Monday, November 17, 2014

The Sting of Being on the Losing Side of Priorities

Second guessing is always bad business because what's been done is over. No changing what's over.

But I can't help it, now that my career that never really was is winding down.

I have some regret about entering the humanities, teaching English, with all the "soft" and abstract work that the field implies. Nothing solid has come of it, except one book that never really took off, and one course I helped design to give at risk students a better chance to succeed.

As a teacher, I went to the margins, the place where "at risk" students hang out, rather than to the "top" where the honors students reside. I wanted to work with the ones who might not make it in the university system, cruel as it sometimes is. They usually were the students who came from lower socio-economic (read "poor") status, had less than the best experiences with school, and, in Tucson, did not always have the advantage of English as a first language.

I believed in writing, passionately; I felt, and still feel, that learning to write could change a life.

I worked with others to set up a course that would give extra help to the students who did not place into "regular" classes. I won't bore you with the details, but the course cut time to graduation, increased achievement, and helped retain diverse students (read non-white).

It also cost the university more per student, an investment that the university was willing to make ten years ago.

But, like many good, effective programs (with data to support the effectiveness and a national award from the Council on Basic Writing) that make bean counters wonder where the money goes, the program has been re-classified. Teachers will no longer be paid for the full course work, the extra time with smaller groups.

Teachers who work with the course will basically be asked to volunteer time to help students.

Of course, the teachers who work with this course are not tenured or highly placed faculty. They can't afford to work for free, even if they would like to. They are the ones who do much of the university teaching that higher ranked faculty find onerous (more time with students, more grading, more prep time, more hands-on, face-to-face interaction, more case-by case problems with attendance because students have family and work and transportation issues).

It's a harder course than honors courses to teach. The students come to class with a wider range of outside issues that teachers have to attend to.

But the administration doesn't see that or take that into account when keeping the books.

So, the course has been weakened, is on the rocks, and, likely will die a slow death on the vine.

Those students will end up going to community colleges or just to work.

It's just the poor, brown, red, black -- and white -- kids, so is not a high priority for big bucks.

And, the course is the only thing I will be leaving behind when I get out of my low rung job at the University of Arizona.

It's been a frustrating career, for which I take responsibility. I made my decisions and they were not money-making or career building decisions. That's just the way it is.

But the kids, the students, the loss for them and the rest of us because of the contributions they might have made.... that stings.

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