This is a link to an article I wrote for Inlandia Literary Journeys. Each Sunday’s Life section of the Press Enterprise features a different guest column. This is from 3/13/2016. Share, enjoy, and read other postings on the subject of writing here –
In the Introductory Course Sequence, my students and I face reality head on. We do not leave our families, our jobs, and our fears-hopes-dreams behind when we cross the threshold and enter the class environment. This is no day spa where we can forget our troubles and catch up with friends. It’s no cone of silence – our needy cell phones and responsibilities check in on us constantly.
Reality? Attending classes at night, before or after a full day of work, students tell me it feels like they’ve taken on a part-time job. For nearly every student in this situation, it is a job that only pays at the end of the project…if that project gets completed. Statistically, many don’t make it to payday. Who Doesn’t Make it? For our purposes, way too many.
Meaning? It means the environment matters. The way we construct and safeguard our class space – consider the technology we choose, to relatively sound-proof rooms, even the trashcan must be considered – creates the desired head-space so we can all think critically, write clearly, and plan effectively.
Those colleges that choose to be the best, to be the college of choice and not the college of last resort, will put a priority on productive space. I’m saying the classroom environment is very much a work space.Let’s get to work is an apt phrase, precisely describing our space and collective attitude. A good work space seeks appropriate light (more natural=more better), places to stand and sit (and options to move seats and tables quickly) and cool air when it is hot/hot air when it is not.
Making good use of the clock counts big. Having more than enough activities and discussion topics and exercises shows respect for the work space. Students deserve engaging content. Colleges must create and deliver on this requirement to survive.
Going into the final weeks of my University Studies course, career development gets some well deserved attention. One of the skills a successful student (and student of teaching) must have is intrapersonal intelligence. For me, it’s the ability dial in your GPS career coordinates in the now. Then, look back to understand the motivations, people, and circumstances that brought you to this moment. Then use that data to glimpse potential futures.
I’ve had my fair share of juicy plot twists along the way.
I worked for my first employer from ’86 to ’96. In ’93 I had my first son and took three weeks vacation to be home with him and my wife. Result? My old-school boss wrote me up for “lack of dedication” to my job. Human Resources helped my boss understand that the world had changed since he worked for Sterling Cooper.
Lesson learned? Take nothing for granted – not your legal work rights and certainly never assume your employer has your best interests in mind.
In 1996, I cashed in my 401(k), left the only company I ever worked for, and joined the entrepreneur-class. I was a third generation printer; what could go wrong? Eighteen months later, I joined the ranks of the failed business owner. I even sold my car to keep the business alive a few more months.
Lessons learned? One, don’t go into a business just because you think it can make money. I did not like printing but it was all I knew. I probably would have failed in another business though because I also learned…I prefer to work for other people. There! I have outed myself. In this vague period of self-directed and self-employed and completely empowered version of work we see today, I say “no thanks”.
I like being part of a group, I like not having to make all the decisions, and I really like a dependable paycheck!
The rest of the 90’s and early 2000’s were various sales jobs. Good jobs sure, but the limited jobs available to a person with hustle, the ability to wear a tie, and NO COLLEGE degree. So just like in 1992, when I realized how much more career advancement was possible in an office vs a production line, I leveraged my relationships and experience and vaulted onto a new path.
My volunteer efforts landed me an interview for a Director of Career Services job with a 9-month certification school. I was not qualified but got the job anyway (see previous paragraph, re: Hustle). This was six months after earning my English degree. Then I did some calculated jumping, similar to what James Citrin advises in his blog, How to Move From Job to Job. My goal? To get a job at a degree granting college.
Over the next ten years, I stayed in the same role (Director), in the same field (Career Development) in the same industry (Post Secondary Education). But I learned about the many ways education is delivered. I worked at nationally accredited colleges, market-driven colleges, and a state college. It was not always pretty, but I also was fortunate to serve a similar student cohort everywhere I worked – first generation college students from Inland Southern California.
So, flipping to the last chapter, I gear up to break into a new career in Summer 2014. My gift arrives, just at the top of the story arc, 3 days after Christmas: An interview to teach first year college students full time. I get the job! How? Patient and deliberate (somewhat) planning. It was the culmination of my effort and intentions over the last two decades. It was setting up a SMART goal. It was using the tools at hand.
I wrote, revised, and edited that story for years. Lots of blank pages left. Time to get to class and write some more.
What’s your career story? Ready to tell it? Better yet, are you ready to live it? If not, today is a great day to start.
Whew! I just completed week 3 of my first 7 week course as a full time faculty member. Teaching University Studies, University Writing, and Critical Thinking to students just starting their college experience – or perhaps back from an extended break – is a true joy and privilege. Over the next year, I intend to share my experiences here. I will leave the data crunching and success metrics to the experts at University of Phoenix. What I wish to share are impressions, interesting anecdotes, and light advice for anyone interested in the college experience, particularly that fraught first year.
My first piece of advice? Work in a community you care about. I am fortunate to say I have been able to serve students from Inland Southern California (aka – Inland Empire, aka – Inlandia, aka “that place east of LA”) since 2004. I tell my students the first day:
“Listen, I’m here for selfish reasons. As members of my community, if I help you finish your degree, you will likely be happier with your career. That career happiness translates into economic improvements for where I live. Which in turn improves revenues which can be used to improve schools, services and infrastructure. I help you, my community wins, I win!”
My first observation? The less I talk, the more they listen. When I start the discussion and pass it off to them, they pay attention to each other. Here’s how they helped me build MY faculty schedule. At the third hour of a four hour class!
My first lesson? Set your expectations high. I erroneously assumed that since I would be teaching freshman, they may not be well prepared and need MANY HOURS of work just to get them up to speed. I have found myself in the enviable position of seeking out advanced activities to bring to the classroom to keep them from becoming bored! Thanks to the book, An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi (free plug, I am not a paid hack – www.bookofbadarguments.com) I know that was the logical fallacy of a Hasty Generalization. Thanks Ali!
I could go on, for pages, but will stop here. Thanks for listening! Next week we are discussing learning styles, study habits and ways analyze and discuss the writing of others. Any suggestions to help those topics? Most welcome!
I’m in heavy training mode these last two weeks thanks to my full time faculty position with University of Phoenix. I get the pleasure of working with first year students to support their career and academic success. What I am learning is too large to put into a list…but I have dozens of PowerPoints and Word documents at my disposal!
What is clear, from all of these resources and the excellent Wiki page the faculty and staff have put together, is a structure that has been built over decades – and I get to stand on it and say – LOOK WHAT I CAN DO! Hopefully I will do more than that. My hope is that I will be able to add a wall, or a floor, or even a curtain to a window of this amazing and ever changing structure.
What I see all to often in my professional career are folks who just never look down. Perhaps it is fear, perhaps it is hubris, perhaps just bad training or not enough hugs as a kid, these people forget their history and think they need to destroy or radically alter the city-scape they inherit in order to “leave their mark”.
In short, those people are wrong. We all know these people. We also know that they typically do not last. Their lack of vision and limited growth potential make them poorly equipped to do much useful for an organization. The employees we need to hire, train, value and care about are the ones that know they stand in greatness only because of the greatness of those who came before them. And they understand the obligation to continue that good work.
It is better to be part of something larger that will last for decades. Anyone can bring down those around them to stand tall for a minute, but the quicksand they spread all too far and wide will eventually bring them down as well. In parables from business, religion, history, or politics, our systems work best when built by caring hands who intend to grow what is in front of them and conserve it for the ones who will do the work when they are gone.