Friday, August 31, 2012

Planning for the Future

For several reasons that I don't feel comfortable admitting publicly, I didn't finish grad school. I was close to it - I had only one class to finish (and by "class" I mean "thesis"), but I lost steam and interest and was mentally burned out and forlorn.

I guess I was more comfortable admitting that than I thought. I guess what I'm not comfortable with is the judgement and guilt that comes along with not having finished the graduate degree.

I graduated with my undergraduate degree in 2007, and I am not joking or being otherwise dramatic when I say there was not a teaching job to be found; the economy had tanked the previous year, and the NYC Department of Education implemented a hiring freeze that, so far as I know, is still in effect (five years later). If largest school district in the country wasn't hiring, along with there being thousands of newly minted teaching grads, getting a job teaching English was nearly impossible. 

Despite that, I managed to get a job teaching college-level English at three different colleges. I left one teaching job in Pennsylvania because Ed and I became engaged, although even after two semesters I had been offered more classes for that upcoming fall semester. One college did not renew my contract because I did not have a graduate degree; sadly, that I would need to be currently enrolled in a graduate program was information that had not been shared with me during my interview. (After two semesters of not having heard this I was a bit surprised at not being offered classes the following semester, but I had other work lined up.) The third college knows I have quite a few graduate-level courses under my belt - I specifically mentioned this during my interview with the department chair - and he acknowledged that he knew this, although he did mention my need to finish, which, to be honest, was fair and very matter-of-fact, but not dwelled on. I really appreciated that the matter was acknowledged, but dropped.

It's now been five years since I graduated, and jobs teaching English are just as hard to come by - more so, because I live in a comparably sparsely populated state. I had a handful of interviews since I've been here, but of course aside from the college jobs - for which, I might add, I am very grateful - I haven't been offered anything full-time. Until recently, money has been tight enough that things like restarting a graduate degree just wasn't something we could even consider long-term; it was more important to worry about things like paying the mortgage and figuring out if we could afford to eat. Thank goodness that's changed.

Which means I can start looking at graduate programs again. Ed gave me a push about this last night, which is probably a good thing, because I'm worried and frightened about going back to grad school because I'm afraid I'll botch the GREs (again), or not get accepted anywhere, and then I'll just be sunk permanently. Fortunately, my graduate school grades were pretty good; all my grades were in the A/A- range (aside from that one B+: Damn you Virginia Woolf!). Also fortunately, I've had actual real teaching experience. (Not to dismiss subbing, but I'd rather have my own classroom than be a career substitute teacher.)

Quite a few universities with good reputations have online graduate programs these days, so I'm considering applying to:

I'm more inclinded to get an M.A. instead of an M.Ed., but a learning, educational, or instructional technology degree appeals to me also. (NAU and Pepperdine are at the top of my list at this point, though.) I'm anxious about taking the GREs again, for which I've registered to take in mid-October. I'll need to get some letters of recommendation, copies of transcripts, and writing samples, and write a few personal statements. I'd like to have all my applications in by January, so I've a lot to take care of.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What's "College-Ready"?

With classes beginning this week, it's once again time for beginning-of-year meetings and convocation, which is being held on Tuesday at SLCC. We're using a new textbook (The Academic Writer) in the English department, and the author came to SLCC yesterday morning to give insight into how her book developed and to elaborate upon certain features of the book that might help us teach more effectively.

It was interesting to hear her speak, and I'm glad I went. There were about 30 folks from the English department, which I thought a good turnout. One thing made me think, though, and I kept it in the back of my mind as Dr. Ede gave her talk.

I sat at a table with two other instructors, both of whom introduced themselves to me, but who effectively ignored me. (The woman sitting in the middle, A., introduced herself, then turned to the woman on her left, B., and engaged her in conversation before we got started and during the break, and seemed rather disinterested in conversing with anyone else. B. didn't seem interested in conversation with either of us.) Both the other instructors teach the level of writing that comes after mine in the sequence, although both had taught the level I currently teach. A. was perhaps a few years younger than I, and noted that she did not really enjoy teaching ENGL 1010 because the students were not "not college-ready." I began considering what "college-ready" actually means.

Does it mean that the students who come to college shouldn't need ENGL 1010? Should their writing skills be such that they shouldn't need to take writing courses at all?  Do we tell students who are in their 40s and 50s, who have spent decades developing professionally without having gone to college, that they're not college ready simply because they might never have been strong writers? (Especially if they've been out of school for a few decades.) 

I find such an attitude dismissive towards students who may, in fact, have been strong students, academically speaking, when they were in high school, but may need a refresher, or need an instructor who can finally make sense of any writing and reading issues they faced while enrolled in school previously. There are skills skills that need to be taught; one of the reasons one attends college to begin with is so that one can be taught those skills. There are always learning curves, both academically and in terms of attitude.

Or is it that they're not "college-ready" because of other reasons, such as attitude and expectations? It's a change going from high school to college, or from working full-time, developing a career, and going back to college after time away. Students should be allowed to take a semester or two to realign their expectations and learn what it means to be a college student.

It's an attitude I'm beginning to see in some younger teachers who were fantastic students their entire lives; if they never struggled in school, if they went straight from high school to college to grad school with no real academic problems, there's less of an understanding towards those who didn't do things that way.

If you're looking for students to enroll in college and immediately be "college ready," I wonder what exactly you're expecting from students. One of our jobs as teachers is to help students become as ready as they can be, with all that entails.