An Adjunct’s Reply

Several of the colleges I’m affiliated with (for work past and present) email faculty teaching tips every so often.

One of these colleges sent the following two articles in the last month:

  1. A Simple Request: Please See Me!
  2. Getting More out of Exam Debriefs

Both of these articles extol the benefits of teachers scheduling one-to-one meetings with students to take place outside of class hours.

After receiving the second of the above messages, I drafted a reply that I feel compelled to publish here. Being an adjunct is one facet of what teaching ESL is for me, and so it will be one (small) facet of this blog.

Dear _____,

I appreciate your sending out articles from Faculty Focus. They are consistently lucid, well-researched, and interesting.

The most recent two of these excellent professional development emails arrived about two weeks apart and shared a theme: the quantifiable value of professors meeting with students outside of class. Both articles lay out logical, engaging, research-based narratives emphasizing the importance of such meetings. Indeed, the articles frame this time outside of class, even if “brief” (both articles were vague as to the actual time spent per student), as a major factor in students’ ability to master material and pass classes.

I am pleased to see that we all agree that students need their instructors to be available outside of class hours. However, it needs to be acknowledged that adjunct faculty are only compensated for in-class hours.

This is a conundrum. The college relies heavily on adjuncts to teach its courses, and the college pays them for very limited functions. Yet the college itself just forwarded two articles in as many weeks that convincingly argue that the paid functions of adjuncts are not sufficient to ensure student success. There is conflict here between the college’s mission and its hiring practices. This is an institution-wide, leadership-level quagmire.

A cynic might wonder if by emailing the adjuncts about the effectiveness of meeting with students outside of class, the college intended to recast a deficiency in faculty compensation as a deficiency in the faculty themselves.

Happily, I am not a cynic. I believe that this was a simple case of one person identifying good content and sending it out in good faith to her usual stakeholders. It was to be sure a bit of a faux pas to send this theme to the adjuncts at all, let alone twice in one month. But as they say, if we never accidentally offend anybody, it’s because we’re not doing anything at all.

Kudos to you for all that you do to support all faculty. And extra kudos if you would kindly forward research about the importance of increasing student-instructor interactions not only to the instructors, but also to those who fund them.

Many thanks,

Emily

 

In fairness, the issue I raise is not unique to this specific college, but is widespread in all forms of higher education institutions across the USA.

In case you are interested in the topic of adjuncts in higher education, one mild narrative piece is O Adjunct! My Adjunct! (New Yorker). For a very readable and organized summary of how things currently stand, I was impressed with the sections I read of The Role of Adjuncts in the Professoriate (AAC&U).

For more impassioned/inflammatory reading than anything you’ll find here or in the above links, Google “adjunct crisis.”

You’re reading An Adjunct’s Reply, originally posted at learningtoteachenglish.com.

 

 

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Since We Last Spoke

Hello!

Here’s what I’ve been up to since you last heard from me:

As you know, I gave myself “maternity leave” from the blog when my first baby was born. We are about to celebrate her fourth birthday, as well as her little sister’s first birthday. And we moved from our condo into a house. Lots of changes!

Professionally, I completed my MA TESOL. It was a great experience. It took my teaching to a new level, and it opened the door to teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP), which I’ve been doing for a couple of years.

I’ve also committed to not just attending the annual MD TESOL conference, but making sure to be as extroverted as I can be while I’m there. So far I’ve stuck to it for two years running and it’s just such a wonderful chance to keep up with and meet more of the inspiring people in our field. I’m hoping to get to TESOL 2016 also because it’s in Maryland. It’s a big commitment of time, money, babysitting, and extroversion, but I suspect it will be worth it!

I would love to commit right here and now to blog journaling my next class the way I used to, but we’ll just have to see how it goes. I take teaching seriously, and I also take my family seriously. The past few years there hasn’t been much left for taking a blog seriously too, even though the reflection time and long tail of notes are both so valuable to me.

So that’s my status!

Thoughts on High School Blog Scuttlebutt

I have exactly 15 minutes to write this post, so forgive the un-editedness of it.

I saw on msn.com’s junk news headlines that a high school teacher got in trouble for her anonymous blog (now taken down, but the cache is still available), in which she discussed aspects of her life including but not limited to her frustration with lazy, grade-grubbing students.

I have many related thoughts:

  1. One reason I really enjoy working with adults is the maturity they bring to their education.
  2. One reason I really enjoy teaching English to adults in the USA is because nobody tells me that I have to create motivation in others.  It’s a necessity, and all “shoulds” aside, we all know it well help them and their families succeed.
  3. I don’t feel you can actually create motivation in a motivational vacuum.  It can be magnified, but something has to be there first.
  4. High school is plagued with its bizarre social structures, out-dated curriculum, and the vestigial idea that completing it is some sort of accomplishment: thus the lack of motivation.
  5. High school is meaningless (see above) except inasmuch as it gets you into college: thus the grade-grubbing.
  6. What do we think we’re going to produce in that kind of an environment?  Students who appear lazy except when it’s time to argue about grades, and teachers who are ticked off a lot.
  7. Free speech.

That is all for now.

My Take on Boxtops for Education

I was pouring my cereal this morning wondering what to blog about, and one of those little Boxtops for Education rectangles looked at me the whole time, mocking me.  I have issues with them.

Don’t get me wrong: I do approve of money for schools, and I do believe that corporations should contribute to communities.  Also, I do not believe that I’m the first person to say what I’m about to say, I’d just like to say it in my own words.

Civil War Actors by lapstrake on Flickr
Civil War Actors by lapstrake on Flickr

Overall, it strikes me as wrong that we’d need $0.10 coupons to fund K-8 education.  Put it this way:  would we accept that our cereal boxes told us to go to BoxTops4Ballistics.com to earn a dime for national security?  Is education important or not?

$0.10?  Really?

Dime 2 by mikedemers on Flickr
Dime 2 by mikedemers on Flickr

I’m put off, first of all, by the piddling amount offered per boxtop: ten cents.  To earn each dime, you need to harvest each boxtop and keep track of them all.  To earn any useful of money, many people need to do this, and then you then need someone to coordinate the efforts and collect the results.  It’s a lot of involvement for a little profit.

Their website says  “Each month, find exciting new opportunities to earn thousands of Bonus Box Tops for your school.”  Thousands?  Let’s say 3,000.  At $0.10 each, that’s $300.  So that’s what, three textbooks?  Over the course of the year, you could enough for one class of 36!

The Benevolent Corporation?

Book Cover: When Corporations Rule the World
Book Cover: When Corporations Rule the World

Then there’s the question of how many thousands of dollars in General Mills products need to be purchased to earn another $300 for one cheap computer.  They are not hurting for money, and the presence of Boxtops on their products doesn’t hurt their sales.  These factors are naturally not mentioned on the BoxTops website.  It rubs me the wrong way that such a huge, successful corporation is giving out these tiny table-scraps with an air of such generosity.

I also have to admit that corporate involvement in schools, even to share some of their wealth, worries me.  Successful corporations succeed because they put their own interests and power first.  If you haven’t thought much about their influence before, skim some David C. Korten – it’s well-researched and readable.

What Would Help?

My central objection, though, is that BoxTops nickel and dime schools whose real issue is being underfunded by millions of dollars every year.  They don’t need a trickle of funds, “earned” when individuals spend more money elsewhere; they need real support that comes automatically year after year.

I’m not saying that General Mills should be responsible for providing this.  I am saying that maybe everyone’s time and money would be better spent lobbying for sufficient government funds or researching the impact of a decently-funded education.

Concessions and Conclusion

Before I end this, I need to step back and remember that yes, small actions do make a difference.  And a whole bunch of dimes do add up to a bunch of dollars.  It’s important never to forget that.  And General Mills is giving away money to schools, which is at least something.  High-five to General Mills for doing something.

But what does it say about our commitment to education, especially education in poorer school districts, that school budgets need to be supplemented by a series of $0.10 boxtops?

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Flexing Learning Styles

Notes and Opinions, Together Again

Renner starts out talking about educational psychologist David Kolb’s theory.  I guess Kolb has to be on my ed psych list now because I can’t really handle his premises, at least in their truncated versions in this book.  I highlighted it on the syllabus for future study.

Goal, by ItsGreg on Flickr
Goal, by It'sGreg on Flickr

I have an issue with the idea that since learning is governed by a person’s needs and goals, educational objectives must exist in order for “the process of learning” to not be “erratic and inefficient.”

  1. A need and a goal are different; this appears to treat them as the same thing.
  2. Learning does not have to be of constant intensity to be effective.  In fact, I’ve experienced the opposite.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with not learning as quickly as humanly possible.
  4. I don’t believe that specifically enumerated objectives and “erratic and inefficient” learning are mutually exclusive, which is what this summary implies.

Renner says that in his Learning Style Inventory (LSI), Kolb groups learning behavior into “four statistically different styles.”  Perhaps I’m showing my ignorance of the field, but this phrase is too vague for me to have any use for it.  I get that the phrase implies that quantitative research has been done, but come on.  Impressing me by saying “look!  research!” isn’t enough.  Anyway, the categories are:

  • Converger – unemotional, likes things, likes to apply ideas practically
  • Diverger – imaginative, likes people, likes multiple points of view
  • Assimilator – logical, likes to make theories
  • Accommodator – intuitive, likes people, likes to test theories against reality

I can’t decide if I’m a Diverger or Accommodator.  Since I can see it either way, I’d probably test as a Diverger.

Renner says that the purpose of having this model is not to typecast people, but to help with “needs analysis” for lesson and course planning.  Later on, almost as an afterthought, Renner mentions that Kolb lists four abilities all students need for effective experiential learning.  These closely parallel the above groupings: have an experience, think about it from many points of view (Diverger), tie experiences to theories (Assimilator), use those theries to solve problems (Accommodator, Converger).  I’m surprised he didn’t more explicitly tie these together.

Even without making this connection, Renner does specifically say that the purpose of these groups isn’t to typecast people, but to help understand students’ needs for course and lesson plans.  It comes across as a fluffy disclaimer, but I still appreciate the point.  It’s about identifying which strategies tend to feel best to a learner, not giving learners an excuse to hide from certain skills.  (One of my pet peeves is when people use their classification-of-the-day as a wall, proclaiming they “can’t” do a certain thing because they’re This Type of learner.  It’s one thing for self-proclaimed “visual learners” to take meeting notes using graphic organizers; it’s another for “visual learners” to refuse to have a conversation about something.)

Overall, it was pretty fluffy.  I have to say, it seems likely that Renner faced the choice of either providing a cursory and inadequate introduction to Kolb’s work or not mentioning it at all.  I think it’s significant that Renner decided to include it.  The more I think about it, the more I think it’s important to take a closer look at Kolb’s LSI.

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Asking Beautiful Questions

Notes and My Opinions All In One Section

Steps: In Both Directions by Harry Harris on Flickr
Steps: In Both Directions by Harry Harris on Flickr

Renner says that the point of asking questions is to make students think, not just recite facts.  He cites the 6-category hierarchy of questions published by B Bloom in 1956:

  1. Knowledge (remember facts)
  2. Comprehension (get the meaning)
  3. Application (use in concrete situations)
  4. Analysis (break down material)
  5. Synthesis (put pieces together)
  6. Evaluation (judge value for a purpose)

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I have a problem with these categories and their order.  I have a problem with separating the processes of analyzing and synthesizing, I take issue with placing judgment at the top and don’t see why it should be separate from application, and I don’t see “emotion” tied into this anywhere.  I suppose this means I should read me some Bloom.  I’ll put him on the syllabus (for either this course or a future one) before I start the next paragraph.

The rest of the chapter didn’t particularly resonate with me or tell me anything I don’t know.  It was basically advice about Q&A sessions after a lecture.  I couldn’t tell where the speaker (it wasn’t Renner, but some other guy I don’t know) was coming from.  I had trouble discerning whether the discussion and tips were about classes, ongoing training courses, or one-day speaking gigs.  On one hand it’s nice to not impose false categories on adult learning, but on the other hand it was vague advice that reminded me a little of reading a daily horoscope.

The Learning. It’s Mine.

Its Mine by Gabbcan on Flickr
It's Mine by Gabbcan on Flickr

One of the reasons my 5-week course project appeals to me is because I cannot get away with being passive.  I own the entire process.  If I’m not deeply involved, it’s not going to happen at all.  It’s mine.

A couple of days after the start of my pilot project, I was reading around The Bamboo Project blog by Michele Martin.  In one post, she said:

I think that one of the reasons people are so passive about learning is because everything in society conspires to make us believe that learning is someone else’s responsibility.

It really has felt like my education was everyone’s responsibility but my own.  Don’t get me wrong – I think my education has been a good one, and I’m sure the professional guidance was even more effective than I realize.  But I had to put my own curiosity on hold to make room for all that education.  It’s taken me several homework-free years to internalize the fact that when there’s something I want to learn about, I can just go learn about it.

Speaking of which, there’s some reading I’d like to do!