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In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic - Professor X Professor X obviously has very mixed feelings about his students and his role as an adjunct English instructor. While many of his reactions and observations are understandable, it's hard not to squirm a bit (or a lot) about some of what he says. "My time in the classroom keeps me marvelously connected to the larger culture. The students keep me young -- it's an awful cliche, the sort of thing I try to banish from their writing, but it's true. I watch how the young ones dress, catch snatches of conversation, observe the dance of the sexes, and modern life seems vital and worthwhile to me, not just a debased version of what I have already experienced. I note my own interactions with the older students and understand, for the first time, the profoundly important role that age plays in relationships. ... As a basis for mutual understanding, age trumps sex, age trumps race, age trumps race, age trumps education and social class." p. 99-100"My students and I are of a piece. I could not be haughty, even if I wanted to be. Our presence in these evening classes is evidence that something in our lives has gone awry. In one way or another, we have all screwed up. I'm working a second job; they're desperately trying to get to a place where they don't have to work a second job. All any of us want is a free evening. We are all saddled with children or mortgages or sputtering careers, sometimes all three. I often think, at the beginning of the class, that a 5-minute snooze, a sanctioned nap period, would do us all good. We carry knapsacks and briefcases spilling over with the contents of our hectic lives. We reek of coffee and tuna oil. The daytime students are fed by the college food service, which understands its mandate to be at least marginally nutritious. My people eat cakes and chips out of machines -- when there's anything left in the machines.The poignancy of my students can be overwhelming. I see them trying to keep all the balls in the air: job, school, family, marriage. Of course it isn't easy. On our class breaks, they scatter like frightened mice to various corners and niches of the building, whip out their cell phones, and try to maintain a home life at a distance. Burdened with their own homework assignments, they gamely try to stop on top of their children's. (Which problems do you have to do? All right, then, just the odd numbers. That's good, right? One, three, five, seven, nine and you're done. Don't think of it as nine problems. Just do them one at a time. Finish that and then do the spelling. Now put Daddy on.) I hear husbands and wives trying to conduct a whole domestic life within the boundaries of a 10-minute call, talk of parent-teacher conferences and appointments with plumbers that often disintegrates into argument. "What do you want me to do?" I have it heard it said many times by trapped people standing in empty classrooms. "What do you want me to do?" I think sometimes that we'd all be better off without cell phones. After the breaks, it's difficult to reconnect with some of the students. I can tell they are replaying the last phone call in their minds, frustrated and helpless as they sit trapped in the classroom while the world outside, they imagine, goes to hell." p. 107-8"The sheer shock of college is a recurring theme in my students' papers, and inspires some of their most heartfelt writing. Even with their limited academic gifts, many have managed to cruise their way through high school. American public education has not served these students very well, and now, as they enter college so vastly unprepared, there is a real poignancy to their growing recognition of this astringent truth. How can I stay angry at them? They want me to show them what literature is all about; they know, dimly, that those who matter in the world are versed in its mysteries. They call me "professor." They did it without thinking. I stopped making a fuss about it. Why should I rain on their parade? In my mind, I was a government worker masquerading as an academic. Why should I let my feelings of fraudulence interfere with their college experience?I drive home that night in my old car. Is that radiator leaking? I seem to be leaving small green puddles whenever I park. I have one headlamp out, but if I keep my brights on, both work. I pull up to a quiet traffic light near the college. A car waits across the intersection from me. My brights are shining right in his eyes. He flashes his own lights a few times to get my attention, but I ignore him. I don't feel I can click mine down. He just thinks I'm an inconsiderate asshole. I burn to tell him: That's not me! There's more to me than that!" p. 111-12"Credential inflation can be insidious. After a while it starts to seems that a particular occupation require a degree, when it simply may not be the case. Consider the illustration of nursing. Currently, approximately 60% of nurses graduate with a 3-year associate's degree, but that wasn't always true. Although a few baccalaureate programs in nursing began in the late 19th century, they never provided more than 15% of the new nurses each year; most nurses originally came from diploma programs affiliated directly with the hospitals. The model was that of an apprenticeship; the nursing students were essentially employees. The discovery of antibiotics expanded the need for health care services, and by the end of WWII the US faced a serious shortage of nurses. ... recommending a game change: the nurses be educated in colleges and universities, an idea that suited many of the young women entering the profession as well as the hospitals, which had begun to find their nursing programs burdensome. ...The Associate Degree in Nursing, originally a 2-year program, has grown to 3 years. And now the Carnegie Foundation... has put in its two cents: a new study from their Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recommends a B.S.N, a 4-year program, be a prerequisite for all those seeking to work as nurses." p. 241"They will manage to find new and endless innovative ways to flummox me, my students. But I don't care. Years of teaching have left their marks on me; I feel scarred, nicked, marked up, chipped, bearing the signs of life lived as vividly as the old wallpaper in my bedroom. But I wouldn't dream of stopping. Ever. It's too good, in its own singular way. Adjuncting used to be something I struggled to fit into my world; now, years hence, I've come to see how much it anchors and enriches that world -- how much it actually is my world. Without English 101 and English 102, I think I might well be bereft. Doesn't that seem odd? It does to me." p. 247-8"While you watch American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, we're gathering for another semester in the basement of the ivory tower. Students and teacher alike share flickerings of wonderment and uncertainty. How did we all get here? The classroom surroundings are familiar, even cozy: there's a comfort to sitting in rows, and desks wrap around the students protectively. The textbooks seem compendia of all the world's knowledge. ... A few students will thrive; many will wither. We are, all of us there gathered, trembling with fright, short of breath, sick at heart, but perhaps hopeful. That our senses are so alive is thrilling. The whiteboard markers give off a vaguely medicinal smell. The edges of posters from semesters past curl away from the wall. Motes of dust bob in the light from the overhead projector. The old heating unit comes on with a shudder. There seems a meaning in all this mundanity that lies just beyond our grasp. Every new assignment, at least, starts us all thinking." p. 249