Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rubicon.

I don't know, people. I just don't know.

I am ... feeling some pressures I don't like here. I am not used to being constantly evaluated and monitored in my teaching like I am here, true, but I also feel I am getting a lot of pressures to have happy passing students, in a way that I think is affecting the actual rigor of these as college classes. And I don't like it.

Sure, Postdoc U went way too far over into the not-supporting-students side, and didn't do it well. But after painstakingly simplifying and clarifying and breaking everything down into steps last year, I still got a fair amount of pushback into the direction of actually dumbing things down. And after being observed in the new simplified, cut back version, the response was that this was too hard for the students and I should be dumbing it down even further. Ehhhh. No. I don't like that. And I am already on the fence about whether the students I *have* passed could actually hack it in a four-year college classroom at our state systems. If they can't do it without me basically doing it all for them, how will they hack it when they get to upper-division courses in their four-year majors?

I get to teach a developmental writing class next semester and fellow instructors have helpfully let me look at their books. Some of them are ok and I think I am deciding between a couple. One is this massive brick of a workbook that just made me want to cry when I flipped through it. It does and has absolutely everything the learning support people claim helps students succeed, but there is almost no writing and no variety in vocabulary. In bullet points, it tells the reader that this is a book, and what a page is. It breaks concepts down to a point that just makes me want to cry. No wonder people from that dev class can't pass my freshman comp class on the first try. They don't read anything longer than a paragraph and they fill in bubbles and blank spots for verbs.

And in response to student complaints they switched around my classes, took the special thing off my hands for this year (which, right now while buried in grading, I appreciate) and made me go through the mentoring process a second year. Theoretically I like that. Practically, I have a mentor whose teaching style is so different from mine that the advice I get doesn't really seem to help. And since the only tips the mentor has to offer are from this very different toolbox, I keep getting the same suggestions, diametrically opposed to my style, and constant nudges and questions about how have I changed up my syllabus and classroom teaching practices to use this totally different system yet. I'm also really inflexible in my scheduling, and work out the whole syllabus and schedule and even the assignment sheets and handouts all in a big blast before the semester starts so that I can focus on classroom management and grading, which alone is eating me alive this semester. I don't want to scrap and re-do stuff in the middle of the semester. My back is up, my heels are digging in.

I am not only tired, and grumpy, and taking it out on my students, and confused, but I feel like I am compromising my integrity.

So I don't like it. I don't want to do it. But I opened up the job lists and started looking.

9 comments:

Bardiac said...

/comfort

I'm sorry things are so stressful. I hope they get better for you.

nicoleandmaggie said...

My first year or two at my previous job was entirely devoted to dumbing down everything I was trying to teach, and taking more things out, and experimenting with different ways of dumbing down what I was doing. I hated it and was mad and felt disgusted, but ultimately I decided to suck it up and pander the students until I had tenure. Because I wanted tenure, and to concentrate on research. Is there some overarching goal that you could keep in sight to help you? Alternately, there's always the job listings. I ended up quitting that job.

Contingent Cassandra said...

It sounds like looking (& applying) might be the right move. If it's not a good fit, it's not a good fit, and the reasons may not ultimately matter much (though as someone who teaches lots of community college transfers, I certainly appreciate any and all efforts to keep up standards at that level).

If you think you might (need to) stay, I suppose another option is to actively seek out mentors -- formal or informal -- whose teaching style more closely approximates your own (maybe one of the people whose choices in developmental-comp books look reasonable to you?). It may still be an ultimately unfixable situation, but the teaching-style variable does seem at least potentially independent from the dumbing-down one.

Contingent Cassandra said...

Also -- I'm sympathetic to the difficulty of trying to change things up in the middle of a semester when one has a heavy teaching/grading load. I have to plan out everything beforehand and just follow the plan, making notes for adjustments but not actually carrying them out unless absolutely necessary, too.

Finally, I wonder whether developmental comp might actually turn out to be a sweet spot -- maybe you could make it more rigorous than the version associated with the ridiculous workbook, but feel less guilty about the dumbing-down aspect, since it is, in fact, a more elementary course? Still, you're one very junior person and it sounds like they've got an idea of how things should work. That leaves you less wiggle room than ideal.

Fretful Porpentine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fretful Porpentine said...

That sucks. I'd say keep fighting the good fight, only it's hard to do that if it costs you your job. But there is one particular community college around here that invariably turns out students who are way underprepared, and it SO does not do them any favors once they get here. Is there any hope you may be able to sell the "I'm being tough BECAUSE I believe you're capable of doing well and you deserve an academically rigorous education" concept to the students?

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Ye gads, I feel for you. This is such a hard situation. In your area of the country, the CCs tend to be more tracked to transferring into the 4-year schools, and I think that that needs to be part of your argument for upholding the rigor. The students won't be able to handle 4-year-college work if they don't have good foundations where you are.

I had a lot of this same kind of struggle when I was teaching a lot of writing at HU. I ended up trying to keep my head down, not talk to my writing colleagues much, and do my own thing. It doesn't sound like that will work in your situation. The micromanagement would probably make it impossible. Unfortunately, you might just be better off looking for another job, but at least you have a job in the meantime. Personally, I'm keeping my job market options open all the time. I don't want to do a national search right now, but regional? Maybe. This year is a bad year for it, but in the next two years or so, maybe it will be better. Good luck to us both.

Contingent Cassandra said...

Fie makes an excellent point -- in many states (mine included) the cc-to-4-year track is a big part of the picture, and, at least ideally, there's some coordination involved. I wonder whether it would make sense to reach out, formally or informally, to people at the schools to which your students will be transferring. Or would that be seen as overstepping your bounds? (At least at my school, the head of the comp program makes this kind of connection, but I've never done so myself, unless you count the fact that we share adjuncts with the local cc, so a good many of my colleagues also work there).

Maybe even talking to/networking with the person at your cc who works with students who want to transfer could be useful?

Monica said...

I'm wondering why this reaction. Is it about student evals? pressure from above to get a certain number of students through? Some GPA-related pressure for those transfers? I'm an administrator, so I think like one. Knowing why they want you to change things may help you at least deal with the psychic pressure of it.

In terms of the teaching style problem, agreed that it is hard to learn from someone who can't see why you do what you do. I would suggest talking to that mentor about your perception of this difference. Maybe part of what they want you to know is that some shift in teaching style may help the students respond differently to you/your classes/etc. But until their admin motive is clear, it will be hard to know. Otherwise, agreed about seeking mentors who do better mirror your teaching style and the things you value about teaching.

Finally, I would not suggest you strenuously advocate for rigor, as it sounds like sticking your neck out as the new person--and that has costs, even if you hope to or do leave. Making it part of your explanation and rationale is perfectly valid and may be the best route to getting an explanation about why they want you to change. And having them speak their values on that point will clarify "fit" for you, without question.