Monday, September 30, 2013

Observations, PPCs, and CPCs

by Sarah Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program
You may be so busy at the moment, so caught up in the semester, that you failed to notice September 21 marked the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. If you missed the actual date of the solstice, then maybe you were reminded of autumn by the changing color of the leaves, the slightly cooler weather, and/or the gradual shortening of the days. OR you may have been reminded by another harbinger of fall: the scheduling of observations.
Changing Leaves, Eastern Campus
By now, whether you are teaching or non-teaching faculty, you may have received an email from your academic chair or direct supervisor alerting you to the fact that you’ll be observed at some point during the next few weeks. (If you haven’t yet, be on the lookout). Observations in your first semester are routine (you are being considered for retention – not promotion or continuing appointment/tenure – at this point) and conducted according to our contract.
Being observed, much like beginning a new job, involves LOTS OF FORMS – only this time, you aren’t the one filling out the forms! Yay! (There’s just that little matter of having someone watch your every move for a select period of time . . .but no big deal, right?) These forms are all kept neatly for you to peruse on the FA’s website. If you scroll down the page you’ll see two different dropdown boxes. The one on the left holds all of the blank forms, ready to be downloaded and filled out. The one on the right holds all of the sample promotion forms, so you can get an idea of what your own promotion form will look like one day.
When you are contacted regarding your observation, your supervisor will provide you with the names of your department’s Peer Personnel Committee (PPC) members. These are colleagues you can request to be present during your observation, because – again, according to the contract – you have “a right to be evaluated by a colleague within [your] own discipline.”  He or she will observe you and fill out the “B” form (your direct supervisor/academic chair will fill out the “C” form).
You aren't required to do this, but I recommend -- the FA recommends, just about anyone would recommend -- that you do this. First, it makes good sense to have a second perspective where retention, promotion, and continuing appointment is concerned; and second, I've always found it valuable, in terms of fine-tuning my teaching and/or professional development, to have feedback from more than one person, and I think you'll find it valuable, too.
And by the way, you have a College Personnel Committee representative. If he or she hasn’t contacted you yet, you and your CPC rep should have a chat, so look him or her up and send him or her an email, because he or she will need copies of all those observation forms – your supervisor’s, and your peer’s. The CPC reps, like your Peer Personnel Committee members, are there to help you, offer advice as necessary, and act as watchdogs during the observation & promotion process – one of their charges is “to attempt to ensure that all personnel actions are fair and unbiased.”
And as we said in the orientation, that first promotion can arrive faster than you think. Take a look at the rest of the FA’s promotion page so that when it does arrive, you’re not completely taken aback with surprise.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Guest Post: Some Experiences From the Front Line of Battle

by Glenda Denicolo, Ammerman Campus Coordinator, New Member Mentoring Program
Editor’s Note:  SKG here! Lest you become weary of hearing from me (and enduring my flagrant abuse of parentheticals and exclamation points), I thought that occasionally I’d mix things up on the blog by bringing new voices to you. I’m especially pleased to announce that our first guest post comes from the Ammerman Campus’ New Member Program Coordinator Glenda Denicolo, who makes me exceedingly jealous by being one of those people who can master the languages of math and science while also excelling at the written word. Enjoy!
I was asked to write something about my experiences in the college, and most recently what is on my mind is the “art” of professor-student interaction in class. By no means I intend to tell you what to do in class – we all have our very valuable academic freedom. I just want to share what has worked for me.
Caumsett Hall, Grant Campus
I love stories of war and strategy, so I have this irresistible impulse to use them for comparison. The classroom is not supposed to be an inhospitable place like a battlefield, even though I bet, at some point during the semester, all of us will eventually detect an atmosphere of mutiny in class (for example, after a test). This is first and foremost the battle against lack of sense of responsibility, and ignorance of the rules. These are some of the “strategies” that have helped me ease the tensions in class, and move through the semester much more smoothly and enjoyably with my students.
The most efficient strategy I have adopted soon after I started teaching at SCCC was to write a well tied down course outline. I have improved it over the years, worked on constraining several loopholes students were still able to find, included a disclaimer that contains a pep talk about taking responsibility for their results and grades. Nowadays I even ask my students to sign a slip at the end of the outline attesting they are aware and understand all the information contained in that document. Our department chair says I have a lawyer-proof outline, which I find pretty funny. These well-established “rules of the game”, or “our contract” (!), as sometimes I explicitly refer to it in class, have straightened up the students’ expectations about my class, and calmed down the nerves in general. Of course little reminders need to be administered during the semester, and at strategic moments as well. It works for me.
A website for the class has also proven to be a very important and rather strategic tool. It may be in D2L, or hosted at a college server: I use both. I post a list of relevant books available at the library on reserve; the schedule for our student Help Center; my schedule; link to the Physics Club website; links to other websites pertinent to the class. The grades are posted in D2L, avoiding FERPA issues (otherwise we basically we cannot communicate grades/performance unless face-to-face with students). This tool has been important for my classes. It places the charge on the students again: they are responsible for keeping track of their own progress at all times during the semester.
The next best strategy, I would say, are weekly assignments, which are to be collected and graded. The more feedback a student gets, the better his/her performance. Also, students will have fewer complaints because practice will really help them understand what you want. I am very aware that it can be a lot of material to grade every weekend. I have been using online homework assignments lately, for certain classes. My homework assignments are all about solving problems, so sometimes I roll a die in class, in front of the students, and select only one question to carefully examine and grade, while I make sure students receive the answers and solutions to all other remaining questions as well (this is mostly done in higher level courses, not entry-level classes). There is no easy way out with laboratory reports though; I must read everything.
I was writing this on the weekend of my birthday, which I celebrated with a Sunday brunch. We do not consider ourselves brunch aficionados (ha!), but my husband suggested –as this blog can contain all sorts of information (like the edition of the Underground) to help you adjust to SCCC and surroundings, that I post a list of our top brunch places so far. Hey, a battle soldier needs to rest too! Here is the short list:
  • Mirabelle Tavern, Stony Brook
  • Danfords Hotel, Port Jefferson
  • Lombardi’s on the Sound, Port Jefferson
  • Windows on the Lake, Lake Ronkonkoma
  • Cooperage Inn, Baiting Hollow (for this and the next: thank you, Chris Scott!)
  • The Milleridge, Hicksville

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Student Activities and Clubs

by Sarah Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program
Yesterday, I met with members of the student club I advise for the first time this semester. I’m brand new to my campus (I transferred from Ammerman to Eastern) and so I’m also brand new to the club. Our meeting was part “get to know you” session and part planning session for the year’s activities, and on the whole, I think it was fairly productive. I left our meeting with a better idea about the interests, commitments, concerns, and experience of the students at the Eastern campus than I’d gathered from my experience in the classroom over these first two weeks of school. It was eye-opening, and also energizing. I’m looking forward to working with them over the coming year.

Pine and Sky, Eastern Campus

This isn’t my first time as a club advisor, though. For several years on the Ammerman Campus, I’ve co-advised a student writing group that meets to workshop their poetry, short stories, and plays outside of a classroom setting.  My experiences as an advisor at Ammerman made me eager to become involved with Student Activities on the Eastern Campus, so when Cynthia Eaton asked if I’d like to take over as advisor to the campus literary magazine (a student group she’s ably advised for several years now), I jumped at the opportunity.
I encourage all of you to consider being a student activities advisor as well, and if you’re presented with the opportunity to do so – well, jump at it. All three of our campuses offer our student body a richer, more diverse college experience by providing numerous activities throughout the semester – and by facilitating and supporting a number of different student clubs and organizations. Being an advisor can help you learn so much more about our students than time in the classroom can – and I say this after receiving lots of really personal personal essays in Freshman Comp.
PAs, Specialists, Counselors, and faculty can become more involved with student life by being an advisor to a student club or organization. Not only is this a wonderful way to mentor students, it’s also a good way to garner some campus-wide service you can cite on your application for promotion.
As an advisor, you’ll need to assist the club officers when necessary (you aren’t required to attend all the meetings, although the presence of an advisor is necessary for any off-campus excursions the club may make). You’ll attend an Officer and Advisor meeting during Common Hour once a month. You’ll sign some forms. You’ll be invited to a lovely, catered Student Awards Ceremony at the end of the year. And that’s about all the heavy-lifting that’s involved, unless you’d like to be more active.
The Ammerman Campus in particular needs faculty and staff advisors for student clubs, so if you’re located on the Ammerman campus and you’re interested in becoming involved, contact Frank Vino at x4814. If you are located on the Eastern campus and would like to become involved, call x2522 and let Chris Conzen know you’re available to advise; likewise, if you’re on Grant, call x6702.
Lastly, I’ll say this: Because the college is changing constantly to accommodate the needs of our students and community, our roles and requirements as faculty and staff are changing constantly, too. You may find that you’ll join some committees your first year or second year and that by your seventh year, you’ll either be chairing those committees or you’ll find yourself on entirely different committees.
Well, I began co-advising The Society of Writers back when I was an adjunct faculty member. Over the years – after being hired as full time faculty and going through the process of two promotion cycles – the one item that’s never changed on my promotion applications is my role as an advisor. I love mentoring students, and I’ve found the experience extremely rewarding. It’s a fantastic way for us -- new and “senior” members alike – to connect with our students in a meaningful way.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On Purpose

by Sarah Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program

Welcome to the inaugural post of the FA’s blog for New Members! As you may remember from the little speech I gave at Orientation . . . way, way back on August 27 (doesn’t it seem so very long ago?) . . . this year I’m replacing an old tradition of sending out email blasts during the months of October and March with weekly posts to a blog hosted by the Faculty Association.
These posts will have much of the same information you would have received during the email blasts, but my hope is that they will be a little more timely and a little less overwhelming than an email-a-day during two isolated months of the year . . . and therefore a little more useful to you. The FA’s New Member Program, after all, stems from the FA’s intent to be useful to its members beyond the business of contract negotiations.

Hover Fly, Eastern Campus
This is one of the reasons I like, genuinely and without pretense, being a part of the New Member Program. I find it purposeful, and not just in a blanket-statement, yay-for-the-union, cheerleading kind of way. As I stress to all of my new students during our first class meetings: I loathe busy work. It’s beneath me to give out that kind of work, and it should be beneath them to accept that from their college professor. Likewise, I’m uninterested in performing service at the college simply because someone said, “Hey, you know what? This will be good for promotion.” Far too often, service in higher education is created and accepted reflexively, a knee-jerk reaction to a culture that assumes – surprisingly, oddly – that a legion of intelligent, self-motivated, highly learned and skilled employees will fall in line with a system that dangles title and salary like bait before them.

Of course, too often we find ourselves leaping for the bait.

That might sound like it’s coming from a kind of dark, jaded place deep down within my psyche, and perhaps at one point it did spring from such a place, and perhaps you’re thinking right now, “Wow, Gutowski. Isn’t that a little heavy for the first full week of school?” Mmmm, perhaps. But I would counter that perhaps there is no better time than now, as we begin this new academic year, in new jobs, among new colleagues, to remember that we can have it both ways. We can do what is required of us, contractually and as professional members of an institution of higher learning, (and because we do, after all, wish to get that promotion and pay raise) – but we can do so with intent, cautiously and intelligently.

For instance, eventually you’ll make your way to one of the Promotion Workshops held on your campus and you’ll hear Sean Tvelia, the FA’s new Vice President, tell you to focus on your teaching during your first year. He’ll tell you – as Kevin Peterman once told my own new member cohort – to save the committee work for your sophomore year, and the years that follow.

This is good advice. It’s going to prove difficult to follow, though, if you’re an engaged, enthusiastic, friendly sort of colleague (and I’m trusting you are, because our search committees look for just such kinds of people). The more you get to know your colleagues, and the more they get to know you, the more you’ll find yourself asked to participate in one activity here, which will lead to another commitment there, which will result in your joining one committee here, and yet another committee there. Eventually, if you’re not careful, by your second year you’ll find yourself on four departmental committees, three campus committees and two college-wide committees and absolutely no free common hours between Halloween and commencement.

Not that I would know anything about that. ** cough **
I’m not trying to persuade you to “do nothing.” Absolutely not! In fact, I think that apathy or ambivalence often can be more damaging and soul-sucking than over-commitment and burnout. Instead, I’m advocating – as someone who has tread this path before, as someone who is still walking this path toward promotion and the Fulfilling Career (caps necessary) – to walk this walk carefully, and at a pace with which you’re comfortable.
How does one do that? Remember to give yourself space to think about whether or not you want to invest your time and energy in any particular task. If someone asks you to be on a committee, or to participate in a long-term project, request a week’s grace period to consider.
But first, ask lots of questions. Make sure you know exactly what the committee or project would require of you in terms of meetings (including how long the meetings will be and where they will be located), workload, and expertise. Highlight the pros, and figure out if there are any cons to such a commitment: ask your mentor for his or her input, and talk to more senior colleagues and see what they know about the committee or the project in question, and take note of their perspectives.

Also, trust your instincts. If someone asks you to participate in a project, and you feel as if you have no business being there – you probably don’t.

This isn’t to discourage you from taking risks or from working outside of your comfort zone. By now, we all know that lots of people discover new loves and new talents when they push themselves to try something new, right? But there’s a difference between trying something new that excites and energizes you, and doing something that someone else decided would be good for you and for the college – especially if that something makes your stomach turn when you think about it. Prize your autonomy, and protect it. Don’t join a project because someone else said you should.

And try, if you can, to avoid joining a committee only because you need its particular kind of service. This college is constantly changing -- developing, evolving -- as all good institutions of higher learning should. The needs of the college are constantly going to be in flux and varied in number, but one thing that won’t change is the college’s need for its members to provide service.

For instance, maybe a year before you’re allowed to apply for promotion, you realize you lack any real campus-wide experience. Don’t go jumping into any old campus-wide commitment just because you need it and you fear you won’t have the opportunity again. You can always postpone applying for promotion – and move at your own pace. After all, there will always be work to do. There will always be another opportunity. And if you give yourself enough space and time to breathe, both literally and metaphorically, you may find that you’re the one who creates that opportunity.

I’m inspired and motivated when I see a colleague immerse him or herself in a project thoroughly, and with conviction and enthusiasm, because he or she has a clear idea of the project’s purpose. Over the past few years, I’ve tried to navigate my own career at the college with that kind of clarity and conviction. As you begin your own careers at SCCC, I wish for you that same drive, that same eagerness, that same palpable and irrepressible sense of purpose.

Have a happy and successful fall semester.

(Next week’s blog post will be more “nuts and bolts.” And shorter! Yay for shorter!)