year College Teacher-Scholar

I found this report on the blog of someone who posts as jocalo both on his own site and on the Community College English site.

This appears to be an NCTE committee report, and I found it quite interesting. Some of the salient points:

~At two-year colleges, good teaching matters most, but this committee views scholarship as a prerequisite and a co-requisite for good teaching--because teachers’ scholarship legitimizes their expertise, informs their classroom practice, and provides their students with models for intellectual inquiry.

~The conventional view of research and scholarship holds that the former involves the discovery of new knowledge while the latter amounts to a familiarity with, and understanding of, what is already known. Research institutions have historically assumed that faculty would engage in both activities: making new knowledge and keeping up to date with advances in their particular areas of expertise But is it realistic to assume that faculty at community colleges will have the time and skills to engage in conventional academic research?

~Finally, community colleges have had little success in recognizing the work of faculty outside the classroom.

The report goes on to discuss the types of scholarship currently coming out of community colleges. I was, in fact, amazed to find out that the poet Bruce Weigl teaches at a community college. He could certainly have his pick of jobs, and I always find it heartwarming to hear these stories of people who are choosing community colleges for whatever reasons when they could be at the most prestigious universities.

I thought this was a good opportunity for talking about what our roles and responsibilities are as scholars in two-year colleges. Sometimes I have such a hard time keeping up with the grading load that I can't imagine how I could add more pressure to what I'm already doing.

But I will say that I've had more fun working on the blog research than almost anything I've ever done. When you get excited about learning something, it spills into your teaching in very distinct, though perhaps indefinable ways.

I don't believe any of us would argue the point that it is our obligation as teachers to remain current in our fields and to learn as much as we can about the writing and the literature that we teach. But my question is to what degree should two-year college teachers feel obligated to make a contribution to their fields?

I have my own opinions on this, but I will hold off a little bit on launching into a diatribe. Anyone else?


jocalo said...

Well, welcome to the blog world and thanks for linking to the Teacher Scholar report on my blog. "Someone who calls himself Jocalo" is actually John Lovas (namely, me) who has been promoting the concept of scholarship by two-year college faculty for a long time. Among other things, I think a faculty member who creates an innovative course has committed an act of scholarship. So the project involves both recognizing the contributions to knowledge we already make (and getting others in the profession to recognize that) as well as to extend our understandings as teachers through reading, researchg, and this kind of interchange.

I'm really glad to see colleagues in the Southeast joining in this conversation.

Sharon Gerald said...

I feel like I've been talking about someone at the coffee shop without realizing he was sitting in the next booth. :)

Welcome to Mississippi. I'm Sharon Gerald, but I'm calling myself SG right now for lack of anything more imaginative.

I was very interested in the report and would like to learn more. I know two-year college faculty typically have the problem of no real incentive to participate in the kind of professional organizations and activities that we might think of as scholarly. I get no better pay and no better teaching schedule for writing papers or going to conferences. If I do it, I do it for the joy of learning. Why else would anyone do it, really?

jocalo said...

Doing things for joy makes a lot of sense to me. But at my college, my efforts in professional organizations and my publications do get two kinds of formal credit, one associated with my evaluations and one that has earned me additional pay. These are not universal arrangements in community colleges, but I think they are ones worth promoting.

By law, we are evaluated every four years, even after tenure. As part of that evaluation, I must show Professional Growth Activities (PGA). While service within the college counts, so do contributions outside the college, such as my work in ECCTYC (TYCA-PC), TYCA National, and CCCC.

Beyond that, I had five separate opportunities to demonstrate Professional Advancement Activities. Here, attendance at professional workshops and substantial contributions to curriculum, as well as formal coursework, are credited for cumulative bonuses of $2500 each time. I completed all five PAA stages quite a few years ago. This means at the end of every October I get a bonus of $12,500. Even better, that amount goes into my retirement base, so there is some monetary joy here too.

Sharon Gerald said...

There is no tenure system in community colleges in Mississippi, and at my school, we have a set salary scale across the board. My pay is based on the number of years I've been there and the degree I have. As I said, there is no incentive for professional activity other than personal fulfillment. In fact, I'd say there may even be a little social pressure not to be too scholarly.

Rosa G. said...

Let me throw an idealistic point into the conversation. By becoming actively involved with any national organization, you gain the chance to widen your persective to see what's out there and how other cc's have what they have. I'm not so idealistic as to suggest that you can then immediately make changes to your system, but by staying involved, you have a keener eye on what's going on and can work towards changing things if you choose. The "social pressure" not to be scholarly is troubling. Does it come from this lack of incentives? Are people afraid that being scholarly will become another unpaid- for task in their job descriptions?
By the way, I visiting your course blog site last night. I wonder if here or at CCE you could talk more about how you use blogs to teach (she said, weeks away from using blogs in the classroom).

Sharon Gerald said...

I'm all for idealism. I'd love to become actively involved in national organizations, but the money to go to the conferences might be a problem.

And yes, I think that the "social pressure" I mentioned has a lot to do with the feeling that no one wants to take on a bunch of unpaid, unrewarded responsibilities.

I'll be glad to talk about how I use blogs to teach, but I haven't been doing it long. I'm sure others would have far more insights than I.

sharon said...

Hi All,

I'm Sharon (from over at Community College English) and I sure do understand the problem of not having institutional incentives to do scholarly work. I taught in North Carolina, where we also had a set salary schedule based on "time served" :-) and there was little money for professional conferences.

What I think the teacher-scholar document does (a National TYCA document) is emphsize that we all are already engaged in scholarship by practicing reflective teaching. The key is to share what we are learning with others, and to create a community of professionals where information is shared. There may not be money for conferences, but I found subscribing to the TYCA journal, Teaching English in the Two-Year College, absolutely invaluable for pedagogy, theory and contact with others who work in my field. And professional growth makes me happier about my work.

Why not share what you know in an article in TETYC or in the SE journal? Those forms of professional development don't require travel money, and perhaps your department will kick in for one membership so that the journal can be shared.


Sharon Gerald said...

Welcome, Sharon!

I've actually been thinking about writing articles, and Jeanne suggested we start a face to face discussion group on our campus. I think we are going to order some comp/rhet books and go over to the coffee shop once a month or once a semester or so to talk about them.

The teacher-scholar report really got me thinking about what it is I do and what I have to offer as a teacher-scholar. I read a lot about teaching composition in graduate school, and the things I read worked out well when I tried to apply them in teaching at the university. But none of it prepared me for the reality I faced when I started working at a two-year college in Mississippi. I generally teach six classes per semester, usually two lits and four comps. We often have forty or more people in each section. We can recommend that people go to Basic Skills, but we can't make them go, so all skill levels end up in composition classes.

Imagine being a new teacher going into that situation, cut off from all of your friends and mentors, and told every time you turn around "that's not the way we do things here."

Most of what I learned about pedagogy in graduate school works well in ideal situations. It can be a fast track to crash and burn in less than ideal situations, though.

What I would like is a way to bridge the gap between the comp theories and the reality I live and work in. If I ever figure that out, I'll write a book about it. :)

sharon said...

Now that is a book I would love to read! Isn't that the rough patch for us all? I always wonder how much of the comp. theory that is out there is based on a narrower student group than we work with at the community college.

Sharon Gerald said...

That's what I've always thought. The studies are based on university students. The theories they support don't always work when applied to community college students. We do need some more realistic ideas for less than idealistic teaching environments. But people who are loaded down with 5 or six classes at a community college are not going to do much research. They've got too many papers to grade!