U(W) Inspire Me

So happy to be back on the UW Colleges English Department Executive Committee, or as I like to think of it, Master Class in Teaching.

When people ask me, “so are you having fun on your break?” I say yes, because my time is more flexible between semesters and that allows more room and time for family and movies (and also doctor appointments, actually). Of course, fun is kind of a priority for me during the semester, too, so I would answer yes to the question most any week of the year.

But calling it a “break” is misleading because even though I’m not in class, I spend Christmas Week shifting between family and grading (since our semester doesn’t start until after Labor Day in the fall, grades are due after Christmas, and since part of what I’m usually grading are portfolios, I don’t grade super-fast). Once the New Year has rolled around, I’m usually finishing up my own activity report, and years when I’m on my department executive committee, I’m reading tenure and retention dossiers, which can be very, very long (hundreds of pages each). We once did the math and figured it added up to 80 hours of work in January. (Which explains why I’m not one of those stalwart workers who are always on the executive committee.)

But it is fun, or rather, in some ways, just an intensely pleasurable experience. So many of my tenure-track colleagues inspire me.

I hum Nick Lowe’s “You Inspire Me” to myself sometimes, reading their reflections on teaching, professional development (i.e., publishing and research), and service (i.e. 700 committees).

I keep two sets of notes as I’m reading. One set is on the particular professor–this is where a professor reflects on what is going well and what might need improvement. As a member of the Executive Committee, I reflect in two directions. I reflect on the professor’s teaching, but I also reflect on my own. Thus, the other set of notes is for myself–what I can learn, what I can do to make my own courses better. And it’s A LOT, what I can learn from them. Everything from how to comment on grammar errors to how to best ask students to work online to how to provide feedback before the final draft is due to…everything.

The UW Colleges is made up of 13 campuses, and we’re the 2-year college branch in the UW System tree. It would be lovely to see us mentioned in the local stories about President Obama’s call for making the first two years of college free. Here’s a story about how UW Madison researchers consulted with the president (which is great–Sara Goldrick-Rab does terrific work at the Wisconsin Hope Lab), but no mention that there are two-year colleges in the UW System.

The lack of mention is unfortunate. Tom Kleese, who used to be a terrific professor at UW-Richland before he turned his skills to helping students and parents navigate the college admissions process, had this to say:

“The UW Colleges are the perfect example of what this is for….I don’t know enough about funding or details, but I’m excited to see this on the table and hoping it sparks some productive discussion, not just positioning back and forth in the media, but actual dialogue about what we value as a citizens.” (You can learn more about Tom’s work online, at OnCampus College Planning.)

If we value student success, the UW Colleges should absolutely be part of the discussion. We have statistics that show students who start with us do better once they transfer than students who start at the four-year UW System institutions. And we’re the institution of access–our arms are open wide–so we are working with many students who are seriously under-prepared. They’re in the same class with valedictorians, which presents some teaching challenges.

In Wisconsin, valedictorians can go to any state school without paying tuition. One year my own campus, a very small campus indeed, had six valedictorians. We’re doing so many things right–here’s a recent article on how happy we are to be an international campus.

The tenure-track colleagues who’ve compiled the dossiers that absorb my time and attention for those 80 hours are all over Wisconsin at various of our two-year campuses. If you’re in Wisconsin, there’s one close to you. And if you’re lucky enough to be in class with my inspiring colleagues, you’re in very good hands.uwc-map

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