Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NMDS Archive: Hindsight: What You Can Learn from My First Year, Part II (2015 Edition)

Editor's Note: On Friday, we'll hold the final event in this year's New Member Discussion Series program, titled “The Art of the A-Form: What You Can Learn from My First Promotion Cycle” (Mildred Green Room, Babylon Student Center, 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.). I hope to see many of you at this event; while this event doesn't aim to replace the Promotion Workshop in terms of information and resources, I believe it will help dispell fears and myths surrounding the promotion process by providing useful anecdotes from newly promoted faculty. (ALSO: Stay around the Mildred Green Room from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. for The Write Time -- our final attempt to set aside time for scholarship before finals arrive!)

Last semester, we began the New Member Discussion series with an event titled, "Hindsight: What You Can Learn from My First Year."  The following is Jill Malik's paper on the topic.

See you soon! 

-- SKG

Hindsight: What You Can Learn from My First Year

by Jill Malik, Instructor, Social Science

Thank you to Sarah Gutowski for inviting me to share my first year experience at Suffolk County Community College (SCCC). 
Before starting my first full-time year teaching at SCCC, I was an adjunct at both the Ammerman and Grant campuses. For me, this carried both pros and cons. My biggest “pro” column item was that I felt that I had a fairly decent gauge on the SCCC student population and what our students' specific needs and challenges are. My biggest “con” item was that I underestimated the disparity between a part-time and a full-time teaching load. 

Also, I had little-to-no idea as to what would be expected of me outside of the classroom. I didn’t know how my peers would react to me or how I’d fit into their well-established dynamics. I found myself in meetings where unfamiliar jargon was being thrown around as common, everyday language, leaving me feeling lost, and sometimes embarrassed. 

At times I questioned my own competence, my relative expertise, and my value to the department. Not because of any particular person or event, however; on the contrary, I feel fortunate to work with such intelligent, kind, humorous, and welcoming individuals and to be under the direction of an incredibly supportive Department Chair. Regardless, insecurity seeped in because of the “new-ness” of it all. I’d by lying if I said these feelings were entirely quashed; however, they are fewer-and-further between. I’ll take that as a “win!” 
So, how’d I get to this point? I’ve summarized a few notable moments from my time at SCCC in hopes that it helps your own transition: 
We're almost at the end, people!

You’ve just entered a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself.

Yes, academic burnout is a real thing. When educator responsibilities (e.g., professional development, expectations of student achievement, grading, lesson planning, advising) become overwhelming and chronically stressful, we often experience negative psychological and physical effects.

What can you do about this?
  •  Make realistic expectations for yourself and your students.
    • Talk to your colleagues if you are planning a new classroom activity or writing assignment. Bounce ideas off of each other to prevent or minimize unrealistic expectations.
    •  Realize now that this is an ever-evolving process. What “works” one semester (or even in one section of a class) may not work in another. Be flexible!
    • For me, the amount and type of assignments I had used when I was an adjunct for two classes per semester did NOT translate into a realistic full-time-with-overload teaching schedule. My first full-time semester more weeks than not grading over 200 papers each time. As a result, I had many sleepless nights. I pretty much cursed myself, asked myself “what WAS I THINKING?!” countless times, and vowed to never do that to myself again.
    • You may feel compelled (or obligated) to join a ton of committees at the start. My suggestion is that you start slow. Make it a goal to join one committee that you are genuinely interested in. Think about it: It’s easier to build and add responsibilities slowly, over time. It’s much harder to make a hundred changes all at once, do a mediocre-at-best job in them because you’re spread too thin, and then try to remove yourself from committees later on. Remember – marathon, not a sprint.
Jill Malik speaks to new faculty in September
  • Take time for yourself!
    • Put down the phone and step away from the computer. Now go do whatever it is that you enjoy – Perhaps it’s binge-watching your favorite television series, reading a good book, going to the gym or for a long run, yoga/meditation, or immersing yourself in a hobby. Don’t sacrifice, or underestimate, the importance of self-care. Self-care promotes a healthy state of mind and reduces chronic (long-term, “bad”) stress. 
  • Make time for family and friends!
    • Whether you’re a long island native or just moved here, your friends and family are your constant in a time when you’ve just embarked on your new employment journey. Lean on them if you need. Talk to them about how things are going. 
    • You have just joined the SCCC family, and that means you are meeting lots of new people, navigating coworker personalities, and seeing where exactly you fit in.  Likely, this excites some and terrifies others. Whatever end of the spectrum you are on, the people that have known you before this job are your constant in your recently-transitioning world.  

You are embarking on a new journey here at SCCC, use that to your advantage. 

    • A few weeks before I was hired full-time at SCCC, I had gone through some major life changes. I mean, pretty much a complete life overhaul. For me, that felt both exhilarating and anxiety-provoking. I decided to focus on the former --- make new connections, meet lots of people, network, mentor students, and wipe the slate clean. However, I probably overdid it at times – immersed myself TOO much into these tasks, and lost a little balance in the other activities in life that I cherish. So, it’s taken me time to find that work-life balance, but I think that’s normal – and also ever-changing as our work and life-demands rarely stay stagnant. So, be flexible and be honest with yourself as to what your own needs are. 

There are very few times in life that we get to have fresh starts --- this is one of them. 

    • Take what you’ve learned at your previous jobs, coworkers, mentors, institutions, schooling, etc. and use the best of those practices. But, also, leave any garbage behind.  
    • Your expertise is valuable. Often, once we have spent a long time either studying or mastering an area of interest, we don’t view our own knowledge and mastery as any special. The shine has worn off – we may assume others know it too. 
    • For example, my second semester I participated in a Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) workshop at the Grant campus. Before being approached by the TLC coordinator, I had no idea my experience and knowledge in Microsoft Excel could also serve as valuable tool for others (again, assumed that what I had learned years prior was “common knowledge”). Participating in the TLC was also a great way for meet to other individuals on campus as well as to feel like a useful asset to the Campus community. 

 Embrace the amazing opportunities ahead. 

    • For many of us, change is a scary thing. Learning a new task can feel daunting and overwhelming. Avoidance creeps in.  
    • Remember – you aren’t expected to know everything on day one (or, possibly ever)! Immerse yourself in new tasks and learn from mistakes. Be honest with yourself and with others about your strengths and weaknesses and keep evolving and pushing ahead. 
    • Ask questions. Observe other faculty members. My first semester I participated as peer classroom observer. I also asked this same coworker to observe my teaching alongside my department chair. Giving and receiving feedback was such a positive experience for the growth of my own pedagogical instruction. 

 Own it. 

    • At first blush, my last piece of advice seems simplistic. And, in some ways it is. However, in many other ways, this one is a forever work-in-progress.

As noted above, there will be lots of opportunities that come your way. What excites you? Likely, there’s some student club and/or campus committee that you could advise that will match your interest. 

  • Last year I became the advisor of the Social Science Club. Advising a club frightened me – I didn’t know ANY school policy, any of the current students, and I made many mistakes (and thank the staff at the Office of Campus Activities for their patience with me!) Some of my most rewarding student experiences were through this advising/mentoring process. Being their club advisor has allowed me to help create on-campus and off-campus activities for our students. I spent many of my “own” hours reaching out to members of the community to create partnerships and future opportunities for the club. Although the procedural club advisor stuff scared me, I owned it and I did the best job I could for the students. I found that because I was interested in the activities and events taking this extra time wasn’t a burden. Rather, it was something I enjoyed. And seeing the students’ positive reactions, 

Make a conscious effort to think about your main goals as an educator. 

  • What are your main goals in the classroom? What are your obligations to students? What are their obligations as students in your classroom? 
    • If you have clear answers to these questions, it will help govern your first year and beyond. Own what these are. Your answers may differ from your colleague’s and that’s okay! What one professor may view as “hand holding” another may view as “necessary.” 
    • It is probably good practice to reflect on these questions ever semester, or every year. They may change over time, and if so, own it…and then modify your teaching strategies to fit your and your students’ needs.
Again, welcome to SCCC! I hope you’ve found some of my ramblings helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me!

Friday, April 22, 2016

On Postmortem as Practice

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Program

In the theatre world, postmortems are critical discussions about or -- to use a phrase I'm sure we all LOVE -- assessments of a recent production, where everything about the process of staging that production is examined. Questions like What went right? What would we replicate? What went horribly, terribly, messily wrong and should be avoided at all costs next time? are asked and answered, and by the end of the session the members of the theatre company have a better understanding of what lead to the success (or, gulp, failure) of that production, a kind of wisdom they can then apply to their next big venture.
RIP little blooms. You did not survive that cold snap.
I'm a co-chair for an annual Creative Writing Festival and Conference that we hold at Suffolk, and every year we hold a postmortem for the week of events and the culminating Conference Day. Some postmortems are more successful than others -- because the festival occurs so close to the end of the academic year, it can be difficult to schedule a meeting at which all of our 1,264 committee members can attend. (Obviously, that's a little bit of hyperbole. But sometimes it feels like our tri-campus committee has that many members! Particularly when we're attempting to get them all in one room.)

What I've noticed over the years is that this practice -- the idea for which came from some source unremembered by me now -- is exceedingly helpful and can result in real, practical, purposeful change. We've been holding the festival for almost ten years, and every postmortem has resulted in a meaningful, and often very successful, change in the way we organize and run the weekly events and culminating conference.

Sometimes the changes occur because of seemingly innocuous observations, and sometimes they spring from really obvious, somewhat painful experiences during the most recent event. The key to their effectiveness, however, has usually stemmed from timing: It's important to hold a postmortem soon after the event, not later. We actually held our postmortem for last year's April festival when we returned to school in September  . . . and while we managed to have a good meeting and DID create some positive changes, it was a strain to remember all of the details that many months after the fact. Also, I'm almost positive that there were things about the 2015 festival that we really wanted to avoid repeating, or aspects of that year's conference that SHOULD have been repeated, and weren't when 2016 rolled around, simply because we didn't make a note of it. This year, we're going to attempt to hold the postmortem within the next two weeks -- before we all forget about what happened and get lost in finals and graduation and summer classes and summer scholarship. 

As I'm planning this meeting, however, I'm acutely aware that I need to hold my own one-woman postmortem, too -- regarding my "performance" in all the various roles I play as a faculty member of SCCC. This habit of evaluating your own performance over a academic year, privately and quietly -- and on a slightly different, more frequent schedule than our promotion cycle (which can also be a helpful self-examination tool) -- can be a way to steadily and consistently tweak your day to day work habits, your pedagogical practices, and your approach to professional development.

Of course, doing a kind of self-examination like this can take time. I mean, if it takes an hour meeting to discuss a week-long festival, then it's natural to assume evaluating an entire year would take longer, right? I suggest, then, beginning the process now -- even though the semester and year isn't entirely over. Break the task up into parts, and have faith that this is a necessary and productive process -- sometimes, I think just having the intention to do the process can be fruitful: the idea germinates at the back of your mind while you administer finals or begin other end-of-academic-year tasks, and eventually that idea will push its way to the forefront and initiate action, even if you fail to write it down.

Ultimately, though, I'm suggesting you write stuff down. It's just easier to remember your ideas this way.

First -- and this is the part I would suggest doing over the next few weeks when you have 5 minutes or so -- list all of the various aspects of your job. What do you daily? Weekly? Monthly? Are you on committees? Which committees? Write them down. What role do you play in those committees? Write that down, too. Are you an advisor? Have you been pulled onto a search committee? (And then been forced to go on hiatus . . .  but that's for another post, yes?) How many classes did you teach, and which ones? Bring out those copies of your schedule of assignments for this task, too. Did you follow your schedule? Did you have to adjust for sick days, or because of your student's progress? What kind of quizzes, tests, and papers did you administer?

At this point, you're not assessing/examining/questioning the quality of anything: not those tests, not those paper assignments, not even that committee where you know you played Minesweeper under the table on your phone at each meeting while Big Shot ______ rambled on and on and on. You're simply trying to remember -- what did I do this year? That's all -- what did you DO?

Then -- when finals and student papers have been graded and our annual epic graduation ceremony has been withstood survived gleefully and gladly attended -- THEN set aside some quiet time to briefly (don't make this painful) think about each item on your list and ask: HOW did I do, when I did all of this? Am I satisfied with how this played out? Would I want a different result if I relived that experience again? (Because, honestly, a lot of what happens in academia is circular and will happen again, for good or ill.)

IF you think of a way to correct or alter any aspect of your job while you're working on this part, then by all means, WRITE IT DOWN. A quick note, however sloppily written, will preserve that idea so that later, when you're ready, you can take action.

If you get through this "What Did You Do?" part and you feel exhausted, as if you just worked the academic year all over again, you'll need to take a break. Like, a LONG break. But first circle the one or two areas of your job that clearly need some attention. (Just one or two -- you could try three, but really, what are you, an overachiever?) 

Then put the list in a clean/tidy part of your desk (this will be difficult for me), and leave it there until late July or August when you begin your prep for the new academic year. (Or, you know, the second week of September, if you're a professional procrastinator.) Chances are, when you were "taking a break," those hidden parts of your mind were working on solutions and suggestions for those problem areas.

Don't be alarmed or stressed if you don't fix everything right away -- some years you're like, I rocked that thing! and other years you're like, Do I still have a job? How do people still trust me? These are the highs and lows of any career -- the key to longevity is realizing you can only do so much. Do what you can, be patient with yourself, and know that somethings will get done now, and others later, and that it might take several attempts to get things right.

I laugh as I write that last paragraph, because honestly, I'm still one of those "Hey, I'll do EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW" people who end up sometimes (often) asking, Do I still have a job? How do people still trust me?

ANYWAY. The point of this post is to remind us that just as we request feedback from our peers and colleagues whenever we complete projects at work, we should be "requesting" regular feedback from ourselves. 

So, the recap:
  1. Write down "who you are" -- each and every role at the college.
  2. Write down what you did in each of those roles over the course of the year.
  3. Evaluate: How'd you do in each of those roles? 
  4. Decide: What will you work on next year? (ONE OR TWO ITEMS. Don't break the rules!)
  5. Take a break. Put the list away (but remember where you put it). 
  6. Remember the list. Take it out, and begin to brainstorm actions -- achievable goals, people -- for those areas that need attention and revision.
And hey, if it rings your bell, call it self-assessment or whatever the latest pedagogical buzzword is making the rounds as a synonym for quiet, pragmatic reflection . . . just know that taking a moment or two to review the past year can result in more effective, more productive, and more enjoyable future years in your career at Suffolk.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Practical Matters: Grievance, Arbitration, and now, Mediation!

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program
I'd like to think that your first academic year here at SCCC has gone smoothly and that you've found your working conditions here optimal. Also, I'd hope that if you've run into anything problematic, you've addressed your concerns with your mentor first and they've provided you with some sound and useful advice for tackling the problem.

Dogwood. (Dogwood? Sure. Dogwood.)
If you ever run into a problem that seems larger than your mentor, academic chair, or department supervisor can handle -- specifically, one that includes a violation of our contract -- OR, if your academic chair or department supervisor is part of the problem (fingers crossed, that won't be the case) -- that's an appropriate time to ask the FA's Grievance Officer, Dante Morelli, about filing a grievance.
Any member of the bargaining unit -- even those who aren't voting union members -- may be represented by the union when he or she files a grievance. Just remember that timeliness is a real and pressing issue; if you're going to file a grievance, you need to do so within 30 days of when you noticed the violation (or should have noticed the violation).
Once the grievance has been filed, the FA will work to settle the matter satisfactorily through arbitration. But if you're someone who'd like to avoid the grievance and arbitration process, the FA has a brand new Conflict Mediation Program (CMP) to help you do just that.  

The CMP assists its members in addressing conflict proactively and confidentially before problems become bigger problems. Several FA members, all of whom undergo intensive training, are available to provide neutral, judgment-free, confidential mediation between members, or between members and administration or staff, in a confidential, safe space. Did I mention that it's confidential? Everyone involved must sign a confidentiality agreement.

For more information about the CMP, contact Dante Morelli at 451-4963.

Note that most grievances don't approach arbitration because they can be resolved beforehand -- sometimes through the CMP and sometimes less formally -- but if they do go to arbitration (and the FA decides which grievances go to arbitration and which do not), your union will be there for you.