Teaching in Six Words: Teacher Appreciation Week Edition

In February I launched this form to allow faculty members to submit their six-word teaching statement. Modeled on Six Word Memoirs, I’m asking any and all faculty to submit their view of teaching in six words. (Keep those submission coming!) Since it’s teacher appreciation week, I thought I would offer a few more of the submissions for you to ponder. Enjoy!

“Home. Lights. Camera. Mic. Hidden students.”

Jacqueline Childress, Adjunct faculty in Accounting.

“Who says humanities degrees don’t pay?”

Melissa Markham, Adjunct faculty in Philosophy, Religion, Humanities

“Instruction designed to encourage lifetime learning.”

Nort Seever, Adjunct faculty in Government

“We are all in this together!”

Missi Patterson, Full-time faculty in Psychology

“An open ear can change everything.”

Stephanie Long, Full-time faculty in Geographic Information Systems

“Planning+organizing+delivery+listening+sharing = teaching”

Sara Corbett-Imeny, Adjunct faculty in Adult Education

Aren’t we blessed? We are blessed to have interesting, diverse, adept, clever students. And we are blessed to have accomplished, able, smart, varied, and passionate faculty. Happy teacher appreciation week – cheers to you all!

Two Years Later

In our break room on the 6th floor of HBC there are a couple of cubbyholes where things are stored – they contain boxes, a small desk, and more boxes. While waiting for my coffee to brew this afternoon, I noticed this on the wall of one of those cubbyholes. I’ve glanced at it dozens of times in recent months, but today I really looked at it.

Look closely – what does that calendar say? Yes, it says March 2020; it’s been frozen in time on that wall since Spring Break 2020. And look at the Escher print on the wall next to it, with its interesting commentary on perspective. (Hand with Reflecting Sphere, 1935 lithograph, M.C. Escher)

How are you feeling after two years of COVID-19? How are you feeling after two years of reinvention, crisis management, mask-wearing, pivoting and pivoting again, compressed deadlines, “you’re on mute”, and calls for grace, forgiveness, patience, and fortitude? How are you feeling after two years of our reality distorted by a pandemic, after two years of COVID pummeling your perspective? Has your perspective permanently changed? Mine certainly has.

I read articles in Chronicle of Higher Ed or Inside Higher Ed that describe both students and faculty as feeling disconnected, or that highlight the need for greater mental health support, or that examine the academic “rigor wars” after two years of extended deadlines and second chances for students, or that highlight our enrollment challenges. So much has changed for higher education in the last two years, and some of those changes will be permanent.

What hasn’t changed is our crucial mission to be the gateway for our students to a better or different life. We help change the trajectories of the lives of our students and their families because our doors are open and we invite them in and we help them achieve their goals. Whether they are seeking a second career, transfer to a four-year institution, help with their English language skills, a longed-for career path, or something else, we still make the difference in Central Texas.

While perspectives have changed, and the way we move through the world after two years of a pandemic has altered, let’s find ways to celebrate our reinventions, and our pivots, and our ongoing need for grace and patience and forgiveness. Let’s celebrate getting where we are today, and let’s look forward to where we’re going. Here’s to new, altered, revised or revived perspectives!

Our Mission

I know that some of my friends and colleagues get tired of this, but I truly believe in the mission of community colleges – which means I love to tell stories about the impact that we can have. Our mission of open doors and equal access, of equity in student success, and of completion and transition to living wage jobs and/or further education is, fundamentally, a mission of serving each individual student who knocks on our door. We do this with short-term credentials that lead to an entry-level job, with associate degrees that lead to transfer or skilled employment, and with adult education and literacy programs that help students complete their high school equivalency, learn English, and make a better life for themselves and their families.

This mission is highlighted in this beautiful and powerful story from Texas Monthly. As you read through the story, look for the name of Maricela Juarez. Her story (and that of her son) is part of the larger focus of this article. And her story is also an ACC success story, thanks to the dedicated commitment of our colleagues in Adult Education.

Maricela got her high school equivalency (GED) with the help of our Adult Ed program. She then went through Adult Ed’s College Prep program to help her beef up her college-going skills before transitioning to credit classes, where Maricela earned her Associate of Applied Science degree in Criminal Justice with us. Even better, Maricela started as an intern in Adult Ed while she was preparing for the GED exam, and she is now a full-time employee managing Adult Ed’s enrollment desk at EVC. She has great skill in this role because she can connect with new Adult Ed students as one who has taken the journey that they are beginning.

Maricela plans to complete a baccalaureate degree, and we are confident that she will. She has overcome tremendous challenges and barriers, challenges which would break some people – but Maricela has persevered. She is her own success story – but ACC will claim her as well. So here’s to our mission, our open doors, our equity-minded actions, our varied programs. And here’s to Maricela!

Six Words: The Post-Spring Break Edition

I am so enjoying this experiment. A few weeks ago I created a form through which faculty could submit their “Teaching in Six Words” statements. I love hearing from faculty all over the college and learning more about how they see their role as teachers. To celebrate the beautiful Spring weather, and the return to teaching after a week away, here are some selections for this week.

“Help students actualize their abilities.”

Anonymous

“There is no them, only us.”

Lydia CdeBaca-Cruz, Adjunct Faculty, Composition & Literary Studies

“Touching lives one at a time.”

Ellen Baik, Adjunct Faculty, Government

“Seeing the light go off? Amazing!”

Roland Duarte, Adjunct Faculty, Government

“Continual learning: best preparation for living.”

Kathleen Jurgens, Adjunct Faculty, Adult Education

“Empowering students to learn and grow.”

Silke Morin, Full-time Faculty, Biology

And below is a bonus, because sometimes, six words just aren’t enough!

“Passionate, caring, intellectually stimulating, engaging, student-centered, driven.”

Jyoti Parimal, Adjunct Faculty, Adult Education

International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d write about some of the women I admire. These are women I know/knew personally, women who have influenced me on my journey. It’s not an exhaustive list – just a few names that popped into my head when I saw today’s Google Doodle “celebrating progress on the path to gender equity”.

In addition to honoring Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day with this post, I was also struck by the picture that popped up on my desktop today (my desktop rotates through my travel pictures). It’s a picture of the base of a sculpture with these words: Mitákuye Oyás’in. This is a phrase from the Lakota language celebrating the belief that we’re all connected. I believe in this world view of interconnectedness – the tree of life with many branches and strong roots to support us all even through divisiveness, distress, and discord. So – in the words of a Lakota prayer – here’s “to the mineral nation” that builds and maintains our bones, here’s “to the plant nation” that sustains our bodies and organs, here’s “to the animal nation” that offers “loyal companionship in this walk of life”, here’s “to the human nation” with whom we share our paths “upon the sacred wheel of Earthly life”. And here’s to the women who touch, heal, preach, lead, support, drive, build, engineer, defend, create, collaborate, serve, protect, and connect us all.

Mary Sue Butler and Betty Jean Campbell. Mary Sue was my first piano teach, and Betty Jean was my last piano teacher. From them I learned musicianship, the central role of regular practice, how to get through the terrors of recitals, how to accompany as well as how to play a solo, and most importantly, how music – all sorts of music – can save and sooth the soul.

Mrs. Endorf, Mrs. Shuck, Miss Brooks, Mrs. White, Mrs. Toole, Mrs. Tuttle – my first through sixth grade teachers. Ah, the many, many, many lessons – life lessons, penmanship lessons, spelling lessons, science lessons, math lessons – that I learned from these women.

Dr. Donetta Goodall. Donetta was the first woman leader in higher education to impact me. She altered my sense about what I could be and do at ACC, and shaped my approach to leadership. Perhaps there were other women before her on my journey – but frankly, higher education leadership was a male prerogative as I entered my early roles as a leader. Donetta is calm, gracious, funny, patient, and forthright. She saw something in me – even when I was an interim dean who knew nothing about what it meant to be dean – that she supported, enabled, and applauded. She is a lovely lady – and I learned a lot working for her and watching her in action.

Midge Jones. My Aunt Midge was a hardworking, lovely, generous lady with a great laugh, a great sense of style, and a great love for me and my sister. Among many things, she taught me that you could “color outside the lines” – NOT something my parents ever taught me. When my sister and I were visiting her and headed off to spend the day at Six Flags (we were probably 12 and 14), she fed us hamburgers for breakfast. At the age of 12, I had no idea that you could eat hamburgers for breakfast! Ah, the things I learned from Aunt Midge.

Debra Peterson. I won’t tell you Debra’s story – it’s not mine to tell. But I have known and admired Debra for over 20 years. Life has thrown her all sorts of heavy burdens, yet she perseveres with kindness, compassion, and a smile. If you want an example of endurance with resilience through life’s trials, get to know Debra (if you don’t already).

I celebrate these women and many others who helped me become who I am today. I celebrate the progress that women have made even while knowing that there is much left to do. I’ll end with a little more from the Lakota prayer that I referenced earlier. These women – and many others not mentioned here – “are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below.”

Six Words Tuesday

I love the idea of faculty members describing their teaching in six words. And luckily for me, faculty are finding this exercise to be worthwhile as well. If you would like to submit your six word teaching statement, please do so via this link. I hope to highlight several submissions each week as a way to say “thank you” to the work that our faculty do. Enjoy the wisdom of our colleagues!

“Invest. Engage. Inquire. Listen. Clarify. Repeat.” Stephanie Long, full-time faculty and department chair, Geographic Information Systems

“Building a foundation for Future Opportunities.” Jose Arturo Puga, adjunct faculty, Sociology

“The opportunity of a lifetime awaits!” Dan Dydek, full-time faculty and department chair, Psychology

“Teachers should be students par excellence.” Christopher Whalin, adjunct faculty, Philosophy

“Knowledge offers possibilities to everyone, everywhere.” Mindy Reed, adjunct faculty, BGTCM (Business, Government, & Technical Communications)

“Any questions? Yes? No? Maybe? Okay.” Jacqueline Childress, adjunct faculty, Accounting.

“Teach with Actions, not only words.” Tracy Partin, adjunct faculty, Health & Kinesiology

“Offer grace, even when not asked.” Heather Syrett, full-time faculty, General Studies & Student Development

Twosday Equals Six Words

In honor of Twosday (2-22-22), I thought I would launch my new periodic topic: Teaching in Six Words. (And no, there’s no clear connection – but it seemed like a good “hook”!)

We have remarkably creative, clever, committed faculty whom I would like to celebrate. So I’ve invited faculty to craft a six word vision of teaching and submit it via this form. Acknowledgements to Larry Smith who created the concept of a Six Word Memoir.

Here are a few for you to ponder. Feel free to submit your own, or, if you’ve already submitted one, to submit again and again.

“Like Frost, I am an awakener.” Theresa Mooney, adjunct faculty member in BGTCM (Business, Government, & Technical Communications) and CLS (Composition & Literary Studies)

“Can you hear me? Let’s begin.” Jacqueline Childress, adjunct faculty member in Accounting

“Hear, good; know, better; practice, best.” Cristiana Conti, adjunct faculty member in Humanities.

“Community means learning and growing together.” Cathy Angell, full-time faculty member in FOLA (Foreign Languages)

“Connect. It could make a difference.” Kerri Pope, full-time faculty member in PRH (Philosophy, Religion, & Humanities)

“Trying to communicate passion via Zoom.” Marilyn Yale, full-time faculty member in Government

“I speak. Students hear. But listen?” Azzurra Crispino, full-time faculty member in Philosophy

“Knowledge offers possibilities to everyone, everywhere.” Mindy Reed, adjunct faculty member in BGTCM

The Power of ACC

Like you, I’m exhausted.

I’m frustrated.

I’m frazzled.

I’m unfocused.

But do I have a pick-me-up for us all – a note from a student about the power of ACC and our comprehensive, open door, open access mission.

This email found its way by a rather circuitous route to Ron Johns, who shared it with me and a few others. Read it and celebrate the power of ACC:

“I have been looking for someone to share my gratitude with for the last few months and have been unable to find a suitable administrator to say thank you to so forgive me if you are not the person I should be emailing. However, I must tell someone at ACC the importance of your institution and I hope you will indulge me for a quick minute.

I graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in Arabic from ACC last Spring (2021). Before returning to study at ACC my life was a complete mess. I had no prospects and I was adrift, lost on a journey that seemed never to open into any form of a future. I was paralyzed with very little hope of becoming the man I wanted to become with little knowledge of what that even entailed. On a whim I looked up classes and saw that you offered Arabic classes. This random entrance back into higher education had no real go other than to test the waters and potentially learn a little bit of a language I was intrigued by. As I mentioned above, this informal excursion back into academia led me to attain my Associate degree at ACC. It also helped me repair a GPA I had destroyed years before as well as allowed me to reintegrate into the culture and rigor of higher learning (something sorely lacking in my toolkit). However, after graduating from ACC I became somewhat adrift, not really knowing where next I should continue my journey. I decided to take one class this past fall semester, a ceramics class (and I must say you all have done such a wonderful job with your arts department, it is an incredible experience). While taking this one class I was informed of a virtual school fair held by Columbia University’s School of General Studies. I did not attend the school fair, but it did implant the idea of applying to Columbia University, a school I would have never even considered applying to prior to ACC. Somehow, and beyond my comprehension, I was accepted to the spring semester here at Columbia. We are going into our fourth week of classes now and it has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

I write all of this to say to you, plainly and clearly, thank you. Thank you so incredibly much. Without ACC I would not be here at Columbia. Without ACC I would still be lost. I may not have always believed in ACC’s statement “Start here. Get there.” You have proven my lack of belief foolish. I can say without a doubt that what I started there, paved my way here. Thank you for everything you all are committed to and thank you for everything your institution has done for me. They may want me to call myself a Columbia Lion, but I’ll never stop being a Riverbat!

Thank you for taking the time to read this email.”

Sometimes you just have to laugh

Since I’ve been coming back to the office every day, there has been an almost-constant stream of HVAC workers who are . . . well, working on our HVAC system on the 6th floor of HBC.

We’ve had days where we couldn’t go out our main doorway into the hallway to the elevators. (Thank goodness HBC is a bit of a rabbit warren and there are back ways to get where you’re going.)

We’ve had days where we could barely get out of our office doors because ladders – and workers on ladders – were right outside those doors.

We’ve had days where we couldn’t get into our workroom (e.g., to make coffee – oh no!) because ladders – and workers on ladders – were smack in the doorway to the workroom.

We’ve had to turn up the sound on our Zoom meetings because of all the hubbub outside our doors – talking and drilling and discussing and assessing and moving equipment and then doing it all again.

I think today may have taken the cake for disruption and distraction. I couldn’t resist taking this picture, even though I have very little idea why or how this equipment might help fix whatever is wrong with our HVAC system.

For some reason, this experience seems like a metaphor for the last 18 months. Disruptions, distractions, detours. Problems that require unusual solutions. Calling in “the big guns” (see the picture!). Adapting to less-than-congenial work settings. And continuing to do what we do.

So, as we get closer to the weekend – as this rainy Friday morning has turned into a sunny (for now) Friday afternoon – I wish you a bit of laughter at the absurdities of life. And please keep on doing what you do, remembering to laugh along the way.

Portage

I was recently reminded of the word “portage”, which is the necessity to carry a boat on land between navigable sections of a river or between two navigable waterways. As a documentary watcher, I have a vivid memory of portage from a documentary about Teddy Roosevelt and his post-presidency trip down the Amazon. It seems intimidating and exhausting and fraught with the unknown.

Portage is a fascinating contradiction in terms, isn’t it? You’re traveling by river but you have to suspend river travel and hoist your boat onto your shoulders and carry it – for instance, past some rapids or a waterfall that can’t be navigated safely by boat.

Do you feel like we’ve all been portaging since March 2020? I do. Doesn’t it seem like we left our predictable and navigable river long, long ago? Doesn’t it feel like we’ve been carrying our collective boat for so long that we won’t ever see a river again? In fact, just when we thought there was a navigable river up ahead, we heard the sound of more treacherous rapids that can’t be traversed by boat, thanks to the Delta variant.

But here’s what I like about portage. Despite the picture I inserted, I think of portage as a group of people carrying the boats rather than each person hauling an individual canoe. Portage is a much more manageable enterprise when everyone helps carry the boat(s) – and to my mind, that’s been an essential strength at ACC since March 2020. We have all participated. We have all helped take on some of the weight. When someone gets tired and needs a bit of a break, others have shouldered a bit more to allow rest for their colleagues.

I’m know I’m straining the metaphor at this point, but I think it’s so important to acknowledge our collective and extended portaging. Our backs may be tired, our arms may be weary, we may long for the next navigable river, but we keep on trudging. And we trudge along because we believe in our mission and we care for our students and our colleagues.

Portage only works if everyone is going in the same direction, and we have leaders who set the direction and constantly check with us to see how we’re doing, what we need, and how we can keep moving forward. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and our capacities for continuing forward, even in the face of dangerous rapids and thundering waterfalls.

So thanks to each of you for helping ACC move forward. We can’t do it without you. Every contribution to the continued portaging of ACC matters and is appreciated.

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