Thoughts on Adjunct Certification

For the last year, my college has been offering adjunct certification courses. They are hybrid classes, requiring eight hours of face-to-face time and, supposedly, twenty-four hours online. The adjuncts who take the course receive $500. There is no other institutional incentive to take the class, and a similar class offered two years ago under a different name disappeared into the halls of academia without a lot of fanfare.

Inside Higher Ed had an article in May which discussed a program where adjuncts who completed sixty hours of professional development had their pay per hour go up $33. (That’s almost what I make.) With an additional sixty hours, their rank goes up to “associate faculty.” That would be worth taking the course for! When I am applying for a job, I hear a lot that “adjuncts aren’t good.” (But that’s another post.)

These are thoughts from Joe, a college art teacher for the last fifty years. (Yes, that is 5-0.) All of the thoughts, the words, the wisdom are his and are a reflection of his thinking on our adjunct certification program.

Professional Development- ACP: Summing Up (or I Am What I am)

When the ACP sessions started, the first question was: “Why do you teach?” and since that moment I have turned it inward (not for this program’s ultimate use but for my own). “Why do I teach” is the underlying drive that has made this a worthwhile pursuit and useful tool.

The four sessions were helpful:
A. Creating a Positive Learning Environment, where I wrote essays on: Change Can Be Scary, Effective Teacher, Student Expectations, and The Psychological Environment;
B. Planning for Learning, essays on: Assessment Roles in a Course, Textbook Selection, Core Planning in Consideration, and Significant Learning;
C. Instruction for Learning- Assessment and Evaluation, essays on: Assessment Strategy, Exams, Positive Evaluation Experiences, and Assessments as Motivators; and
D. Instruction for Learning-Teaching Strategies, essays on: Critical Thinking, Techniques to Engage Students, Effective Learning, Active Learning, and The Project That Went Awry.

What was wonderful was the communication and discussions from many points of view from the other members of the program. Probably, though, what was the most helpful to my own teaching was a dialogue with a small selection of the members and my internal dialogue where I replied to myself for myself.

A Beginning:
“May the beauty we love be what we do.” Jumalillal Rumi, 13th century Islamic Mystic poet

To sum up the program, let me divide the program differently than the syllabus, from a personal, internal perspective. I will start with quotes and comments (made upon my observations as they have been saved) on each section that we were asked to comment by the facilitator.

Determined Commitment:
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step,” Chinese Proverb.

I begin with a statement: I never get into anything to waste my time. If it is not what I need, I make it so and work my butt off to improve myself and what is done in the venture. I have never said, “That is not in my job description.” My job description is written inside of me, not on a signed contract. Also I do not believe in getting out of a commitment just because it does not fit all that I expected it to be. I make what I expected it to be.

A friend of mine once quoted Kinsey (about the retention of employees): “High performers are like frogs in a wheelbarrow- they can jump out at any time.” That is not my way (although I know in the business world, it is true). I expect myself to be a high performer but not one who jumps out of the wheelbarrow of a program or a job. Hide and Seek is not my favorite game: Sardines is (where if we hide, it is all together). As Rodney King once said, “Can’t we just get along?”

Collect Stuff (Data Gathering):
“Knowledge management is the art of creating value by using the organization’s intellectual capital,” John Lewiston.

The initial commitment was to begin a journal that would encase all the ideas of my own self and the best of others with images that provoke further exploration and comment. The journal became more than a notebook. It was a passion “to find” and “explore”. It became a symbol for the program, and in time it became a model which was to be placed in the library for my students and others to view. What I found though is this truism: “Ability will never catch up with the demand for it,” Malcolm Forbes. The more that I worked on it, wrote essays for it, collected the thoughts of others; the more that it demanded that I find and portray. Therefore, it also became a symbol for teaching: IT NEVER ENDS.

Incubation (Time to Allow the Material to Rattle Around the Corners of the Mind):
“When in trouble, circle the wagons; when in question, search out all answers,” is one of my mantras for working.

Therefore if the facilitator asked me to write three entries, I wrote more; and if she asked for two replies, I wrote until I answered myself (through others). One of my working rules in creative exploration is: “If they give me lined paper, I will write since they asked for it; but I will write across the lines.”

Ah Ha (or Enlightenment):
“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face-to-face with another problem,” Martin Luther King.

What is surprising about this process is that once it was started, it is like rowing with the current. Things just jump into one’s mind and the assembly of images helps to create more ideas that should not go together but do. The latter essays for this ACP program became more than fulfilling any basic minimum; it became an exploration of years of teaching, questioning all the small things that were successful but had not been examined or accessed for years, and arriving at some conclusions that even surprised this teacher of Art Appreciation (the one course where I am free to be flexible while still preparing students to think critically and creatively in any endeavor).

Formulation (Solving Problems and Creating New Ones):
“I am only in competition with that person I know that I can become,” Martha Graham.

The journal was completed by adding forty more pages than the book was originally formatted to hold. The Media Center at the college will laminate each page (so that it lasts viewing over the years to come), rebind it, and place it at the Reserve Desk in Lone Star College-Kingwood’s Library. That same Media Center has created two power point presentations for my students on new material (at least in places new formatting) which were made to my specifications and using my selection of images and my writing. One of the images deals with a subject that a teacher of Russian origin recaptured an idea that became an essay. It was about money. We both agreed that you need it as a vehicle for movement but it is not critical once you have “enough.” The problem with many people is determining “what is enough?”

“Money is power, freedom, a cushion, the root of all evil, the sum of blessings,” Carl Sandburg.

Also I formulated that I would confront my students in Art Appreciation early with their choice of my class. When they signed up, they gave us a little of their freedom of choice but still retained their personal freedom to choose the works of art that touched their lives, the way that they expressed their critical thinking, and their own opinions about art (after expressing what society had determined was basic). In the research paper, they were free to find what I had asked them to find in any part of Houston. In the last two papers, they were free to choose the location and how to express what they had learned in the course.

“The right to be left alone- the most comprehensive of rights and the most valued by civilized men,” Louis Brandeis.

Of course, the system is not perfect.
“If only it weren’t for the people always tangled up with the machinery…earth would be an engineer’s paradise,” Kurt Vonnegat.

Mostly, in this ACP Professional Development session, I (we) learned that all the rules, all the suggested systems for working at the profession of education, teaching, that is, must in the end be a personal decision. The ways of teaching from the past must fit the personality of the teacher in the present. The means of stimulating critical thinking and encouraging creative solutions must fit the owner of those tools. If it does not fit, do not wear it. Professional development comes down to an old song lyric:

“Life’s not worth a damn until you can shout, ‘I am what I am!’”

WHEN A TEACHER CAN HONESTLY SHOUT THAT (IN A QUIET VOICE INSIDE TO HIM OR HER SELF) TO THE WORLD, HE OR SHE CAN TAKE ON THE MANTLE OF “PANACHE”.

The ultimate teacher for any human being is him or her self! That is one of the most important lessons for any teacher to teach to his or her students.

An Old Lesson Renewed:
“Old dogs can learn new tricks.”

As I end this program in professional development for teaching and learning, I also come upon a truism that I knew but was fighting against until the pure logic of it made me come face-to-face with its eventuality. At the beginning of this session, I used the image of rowing with the current as the way that a teacher should work. What I missed was: What if I wish to go against the current? To use the critical side of my mind, I must come up with: “Give up the row boat and get a power boat which can easily transverse the waters upstream.” In other words, there are times when a teacher should embrace technology. I knew that. I have been working with that in my own creative, professional work as an artist, but I have been slow to realize and acknowledge that side of my work when I move to teaching. Like money, technology is a vehicle to get from one place to another (as long as you know where you are going). I do drive to the college to teach!

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