Unexpected Benefits: Re-visioning an Academic through Campus Involvement

Staying in the Mix
Dr. Susan G. Cotton, Associate Professor, Lone Star College: Kingwood

using-computerWhen my photograph flashed on the screen at the Fall 2009 Convocation at Lone Star College, Kingwood, a gasp arose from the assembled faculty and staff. The response was not to my being a full-time member of the faculty, but surprise that, contrary to popular belief, I had not been full time for a number of years. I did, in fact, have a temporary full time position in the 2002-2003 academic year, but I was not retained as regular full time, a standard practice in our college system. The year’s respite from the poverty level income garnered from full time retail work and occasional adjunct slots was intoxicating. I had in a very little time become accustomed to providing my two teenage daughters with little extras above a roof, a meal, and feminine hygiene products, and my single mother mindset dug in its heels and looked for more things to do.

The maximum hours allowed part-time employees in the Lone Star System is nineteen-and-one-half per week. This formula includes classroom teaching time (three hours per week per three credit hour course). A new formula allowed adjuncts to teach three classes per regular semester (fall and spring), thus leaving ten-and-one-half hours available for extra work. Previously, no adjunct was permitted to teach more than two classes per regular semester. More classes required the payment of benefits and an adjusted salary rate commensurate with an instructor’s rate of pay. Another formula change lowered regular faculty compensation for overloads to the adjunct rate. That change opened up previously unavailable summer and mini term (three week) opportunities for adjuncts.

kingwood-campus-collegeAmong the things the Lone Star College System does very well are student support and faculty/staff development. When my Cinderella year ended, I applied to work as an English tutor in The Learning Center. The benefits were enormous. As an “old school” academic, I had modeled my teaching on a hybrid of “sage on the stage” and the Socratic Method. (Hence, students’ oft overheard hallway queries, “I wonder what that woman will do today!”) Our Learning Center provides training for tutors in areas ranging from learning styles and tutoring methods to subject-specific workshops. First, I attended; then, I presented; eventually, I organized and facilitated a number of these sessions. What I learned in The Learning Center about learning as a construct greatly impacted my own classroom agenda. In addition, The Learning Center houses the Supplemental Instruction (SI) and Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL) initiatives. I was asked to help oversee these programs and leaned a great deal about collaborative learning which, again, impacted my classroom strategies. LSC-Kingwood has long had a substantial population of Deaf, and after a few semesters working with interpreters in the classroom, I was invited to participate in what became a four year program with Landmark College learning to work with students with a wide range of disabilities. Between semesters, I was often fortunate to work in the library assisting the reference librarians who generously shared tantalizing tidbits they had learning working with electronic resources. Lacking a personal campus office, I made The Learning Center my campus home. It gave me an anchor and a place where full time faculty and staff saw me every day. I became part of everyone’s everyday landscape, so it is no wonder that those who did not know me well were surprised to discover that I was not what I appeared to be.

PrintThe Lone Star College System’s Professional Development program has been another way for me to grow professionally and to keep my face before the crowd. I participated and presented in projects like Commitment 2 Learning and Faculty Idea Exchange on a regular basis. I enrolled in every technology and pedagogy session I could physically attend. I kept after them until, at last, they opened the door to me.

Like many academics, I am not fit for much else. Pedagogy and the general pursuit of knowledge define much of who I am in all aspects of my life. Clearly, I have been very lucky. I have made lasting friendships with generous people who constantly watched for hours they could give me in slack times. Their helping make it possible for me to hang on as an adjunct-of-all-trades is a major factor in my attaining the position I hold today.

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