Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Faculty Development Day! Hooray!

Warning: Snarky Rant Full of Judgment and Generalizations Forthcoming.

Alright. I am basically a good employee. I am a dedicated teacher. I show up when I'm supposed to. I get papers returned quickly. I am generally friendly to everyone. And, I do love my job. Until days like today, which actually have nothing to do with my job.

Every few months or so it seems like people (who said people are and where they live remains a mystery) feel we need a day just to be collegial. Just to check in with each other. I know you know these people -- they're the Team Builders. The ones who think pitting the science faculty against the liberal arts faculty in a ropes course helps build trust. The ones who think it's fun to play get to know you games and arrange for holiday gift exchanges.  These Team Builders are administrative staff.  Every place I've ever worked has these people. They are nice people. But oh, how they love to group.  Everything can apparently be done better if there's a group, a committee, or -- I'm all a-quiver -- a pot luck luncheon to discuss such absurd issues as grade inflation (yes, we're all doing it apparently. No more academic integrity. We just pass 'em all through), textbook costs (can we really do anything about that?), whether or not we should keep the dorms, and technological literacy (no, Virgina, just because they can reach level 5 on Grand Theft Auto does NOT mean they can attach a file properly).

I'll concede that the world is probably a better place because there are Team Builders, but I am not one of them and I don't want to play in their reindeer games.  Faculty, generally, are not groupers. We work in academia because no one else will have us. Because we won't chant "Yay Corporate Employer X" or take the battle over sales numbers in women's accessories seriously. We're here because we don't play all that well with others.  Our loyalty is to our field and to our students. I am a teacher. I don't want to be an administrator. I am not cut out for it. I am either a loner or a dictator. It's better for all if I'm left alone.

It's not just me.

Standing in line for the coffee at 8:30 this morning, one after the other of us murmured, "What a waste of time."

"I have mid terms to grade."

"I need to prep."

"I could be sleeping."

But here we are, because in these "trying economic times" we are all relatively happy to have work.

Today I learned these things about my job (via PowerPoint):

- The Original Sin in Academia: Question Everything, but Do We Question Our Own Establishment?
- The Pony Express went out of Business Because the Horses Weren't Fast Enough (I'm actually not making this up)
- We Have Inefficient Classroom Usage Between 8 am and 9:30.
- We Waste 15-20 minutes per Classroom Period Taking Attendance; Therefore When The Swine Flu Outbreak Hits and We Have to Close Campuses, We Can Just Give Students A Final Grade at 85% Completion Because We (did I mention) Waste 15- 20 minutes per Class Period.
- We Do Not Need to Teach Psychology to Nursing Students
- We Need to Focus on Job Preparation
- Why Do We Have Liberal Arts at All? The Education Model We Are Using is From Ancient Greece. They Are Dead.
- We Are Our Own Worst Albatross
- Private Institutions Are Making Money. We Are Not.
- We Should Offer Baccalaureate Degrees.
- We Need To Save Money.
- Each Student Costs the College $8000. Why Is That Not Enough For Them To Transfer To a 4-year Institution?
- Traditional Education is a Failed Paradigm. Directed, Skills Based Programs Like Sustainability, Public Service, Hospitality Management, and Nursing Are Our Future.
- Did I Mention the Pony Express Went out of Business Because The Horses Couldn't Run Fast Enough?

Oh, there's so much more, if that wasn't clear and uplifting enough. With each rambling run-on, I watched the faculty in front of me and around me cringe. The old-timers took it all with a grain of salt. "It's been the same rhetoric since 1994 when I got here," one of them told me. The brand new hires got really angry and started challenging the administration. We wrote notes to each other on the tables, sucked in our breaths, tried to let it roll off our backs. Tried, some of us maybe more successfully than others, to let the rhetoric just bounce off.

I get that we don't have any money. I get that there aren't any jobs. But I cannot reconcile any of that with a devaluation and deprofessionalization of teaching. I believe in the education of the whole human. I believe in a liberal arts education. I believe that understanding more about who we are and what we believe may be the only thing that prevents us from killing each other. I believe that we are better humans by reading, by writing, by painting, dancing, creating and listening to music. To try to make education even more narrow seems like it will create a world I want no part of. To be striving to create a person with skill but without soul seems a foolish and short-sighted goal.

This semester I've had several problems with fundamentalist students and the readings we've done in class. They've dropped. I don't have the energy to fight. I teach my classes. I go home. I avoid situations where I might have to get involved in campus politics. I cannot try to change minds. I can only open doors. Lead the horse to water as they say. (Hey, maybe if the Pony Express horses had drunk the water they could have run faster...)

I am glad there are administrators who get money for us and keep us paid and happy with indoor plumbing. Every school needs them, and we have a good one. But I am not OK with being told that what I do does not matter. No one gets into teaching for the money. We love our subject and we love our students. Mr. Administrator, don't you dare try to make critical thinking obsolete. Don't you dare devalue the arts. As William Carlos Williams wrote, "It is difficult to get the news from poems. Yet men die every day for lack of what is found there." It is not always, Mr. Administrator, about money.

I dare you, Mr. Administrator. Spend one week in the classroom. Listen to the students. They are not commodities. They are not dollars. They are not excel spreadsheet numbers. They are human beings. Our job as an educational institution is to help them be deeper, broader, richer human beings. And no, you can't measure that outcome (so I know, it's not valuable. I read that memo). And no, you don't always know at the time if you made a difference at all. But we keep showing up because we believe in something bigger than ourselves. We believe in our collective histories -- at its most brilliant and its basest. We believe that the more a mind can open, the softer we can become. We believe this when the world tells us it, and we, are irrelevant. We believe this when it seems no one hears or cares. We believe this because somewhere in the back of our hearts lives that teacher who first put on Beethoven for us, or who first read us Dr. Seuss, or who first showed us how the human heart works, or opened up a geode to its full sparkle.

It may be inefficient to believe in these things now. It may even be irrelevant. I may already be irrelevant. But I do hear my students. And I do love them. I show up every day for them with all that I have. And I do love stories and language more than anything else in the world.

You will not take this away, Mr. Administrator. There may no longer be a Pony Express, but there are still horses.



Ann Victor said...

:) When I worked in an office, the Annual Sports Day ranked up high with root canal treatment. Currently attending my husband's twice-a-year office party has now taken over the function of teaching me how to grit my teeth and endure the closest thing to hell on earth (after root canal of course!).

And sympathies on the rant - it resonated with me on so many levels. The world is losing its soul in its relentless focus on the bottom line, and that's a very scary place to be.

Also popped in to say that your book "Writing Begins With the Breath" is a pure gem. I've reviewed it on my blog and have added a link to your blog. Hope that's okay.

Andi said...

My dear Laraine, praise you for this. I feel like I was at your development day because I have been at so many. Ours have included great titles like "The Sower and the Seed" (yes, that's right - a Biblical parable at a public institution) and "Shift Happens." (I did enjoy hearing the president say that one over and over.)

And I believe the Self-Study team is what did me in for full-time community college teaching, so avoid it, love, avoid it like the plague.

Thanks for reminding me what really matters.

Aathira said...

I have been following your blog for sometime... though this is my first comment here.

Thought would drop by and send you some flashcards which I have found interesting.

Lyn said...

Brava! brava! brava! (and I hope to be a consultant to organizations.) I might just read this once a month for good measure.