Gateway

Of all the retirement gigs I have enjoyed, none have been as satisfying as my time teaching community college. As noted in a previous post, I taught chemistry (the central science, “the toughest course in high school”, etc.). Community college was a valuable start in higher education for a couple of my family members.

Without this sounding like a poorly written resume, I taught courses in three different systems in Maryland and Virginia, all as an “adjunct professor”, spanning about two decades. This fancy, high sounding title has been called the “stoop labor” of the industry. It didn’t pay all that well, there was no tenure in any meaningful sense, and no job security. It was, however, the highlight of my working career.

I also taught in high school for several years, including a year of Virginia Governors.School. I taught undergraduates for a year or two at what is now called University of Mary Washington. My students at the various “junior colleges”, though, were special to me. As a group, these people tend to be a little older. Many had been through the school of hard knocks. They were more focused on why they were there, and what they wanted as a professional goal. Near the end of my “career”, I taught mainly nurse wannabees. The course was titled ”Chemistry for Nurses “, and was the only chemistry course needed to qualify as an RN. (By contrast, a niece of mine took several chemistry courses at Villanova University in the mid-70s for her degree). To further add insult, the course had no laboratory!

These kids (pardon me for use of the term; at my age, anybody under age 60 or so is a kid to me) had more complicated lives and struggles than most late-teen undergrads. I tried to be as flexible with assignments as I could be. One overarching characteristic of most of them was “hustle”. They were anxious to better their professional lives.

I had a few rules:

-No question is stupid, except the ones you censor yourself from asking.

-I assigned homework problems. You didn’t need to do them, unless you were interested in succeeding. Exams were based on the assigned problems.

-Exams were open book. Life is an open book. Having to memorize physical constants and facts is a waste of brain power.

-What to call me? Mister, or Professor. Don’t call me “Doctor”. I haven’t earned it, and I worked for a living.

Unfortuntely, I saw a lengthy article in The Washington Post earlier this week. Seems like community college enrollment is down nationwide. The pandemic may have something to do with this. I sure hope so. We need all the help we can get. Now that we seem, as a nation, to have loosened restraints on participation by women in professions, it’s time to get guys back into the game. Our survival as a species may very well depend on it. Male participation has been dropping in the professions, dating back to when I was teaching. (When I was hired to teach in high school, lack of participation by girls in science classes was flagged to me as a problem). Have times ever changed!

The drop in enrollment in these institutions comes as proposals are being considered at the federal level to provide free (or reduced) tuition. This is part of increasing awareness of our need for skilled workers. Back in my day, more than a half century ago, high school graduation was sufficient for most occupations paying a livable wage. This just doesn’t cut it anymore.

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