For the past year, I’ve been working at a small, rural community college. This is a step back in scale in a chain of step backs – I went from working as an advisor at one of the largest universities in the US (Arizona State University) to working in admissions at a university that was about half the size (Portland State University) to working at a school that has a total enrollment that might fit in one of the auditoriums at ASU.
There are things I love about my job – where I am, that I get to help students whose backgrounds are much like my own, that I get to do it in a location that is easily my favorite ever – at a meeting of land, sea and sky like no other I’ve experienced. I occasionally think about returning to the university, and I might. It’s totally possible. But right now, whenever I go to the ocean or walk in the woods, I can’t imagine living anywhere that I couldn’t access both within 20 minutes. I find a peace there I’ve not found anywhere else.
There are also things I don’t love about my job – funding issues, campus/personality politics and faculty members who seem to do nothing more than contribute largely to issue #2 on this list. I’m here for the student. I always have been; it’s why I pursued a career in higher education. I know how my own world has been broadened, enhanced… changed on a deep level. And I love nothing more than helping to make that happen for other students. I don’t understand how people forget why we’re here, particularly why we’re here at a community college. We’re not here to do research. We’re here to serve students. Period. And in an area like this, we know those students are going to bring a slew of challenges with them. So I’m at turns baffled and pissed when I encounter people who use students like pawns to get what they want or to act out against when when they don’t.
I’m a professional to the end, particularly when it comes to students, and I just can’t fathom why people are such assholes. How many students are discouraged by being ignored, told they have no business being in school, or misadvised? How many students leave because no one wanted to stop and think about what they were saying and how it might impact a student? Faculty, in particular, wield a lot of power in this regard. There are literally reams of data that show that the more a student is engaged in learning and the more they feel a sense of belonging, the more likely they are to persist to graduation. Faculty members are a huge factor in this, and are singled out as being one of the reasons why students stay or go.
In the university, faculty are often torn between research and teaching. I get that. But if you come to the community college, you are here to teach. If that’s not what you really want to do, find another way to use your education, one that doesn’t cause harm to people who are really trying hard to get a leg up in life. Just because you get a graduate degree doesn’t mean you can teach. I knew this before, but it is painfully apparent here, and carries consequences.
And… at least I have a job. There’s that.