Ruminations on community colleges

The Thinker by Rodin

Schools out! I teach a class in Web Page Design at Northern Virginia Community College and I gave the final exam today. Just as well because we are off to Hawaii on the 20th.

This is the fifth time I’ve taught a course and the fourth time I’ve teached this particular course. My students are a mixture of folk from all walks of life and all ages. I’ve taught people pushing 60, and one 16 year old kid. There are a fair number of immigrant types, housewives, working people and a number of people who have all the degrees they need and just audit the course.

But the pattern is about the same every semester. Things always start off well but invariably over the course of a semester about a third of the class will withdraw or drop out. There are students who show up for maybe one class and then stop coming and don’t care if they get an F in the class. There are a lot of students who it would seem don’t understand that this is a college course. Some seem to think it is still high school, or even grade school, because they consider reading and homework optional. If they can’t gleem the information from the slides I present and labs in class then too bad … even if they pay a grade penalty.

When I first started teaching I thought community colleges had a reputation of being a place where you get an easy grade. My mentor assured me that was not the case and I had to stick to my standards. I do. But it is discouraging to see how many students just done seem to care, or don’t understand that a course requires time and commitment. Has it always been this way and I never noticed? I am discouraged about the future of our work force.

Not that teaching doesn’t have its good times, but there are a lot of discouraging times. Nonetheless I keep at it because, frankly, it’s fun and it’s much more interesting than the sort of stuff I do for my primary paycheck. And it forces me to keep up with technology I would probably not apply in practice at work where I do project management.

I don’t think my course is all that hard. It’s by no means easy but compared to the courses I took in college it’s about average. Nonetheless I have a reputation of being a “hard” instructor. A’s are not a given. I feel grades should mean something and usually an A in my class does mean something … students have a real good grasp of the content I was teaching.

I mean my class is not half as hard as the least difficult course I took in grad school. And I realize I know the material and it’s largely new to my class.

Many are called to try college, but fewer seemed to be willing to invest the time it takes to earn a grade that demonstrates you understand the topic. That’s discouraging.

My very own blog

The Thinker by Rodin

I guess it’s time to share my opinions with the world. Not that I haven’t been doing that already. I share lots of opinions, mostly to captive audiences like family and members of my email lists, or people on my forum. But until now I had no way to reach the larger public out there … the sort of sit around in their underpants eating oatmeal while watching reruns of Barney … but now I have! And hopefully this is a good thing.

So it’s time I give this medium a try. If it works for my pal Lisa and she gets such joy out of it, maybe I will too.

Your guess as to what will appear here is as good as mine. I’m just a 45 year old guy living in suburbia, doing software engineering and project management for Club Fed (the federal government). But there should be enough to keep me stimulated and continue writing here because in many ways I live an out of place existence. I’m a liberal in a community up to its eyeballs in Republicans and people driving to get groceries in monster SUVs while living in huge McMansions with tiny little lawns. Yes, the dictotomy of my observations compared to the way things really work gives me plenty of things to post here to the world. I doubt you will be bored.