Image: United We Stand
The title for this book is very straightforward. But why the subtitle?
In his introduction to is 5, e e cummings wrote that he is “abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.” Although his poetry might seem randomly put together, his use of spacing, punctuation, and word choice is extremely precise. There are no accidents. Ironically, without this precision, his poetry would lack its excitement and movement.
One of my favorite poems by cummings has always been “if everything happens that can’t be done.” Incorporating references to books and a teacher, this is a beautiful love poem that concludes with the observation “we’re wonderful one times one.”
Teaching with mindfulness requires that we move as close as possible to cumming’s mathematical equation; that one professor times one student equals one transformative learning experience. I say “move as close as possible” because of the undeniable reality that the professor will always be the most powerful person in the classroom. But, as professors, we can use our power to create an approach to teaching in which our students are the primary beneficiaries.
When we apply cummings’ mathematical construct to our classrooms, we enter a world in which we discover that everything happens that can be done because we are working one times one.
For too many community college professors, a pervasive dissatisfaction has crept into too many of our lives. There are many reasons for job dissatisfaction. As one community college professor wrote to me when I asked for examples of the roots of dissatisfaction:
An assembly line feeling of teaching the same class over and over again while having little, if any, ability to getting to know these students while helping them through this part of their academic career. That is not well worded, but I teach intro to [discipline], and only this class now for six years. I don't ever get to interact with the students who take other [discipline] classes except for those who fail my class and for some reason, sign up with me again. I have one office hour and students typically don't come to see me. Even if they did, what can I do? I'm not in much of a position where I am able to help them navigate the system. I have been an adjunct for 16 years. The chance that I will ever get any full-time position, forget tenure, is slim to none. I have no passion for my own work anymore between having no time and feeling stuck and let down by the very system that I'm supposed to be encouraging students to engage with. I feel like the poster child for Marx's alienated worker; sucked dry and waiting to die.
I have redacted the author’s specific discipline because what this professor experiences is common among professors of many disciplines.
Unfortunately, most of the advice written for higher education faculty is directed at university faculty members whose priorities, working conditions, and students are very different than those of us who teach in community colleges. Advice that concerns working with “our” graduate students and teaching assistants has no value when a professor does not have graduate students or teaching assistants. Nor do most of us have to worry about balancing research with teaching. Teaching four or five classes per semester (for full-time faculty members) does not leave much time for research, which is not our priority anyway.
Part-time faculty members might “only” teach two our three classes at their institutions, but they might also be teaching two or three classes at two or three other community colleges. And if they are not teaching at other community colleges, they only earn a fraction of the salary of full-time faculty members while working other jobs to make ends meet.
And yet we persist.
Although it begins with a recognition of pervasive dissatisfaction, Promoting Student Transformation at the Community College is a book that focuses on how we can persist in our individual classrooms as we work to transform students’ lives as well as our own. Although theory is discussed, this is not a book of theory. It is a book that provides specific examples that community college professors—and our university colleagues—can use to make cummings’ mathematical equation a practical reality. At the end of each chapter are practical suggestions for integrating theory into daily classroom practices.
Steven L. Berg, PhD
Professor of English and History