First off, I apologize for the lengthy delay between posts. Starting back to school this week caused me to spend last week preparing and this week teaching. It always seems to happen. The genesis of this post came from conversations on Facebook and in person with my esteemed colleague and fellow blogger AJP. You can check out his (far more eloquent) take on the subject here. I have the utmost respect for Professor AJP as a teacher, scholar, and an all around human being. We are both in agreement on the importance of community colleges in general and teaching at them in particular. What follows is why I love community colleges and their students. In the interest of full disclosure, I must also state that I do not have a PhD and so some might dismiss what I say because I cannot be a university professor. I respectfully submit to you that even if I had a PhD from Harvard AND from Yale, I'd still be at a community college!
Like AJP, I was also a community college student once upon a time. In fact, I now teach at one of the schools I attended as a student alongside one of the greatest history professors in the country, who I was fortunate enough to have as a student! No doubt that makes him feel old. In fact, he threatens to retire every time he sees me. By attending a CC, I was able to save thousands of dollars and shave an entire semester off of my total college experience. Though I received an excellent education at Sam Houston State (Eat em up Kats!), the professors I had at my CC were equal to or in some cases superior. As were the classes.
There is a perception out there that students only go to community colleges because they are not smart enough to go to a university. Nothing can be further from the truth! Sure, freshmen college students are trying to figure out the world, but that is the same at any institution of higher education. With the skyrocketing tuition costs, community colleges have remained more affordable than their university counterparts and thus many students who might have gone to a four year school in decades past now go to a community college first. I would stack the kids I've taught against those at any university in the state with no hesitation.
Another cool thing about community colleges is the variety of students that you get. In a single class, I'll have 16 year old dual credit students, 18 year old college freshmen, 24 year old combat veterans, and a 45 year old who is returning to college. They all have something to contribute and this makes classes so much more engaging. I firmly believe that as a professor, I can learn from my students just as much as they can learn from me. They also learn from each other. It is my job to nurture a safe classroom environment where we respect each other's differences and our different opinions. You don't get quite the same variety at a university. They all bring life experiences that make for a more rich classroom dynamic. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Community colleges are teaching driven. Faculty members are not under pressure to publish articles, books, etc, though if they want to they certainly can. Excellence in teaching is what they strive for. After all, a college can only exist if it has students and students go there to learn. (And maybe go to a party or two!) I never cease to be amazed at the quality of many of my colleagues. By that, I mean good quality! To sit and listen to them talk about pedagogy and their classes, you can fully understand how much teaching means to them. I've learned so much from them that pushes me to be a better teacher myself. There is a true bond that exists, particularly among adjunct instructors.
And finally, we have the students. I love my kids. All of them. Even the ones that send emails that start off with "I know I didn't turn in the assignment, but...". Given my physical disability and my issues with PTSD, it would be easy for me to sit at home and feel sorry for myself. However, I have classes of students that need me. They can pick up on when I am having a tough day pain wise and they go out of their way to help. Going to class and spending three hours with each class per week gives me something to look forward to. It exercises my mind and body. That is important as it helps make everything more manageable. My students mean so much to me, more than they will ever know. I do not think I could make it without them.
Once upon a time I took an oath to protect and defend. I no longer do that with a badge and gun, but my sense of duty and honor means that I am bound by that oath until the day that I die. These days, I look at my role as a community college professor as another way to fulfill that oath. Teaching grants me a certain measure of immortality. I could die tomorrow and there would be hundreds (actually it is probably well over a thousand by now) people running around out there who all have something in common. They had me as a teacher! So don't think of a community college as a place were dumb kids go or where professors go because they can't get jobs anywhere else. They are a viable part of our educational system and they will continue to be one in the future.
And speaking of community college students, please take a moment to check out a blog written by a community college student, future history professor, and distinguished student of Professor AJP. She is also a former Marine, a war widow, and an all around bada$$. Her only drawback is that she is a Houston Texans fan. You can find her blog here.
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who is proud to be a community college professor and prouder still of my students. I'm better off for having known them all.