Saturday, August 31, 2013

Self-serve, Full-serve ---- Let us help you!

One weird thing about The Hot Place is how it throws me back to my childhood ---- so much of the place was built in the 70s and has not been updated since then (including my college). I vaguely remember the buildings being a mix of "castle" and "incongruous references to the Alps." And, of course, lots of nasty avocado green and brown.

(The "old" historic stuff around here, of course dates back to the 50s and is very Route 66/Beach Boys/birth-of-freeways culture in style ---- I love it, but have just been living somewhere where something had to date back before 1840 to count as "old" and it is an adjustment.)

This means there are a lot of things that I remember being "cutting edge" as a child that I haven't really seen since ---- drive-up bank tellers with those pneumatic tubes! ---- and there is, indeed, a full-service gas station in town, where you drive over a little bump that dings and someone in a cheesy bow tie comes out and pumps your gas and washes your windshield. It's not something I usually even have the option of choosing, and I vaguely remember my mom using full service stations (mostly on Sundays when she's in her nice church clothes) and dad making jokes about "real men don't eat quiche" and "real women don't pump gas." But my normal experience has always been to just hop out of the car and do it myself, so changing my expectations feels profoundly strange.

It's the same way, oddly enough, at Spontaneous Combustion CC ---- I was introduced at the all-campus back to school day, and whenever I am wandering around somewhere on campus, other faculty and staff come up to me and ask if I need any help. The expectation is that faculty's main priority is to be helpful to students, as well. And I had several minor snafus and technology problems crop up my first week and people were jumping to attention to help me solve my problems ---- calling me back in response to emails, offering to show up to the classroom after class and walk me through X procedure ---- I was wandering the library just looking at stuff and the collections librarian made sure I wasn't having any problems and checked to see what I might need on reserve, and walked me through some of the collections searches. And, everywhere, people keep telling me, "just let me know if you need any help."

Thing is, I find that profoundly weird. I have spent so long as an adjunct and postdoc and TA where nobody really explains anything and the expectation is that you should figure it out for yourself and even if you need and ask for help, you won't really get it (and might put your job in jeopardy) that all this help and attention seems wrong. I am so used to "just do it yourself and make yourself invisible" that this treatment feels as odd as having someone pump your gas for you when you know you can do it yourself. Or even, like when you go into a store and the salesclerks are so helpful it feels like they are hovering and intrusive and you feel so uncomfortable you go somewhere else.

I wonder how much those expectations carry over into the student side of things as well. Now, at big research universities like the UCs, you pretty much are a number and need to learn to fend for yourself, and at Postdoc U, the point was more about getting tuition dollars than on graduating and remediating our unprepared students, so you had a pretty callous attitude around to those clueless or unprepared students. I wonder how well I will be able to adapt to this campus's attitude of being helpful at all times and no question is too stupid --- this attitude of being helpful and being helped. I wonder how well these students do when they transfer from here to the local big anonymous state school or big anonymous university?

Oh, and the full-service station? It's recommended as the best, fastest place to get your car smogged, is why I was there. While filling out the paperwork, the mechanic asked me "pfft, why would you move here?" (exactly the same tone they used in Postdoc City too.) When I said I was going to be teaching at the community college, he turned to the gas attendant --- a white girl of perhaps 19 or 20 wearing a silly bow tie and uniform --- and proceeded to start up what was obviously a long-standing speech: "You see? I keep telling you you should go there! Maybe you'll take a class from this lady. Get a degree!" The quiet girl just looked awkward under all the attention. Wish I knew how to help.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Yeah, it's a major adjustment going from adjunct to full-time. You get used to it, eventually, but it's certainly weird. The analogy to the full-service gas station is quite apt.

I think the difference between R1 schools and teaching-centered schools is that you have to really love teaching to stay at the teaching-centered schools. If you don't love it, then perhaps this will be a stepping stone to something else. If you do love it, then I suspect you'll do all the right things. It's just going to take time to figure out what those right things are. Good luck.

undine said...

Just here to say I'm really enjoying your tales from the Hot Place (the twin stores and so on).

Bardiac said...

I think that schools where the culture is to be helpful are helpful to all sorts of people, adjuncts included. And schools where that's not the culture, really aren't helpful to anyone, except people with direct power.

I'm at a school where the culture is pretty helpful, and it makes a world of difference in my life. And, it makes me more likely to be helpful, if that makes sense? Even if I'm walking along on campus, and I see someone looking lost at a map, I offer help.

I guess in a way, the sense is that we're all here to move in the same direction, and mostly we're willing to work together for that. (Yes, there are occasional jerks, of course. And some bureaucrats are egoists and jerks.)

My guess is that the students who've gotten help and move on will adjust to where they're going, and hopefully succeed, in part because they've gotten help at the most important stages.

Good luck on the new semester!

Susan said...

We try to be pretty helpful around here -- there's a real investment in student success, and we don't take it for granted. And it does carry over to adjuncts/lecturers, because we help them so they can help our students. But we don't have any all campus start the year events where newbies are introduced, which is too bad.