Tuesday, January 8, 2008

inservice blues

I often try to convince myself that teaching at HHCC is, in most respects, not much different from teaching at a four-year school. Sure, I teach five sections per semester, and, yeah, I teach much more comp than most of my colleagues in tenure-track positions elsewhere, but, in the end, we all spend several hours a week standing in front of a crowd of 18-24 year-olds and even more time grading papers that we wish were better. College teaching is college teaching, I tell myself, and the rest is just details. At certain times during the semester, however, I am confronted with the reality of just how different teaching at a community college (well, at my CC, at least) is. And surely the worst of these times is inservice week.

When I first got the job, I didn't really understand what they meant by "inservice." I had gone through the public schools, so I was familiar with the term, but I always assumed that "inservice" days in public schools were simply an opportunity for teachers to hang posters and design ingenious torture devices. I didn't see how either of these activities was relevant to college teaching (which, after all, I had been doing in graduate school for several years without any "inservice"). But at the time, I was so happy to get the job that I didn't complain. In fact, I kinda enjoyed reporting to work a week before classes that first semester. It gave me time to find the library, get my email account set up, and learn which administrative assistants held the true power on campus.

Since that time, however, I have grown progressively resentful of the week we spend in inservice each semester. Don't get me wrong; I really don't mind coming to work a week early. Okay, I mind a little. But the week does give me a discrete chunk of time to get the kinks worked out of my syllabi, clean up my office, etc.. The resentment I feel has to do with the way inservice is handled at HHCC. One of my complaints is that nobody seems to know what is expected of faculty during the week of inservice. For nine years now (eighteen inservice weeks all told), I've been asking about the required hours for faculty during the week. There are no classes, of course, and no real need for regular office hours. Each time I've asked, it's been made clear to me that faculty are expected to "be there" during inservice. Specifics, however, are difficult to come by. One semester I was told that faculty are simply expected to attend any called meetings and should be generally "accessible" beyond that. One semester I was told that faculty should spend a "significant" amount of time on campus during inservice. One semester I was told that faculty are expected to be in their offices from 8:00 to 4:00 for the whole week. Though I found that requirement to be excessive, I was actually relieved to have gotten a straight answer for once. Then I found out that the person I had asked was wrong; no such requirement existed. This semester I was told that faculty must be on campus each day during the inservice week, but that specific hours for attendance were up to the department chair. When I asked my chair, she told me that as long as she didn't receive any complaints about faculty being absent, she didn't care when we were around. The result of this vagueness, for me at least, is an inevitable sense of guilt that I'm not fulfilling expectations, no matter how much time I spend on campus. Fun way to start the semester.

The much bigger problem with inservice, however, is that it highlights the gulf between the things the faculty care about and the things the school (or, more properly, the administration) cares about. One of the only constants in inservice requirements, for example, is the Monday morning session. First we hear from the college president, sort of a state of the union address. This semester, the president's address focused on an upcoming bond election, something that at least nominally interests the faculty. Things quickly went downhill from there, however. We had half an hour on the college accreditation process (though our next accreditation visit doesn't occur for four years). We had half an hour on the registration process (though only a small portion of the faculty is involved in that process in any way). Then we had a short break, during which I entered into a conversation with a couple of other English faculty who are also teaching British Lit II this semester. We talked about what texts we were covering, how we planned on covering them, cool outside resources we had run across, and then...we were called back to the assembly hall for a half-hour session on electronic attendance verification (which we've been doing for more than two years now). It was physically painful to be pulled away from a productive conversation about pedagogy--which we rarely have time for once classes start--so that we could listen to an administrator remind us of things we already know and which are of marginal importance at best. But that's the crux, of course. To the administrator speaking, to the administration as a whole, electronic attendance verification undoubtedly is more important than a discussion about Dickens among a few English faculty members. To us, Dickens (or what that discussion represented) is the ball game.

On the bright side, however, I now feel extremely confident about verifying attendance electronically. And if I have any questions, I should have plenty of time this week to ask them.

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