(Warning: This blog pertains to the nature of the community college and is directed toward students and colleagues. May I suggest some other bullshit to read if not interested?)
Recently a student emailed me with the following request (some details have been changed to protect identity):
Hello Professor Urbanovich, My name is “Jane Doe” and am enrolled at Crafton Mountain Community College. Currently, I am taking English 101; I have been cleared by the admissions office to speak with you about adding Speech 125 to my course schedule. When I tried to register for your class, I found it was closed. Will you consider adding me to your Speech 125 Critical Thinking Through Argumentation and Debate? As you consider my request, please note that I have been involved in a national speech and debate league. I have competed throughout the western states for the past three years, qualifying for nationals two of those three years in both speech and debate. Furthermore, I have been accepted to the University of Southern California and plan to compete on their forensics team. I believe your class will help prepare me for that level of competition. If you care to learn more about my record, please visit www.speechranks.com and enter “Jane Doe” in the upper left search field. I look forward to a favorable response. In any case, thank you for your time and your consideration of my request.
Why is the basic assumption of this student, along with many other students (AND many faculty members), that we community college professors are more inclined, or at the very least, SHOULD be more inclined to enroll a student in our courses if the student demonstrates that they are a top performing and excellent student? That is why we have the four year University.
Isn’t that kind of like begging for admittance to the hospital as you adamantly argue how healthy you are?
This email has me in tension over the nature and role of the community college professor. Do we cater to the educationally healthy or help cure the educationally sick? Both? I like to think it’s the latter.
My oldest daughter has frequently encouraged me to teach at the four-year university level. “You would be so good!” she would say. At times I have felt she is right; it would be awesome to academically wrestle with bright and prepared students and then I would ponder back to my days as a lost, floundering 18 year old at Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys (The University of Van Nuys at Fulton Street, we jokingly called it) -as unprepared for college as one unprepared for college could possibly get. No one in my family history ever graduated college. I was lost. No direction from anyone.
Then came the instructors. Instructors that showed me respect. Encouraged me. I will never forget my Public Speaking professor, Dr. Edler, a then new USC grad. He was so nice and kind not to mention smart as hell and he made the classroom fun. The first day he sat in class like a student (no one knew who he was) and a few minutes later jumped out of his chair and said, “Well someone has to teach this class, it may as well be me!” He offered direction and gave encouragement. He said that I was good…imagine that! Outside of my high school speech teacher (now a colleague at Glendale Community College…love you Ira!) I had not heard that one.
Then my Critical Thinking professor, Jim Marteney, who was always there for assistance and treated a young man who had no business in school with respect and dignity. He helped build a student. He constantly challenged my work ethic as he made me laugh, and more importantly, taught me how to critically think. I would sit in his course and be mezmorized by theories I had never heard before -it was clicking; the two-hour class seemed like all of five minutes.
Sure, I had my fair share of loser profs as well. The (usually) tenured profs who did not give a shit…yet they were few and far between. The instructors I encountered at Los Angeles Valley College were as good, and many better, as any I have ever had while earning two Master’s degrees from both public and private Universities.
I recall sitting in a Small Group communication class and looking around at the students. Many students just sat there because they did not want to work at the gas station down the street or simply had nowhere else to go. Some motivated, some not. Yet no one HAD to be there. Anyone was free to get up and leave anytime. I freaking loved it and in the back of my mind I knew that this is where I eventually wanted to end up, the educational hospital of the community college.
I now realize when I teach I am not just teaching, I am giving back. And when the lost and unprepared 18 year-old bro with the crooked cap with the round size sticker still on the bill wearing an inappropriate-for-public t-shirt comes in and sits down, I tell myself, “Patience Jimmy, there I am. That was me.”
I then crack a joke or three and earnestly hope, deep within my heart, it all eventually clicks.
I frequently have to listen to my colleagues complain about “today’s student” -sure technology has produced many new issues, though I do not think today’s student has gotten more disrespectful or unmotivated; I believe most professors suffer from long term memory loss and forgetting their own life as a student.
They are not changing as much as some are just getting older and crustier.
Don’t get me wrong, I love having the overachieving “top shelf” students in class, if nothing else other than to serve as role models for the unprepared. Though I know my work: it is to educate and inspire all, which includes healing the academically wounded. It is certainly a collage.