My Year In Community College

When I earned my MS in Teaching in 1993, my husband and kids gave me a sweatshirt bearing a shiny red apple and this now tragically famous quote from teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe “I touch the future; I teach.”  Image result for images of apples and teachers

It’s safe to say that I have been professionally fortunate. (I have been personally fortunate, too, but that’s another story for another time.) 25 years in public education allowed me to “touch the future.”

When restlessness set in just a few months after cashing that first pension check, a bit more vocational luck prevailed. I landed a part-time position at our local community college in the Writing Center.  Image result for black and white images of students writing

Though it seemed a perfect fit, I was nevertheless prepared for a learning curve; there was so much I didn’t know. I expected it would take time to find my way in a new learning community.

What I didn’t expect was how inspired I would be by the students I have met on the first leg of this journey. In a single academic year, these students have given me so much.

Yes, most of our students are young adults, fresh from local high schools. They bring us idealism and excitement. Their visions of the future are filled with hope for us all.

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But this campus also serves so many adult learners, men and women returning to school for a variety of reasons, people who have not had seats in classrooms for years. Some have served in the armed forces; our school has been officially designated a “Veteran Friendly Campus.” Others have been occupied with the unending business of raising families or have spent years in jobs they didn’t like. The challenges of starting over might be intimidating, but adult curiosity and experiences give them an edge their younger classmates don’t have.

Many students–young and old– hold down full time jobs and still find ways to master challenging course work across the curriculum.

Image result for black and white images of students writing  Students on this campus speak 49 different languages yet they are reading James Joyce and Toni Morrison, conducting academic research and writing business proposals all in English. Working with these students is at once exhilarating and humbling.  Think about writing a persuasive essay in Croatian or describing a microbiology experiment in Spanish when English is your native language.

I have been moved to tears–the people who know me I am not the crying type–by  stories of adversity and triumph, of resiliency and determination, of kindness and generosity.

Image result for images of apples and teachers   My year in community college has been a learning experience. With a mix of gratitude and humility, I am so happy that I am able to continue to “touch the future.”

 

 

 

 

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Community College: Higher Education’s Best Kept Secret

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According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are more than 1,400 community colleges in this country, serving over five million enrolled students.  Some pretty successful people are community college grads: an Oscar winner, an astronaut, a governor. My husband earned a community college associate’s degree in electrical technology, the initial accomplishment in a professional adventure marked by achievement and public service.

Familiar and Local

On my daily commute, I blew by the main gates of our local community college, a carefully manicured campus integrated into the state university system. The fact that it is in our own backyard may have led us to take what happens here for granted. You know, the old saying about familiarity.

However, many of the middle and high school students I taught landed here, some by choice, others by default. It seemed a safe a place for kids who were unsure of their futures. And having retired after more than 25 years in secondary education–a little unsure of my own future– I am here now, as a senior tutor in the Academic Services Center.

Opportunity and Support

Image result for black and white images of students writing What I have discovered is that community college truly is higher education’s best kept secret.

Beyond the gates I glanced at every day, students have access to first class faculty and facilities. Classes are demanding and varied offering experience and knowledge that transfer to both the workplace and four year schools. And it is that secure place where every student is respected and has the chance to become (apologies, Mrs. Obama!). One of the students I worked with last semester put it this way: “I love it here. I am just learning how to be in college. And it’s like everyone really cares.”

A Community and A College

Related imageAs a tutor, I see first hand how hard these students are working, how important school is to them. A significant percentage juggle full time jobs, family obligations and transportation obstacles with rigorous classes to fulfill the promise of the American Dream: personal and professional success.  Their professors challenge them to find their voices, their confidence, all the while wholeheartedly supporting the effort this entails. Students find campus niches through athletics, clubs, cultural events, and service opportunities.  And tutors, available in almost every discipline, provide individual feedback and content area support.

Image result for black and white images of dollars and centsIt’s Affordable

Community college remains a bargain by higher ed standards. A NY resident can attend full time for less than $3,000 a semester. There are countless opportunities for aid, scholarships, work study and even transportation stipends to further reduce the economic burden on students and families.  But wait…there’s more. When a student is done here, he/she leaves with something tangible for time (and money) spent: an associate’s degree and/or a professional certificate.

Lucky Me

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I feel fortunate to have found a role here.  It is energizing to revisit literature I loved as an undergraduate English major: Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Joyce. It is exciting to read what’s new in English education.  It is inspiring to be among students to whom education is paramount. My part is small, a walk-on, but nonetheless, the powerful play goes on and I am privileged, at this stage of my life, to contribute another verse (more apologies, Walt Whitman).