MLA: Teaching Lives, Scholarship Improves Teaching

“Utilizing Scholarship to Improve Teaching”

Dr. Suanna H. Davis
English professor, Houston Community College: Central

For most of my experience as an adjunct, I focused exclusively on teaching my students. That was a mistake. “Students suffer when instructors stagnate—and although this certainly can happen to full-timers, it is built into the structure of contingent appointments” (Thompson 43) due to the fact that adjuncts rarely have the financial or temporal resources to support professional development. Realistically full-time adjuncting necessitates teaching classes at multiple campuses —increasing the possibility of burn out. This hazard really extends to all teaching faculty, since teaching-focused colleges regularly require heavy course commitments, which situate full-time faculty in a similar predicament, albeit with greater institutional support.

Wanting to regain my commitment and engagement with the profession, I began looking for opportunities to participate outside of the classroom. Conferences seemed to offer the opportunity to change my emotional and professional trajectory. And they have. Regular participation in conferences has reinvigorated my classroom by expanding my teaching repertoire. Each conference I attend offers opportunities to learn from other professionals in a model of cognitive apprenticeship (Collins, Brown, and Newman 456). Sometimes I can immediately apply what I learned at the conference to my classroom, such as when I attended the medieval conference a week prior to teaching British Literature I in the May miniterm. I built an assignment on the Exeter Riddles based on four different presentations (Thomas P. Klein; William F. Klein; Cavell; Petty) and used versions of the handouts from three of them. Other times I have been given a new direction for deliberation, such as when I attended the Hemingway conference even though I only teach a single Hemingway story in my freshman writing about literature course. I learn so much when I attend conferences and that helps me remember how much fun it can be to learn.

Conferences have also allowed me to share my successful strategies for the classroom and thus have helped me once again see myself as part of a community participating in the “professional knowledge landscape” (Cladinin and Connelly 24). As a result of this, I act as a member of the discipline. During my participation in a professional development event created specifically for adjuncts (Page) on one of my campuses, I heard about the need for a new course. Since by this time I felt renewed confidence in my teaching, I approached the relevant chairs and secured the opportunity to create and teach those classes.

Taking part in conferences has helped me focus on the scholarship of teaching, making my work more contextually driven. This professional engagement has led to “increases in student achievement” (Fullan and Hargreaves 2), which is the goal of my teaching. The next step beyond conferences is publishing, a step that few adjuncts devote time or effort to, despite the fact that doing so can differentiate them from the hundreds of other applicants applying to the same limited pool of full-time positions. My personal revelation of the necessity of pursuing publication came more than a year after I began looking for and attending conferences again. The exigencies of the modern academic position appear to require publications for hiring and certainly reward them in tenure and promotion, even in the most teaching-focused schools. One position for which I was a finalist went tot eh candidate with publications, a circumstance a dean in the final interview made clear. While publications are not proof of our effectiveness as teachers, it is documentation of our commitment to the profession. Teaching-focused articles can illuminate our beliefs and practices to an audience searching for proof of our hireability.

As instructors there is a bonus to connecting our pedagogy to scholarship. The scholarship of teaching offers the opportunity to improve our profession and is an area in which adjuncts, as the quintessential roving scholars, can contribute effectively. Pedagogy scholarship can illuminate our own teaching and help develop stronger classroom activities and better pedagogical tools across the discipline.

Works Cited
Cavell, Megan. “Looming Danger and Dangerous Looms: Violence and Weaving in Riddle 56.” The 45th International Congress on Medieval Studies. May 14, 2010.
Cladinin, Jean and Michael Connelly. “Teachers’ Professional Knowledge Landscapes: Teacher Stories—Stories of Teachers—School Stories—Stories of Schools.” Educational Research 25.3 (1996): 24-30. Web. March 9, 2010.
Collins, Allan, John Seely Brown, and Susan E. Newman. “Cognitive Apprenticeship: Towards a Synthesis of Schooling and Apprenticeship.” Knowing, Learning, and Instruction: Essays in Honor of Robert Glaser. Lauren Resnick, editor. New York: Routledge, 1989. 454-460. Web. 1 November 2010.
Fullan, Michael and Andy Hargreaves. Teacher Development and Educational Change. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.
Jarma, Donna. “Elephants in the Room?: Teach ‘Em to Sing.” Two-Year College Association: Southwest. Oklahoma City, OK. 31 October-1 November 2008.
Klein, Thomas P. “Rune Names and Riddling in the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem.” The 45th International Congress on Medieval Studies. May 14, 2010.
Klein, William F. “Can the Riddles Be Translated?” The 45th International Congress on Medieval Studies. May 14, 2010.
Page, Suzy. Adjunct Certification Program. Lone Star College: Kingwood, Kingwood, Texas. Spring 2009.
Petty, Christina. “A Clever One-Liner: Evidence for an Alternate Set-Up of the Warp-Weighted Loom.” The 45th International Congress on Medieval Studies. May 13, 2010.
Thompson, Karen. “Contingent Faculty and Student Learning: Welcome to the Strativersity.” New Directions for Higher Education 123 (Fall 2003): 41-48. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 September 2009.

Dr. Suanna H. Davis
English professor, Houston Community College: Central

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