A couple of years ago I wrote an eBook about how to succeed in a two-year college—for students, that is. Now I’m working on one about how to survive, I mean, succeed as an instructor.
First, a few words about the former book. When looking back over it this morning, I realized that the truths therein remain the same. For instance, people need to have some goals before beginning a course of study rather than drifting willy-nilly from semester to semester. Many are like a young sales associate I met recently who earned a medical office certificate and graduated with a 3.7 GPA.
“Why aren’t you working in the medical field?” I asked. “I mean, that’s not an easy certificate to earn, and well, I just thought you’d want to get a job related to your major.”
“Yeah, you’re right. You’re right. But I didn’t really feel that excited about it once I graduated. I got a new plan now.”
“Oh really? What’s that?”
“I’m going into the dental field. I hear you can always get a job doing that.”
“You mean being a dental assistant?” A hygienist?”
“Uh-huh. And I know I’d never get tired of that. I just love looking at people’s mouths.”
“Oh,” I said, suddenly conscious of my teeth. Did she think I needed to floss?
The thing is, she was clueless about her skills, interests, aptitudes and the career fields that correlated with them. She’s not alone. In fact, I was like her once upon a time. Fascinated by demographics, culture, mores, societal changes, and social institutions, I earned a degree in sociology. If someone had asked me what I planned to do with that little piece of paper, I would probably have mumbled something like “be a social worker.” I was clueless about what it took to be a social worker or what an undergraduate degree in sociology would do for me.
I’m glad the social worker position never materialized. My career would have taken a totally different trajectory, one I wouldn’t have enjoyed nearly so much. “You don’t know that for sure, Jayne,” some of you might be thinking. Believe me, I know. I’m a teacher, and there’s no profession (for me) more rewarding than that.
While the rules and guidelines haven’t changed that much since writing the student success book, many students’ attitudes have. Most understand the importance of managing time, meeting deadlines, going to class, and doing the work. Others feel more of a sense of entitlement and have a “something for nothing” attitude.
The attitudinal change is manifest in many ways. It can be an insolent manner, a brash “in your face” defiance, or an argumentative stance. While these changes are not pervasive in what I refer to as “the system,” they’re occurring frequently enough to cause teachers to stand up and take notice. A colleague recently shared an incident in which one of her students gestured for her (the teacher) to “zip it up” while the student was explaining something to a classmate. The student in question, by the way, was failing the class and had already overcut her allowed absences.
Second, a few words about the next book. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I do know this, however. For teachers, knowing your subject inside out and upside down is just part of the job, the easy part. The people issues are the ones that challenge your psyche and tax your resources. In the book I’m working on now, I’ll explore some problems and possible solutions. (I could say challenges instead of problems, but candy coating situations isn’t always the best approach.)
Somehow, successful teachers learn to change with the times and to deal with “them.” What’s your strategy?