Category Archives: Fall 2019

Growing up with Students

Ying Chen
Adjunct Faculty, Biology

Teaching in a community college opened a new window for me. Before I started to teach in a community college, I taught clinical skills for medical students or medical courses for senior undergraduates in colleges from time to time. At that time, teaching wasn’t a hard task because my students would read their textbooks, take notes in the class, complete their home assignments on time, preview and review the course content before and after lectures, and prepare for their exams. Every student I had was highly self-motivated and knew how to achieve their goals. What I need to do is focus on teaching.

Teaching in a community college, I found I have a significant diversity of student populations. One group of students is incredibly smart and disciplined. They are the same type of students I met in the past: they have their goals and know how to achieve them. Another group of students also has goals, but they are struggling to work towards them. It was the first time I realize that I needed to teach something outside of course content. I am spending a lot of time talking to my students to dig into the reasons why they couldn’t learn well in the class, or in other words, what are the barriers holding them back. Some of them are very busy with their families, jobs, and academics, struggling with time management and active learning strategies. Some of them lack prerequisite knowledge for the course. Some of them lack good learning habits and time management skills.

To help students to improve their time management and learning strategies, I taught learning tips in my classes. I invited students who had done well in the exams or made vast improvement to share their learning experience in the class. I also formed study groups outside classes. In the meantime, I referred them to academic success coaches.

To help students to gain prerequisite knowledge for the course, besides my office hours, I referred them to Learning Commons and professional tutors. I also recommended the free online resources to help them catch up. In the meantime, I also took care of a group of students who learn well. I delivered materials and carry on activities beyond the course level to meet their learning capabilities.  I provided extra credits to encourage them to learn more.

In one semester, I found one student’s scores slide down suddenly. I asked her, and she told me her mom was diagnosed with cancer recently. She needed to take care of her mom and was struggling to decide which treatment would work best for her mom. I guided her to research the pros and cons of different treatments from “Center for Disease Control” and “PubMed “webs, run by National Institutes of Health. In the IDEA, she wrote,” I loved this course… My life is better having taken this class, something I can’t say very often…” 

I am growing not only in my teaching experience but also in advising experience. My students and I both get to grow as people throughout the semesters, and I am always learning new things. That is one of the reasons why I enjoy teaching.
 

The Psych Student

Darius Long
Adjunct Instructor, Fitness and Wellness

As a first-year teacher, I really did not know what to expect since I would be working more independently. What I do know is that I wanted to be a tool for the students to be successful. Currently, my job is a lab instructor in the fitness center, but next semester I will have my own teaching section.

Beyond giving fitness instruction and explaining the physiological reasoning behind exercise, I see myself as an academic advisor. Surprisingly enough, there are many students who are undecided on their career path or not sure as to why they are on their current path. Sometimes there are students that know exactly what they want, and it’s quite exciting to see it unfold.

There is a student who was frequently in the gym. She usually kept to herself and did not seem too enthused about being in the gym. This was an opportunity to connect with the student. So I asked her the typical questions: How’s the workout going? Can I make some suggestions? My name is Darius, what yours? And what’s your major? She told me psychology. This was a segue into a conversation because a lot of student(s) who choose psychology do not realize it helps to specialize in something that will support the degree. She wanted to specialize in creative writing. Me personally, I like the idea of creative writing, but have never been a fan of fiction novels. When I told her this, she was intrigued as to why I did not like fiction. I told her “I would rather spend my time gaining knowledge than just fantasy.” As a psychology major, it appears she took this as a challenge.

After weeks of non-threatening interrogation, she unofficially diagnosed me as “pessimistic”. We often debated over opinion on hot topics from her class. She respected my opinion because it was genuine. It wasn’t always a debate. Sometimes the debate led to the why and ultimately what make us who we are. She ended up telling me that she didn’t grow up in the best of circumstance and creative writing was her escape. From this experience, I feel she will be a great Psychologist because she is detailed to other’s thoughts and feelings. Being open and receptive is an excellent “why” for educators to support their students’ development as a professional.

Learning Brains vs Survival Brains

by Julie Ruark
Research & Instruction Librarian/Wordpress Instructor

If I could step out of myself for a minute and watch how I teach, I’d see myself acting out of these convictions:
Teaching requires the eyes to see what exactly a student is struggling with, and then the ability to give them just what they need to take the next step.
Teaching is best if you can step into the shoes of your student, for a little bit, understanding the challenge from their point of view.
Teaching also requires you to see into the future, to see what’s possible for this student.
And to communicate your belief that every day is full of possibility.

I had an experience recently that showed me something else about teaching that I had overlooked. And I learned this from one of my students “teaching” me. A student of mine shared a You Tube video on Facebook, “Understanding Trauma: Learning Brain vs Survival Brain”. (https://youtu.be/KoqaUANGvpA) Students are often impacted by trauma, setting up a “survival brain” response to stress.

The video describes being in learning brain vs being in survival brain. Learning brain is characterized as being open to new information, comfortable with ambiguity, and emotionally calm, peaceful, excited about learning, curious, and not afraid of making mistakes. Survival brain is the opposite: hyper focused on threat, doesn’t like ambiguity, thinks in black and white. Emotionally someone in survival brain is stressed, panicky, obsessive, afraid of making mistakes, just wants to get things over with, filled with self-doubt.

The key for teachers is this statement: “Students best learn when they feel they are safe and supported by the adults around them.” I was surprised to read what she wrote next:

“This is awesome! Julie Ruark is an awesome teacher. She taught me how to make websites. She would say, “It’s ok to screw this whole thing up, we can fix it.” I believed her because I trusted her and so I learned how to do a new thing. I’ve always been afraid of making mistakes or “doing it the wrong way” so I never really tried new things because of that fear. It took me 40 years to be ok with making mistakes.”

Even our older students need safe spaces for learning! As a teacher I don’t intentionally set out to create a safe space for learners. But I do get consistent feedback that I’m very approachable, a good listener, and that I care about my students. I hadn’t connected the dots that this translates into safety for others, and I hadn’t considered how valuable this actually might be for our learners. I can create the environment they need to live out of their learning brain.

Math Tears

Jordan Gill
Assistant Professor of Mathematics

Sometimes I feel like my job is to make girls cry. On this particular evening, Annie was sitting on a bench, quietly sobbing to herself as I locked up my classroom. I tried very hard to convince myself that she didn’t want to talk to anyone. After all, who would want to talk to their math teacher with tears streaming down their face? The compassionate side of me took hold, however, and I found myself asking, “Hey, are you alright?” Through her tears, Annie managed to say, “I’m just having a bad day.”

It turned out that Annie had done poorly on a physics exam earlier in the day and followed that up by failing a quiz in my class. The words I offered her weren’t anything special. I told Annie to keep working. I encouraged her to come see me during office hours to help clear up any confusion. I suggested that she attend the review session before the next exam. I told her that she could do it. At this point, Annie made a large sniffling noise and said “Ok.” She wiped her tears, we both stood up, and I told her I would see her next class.

Two months later, as she turned in the final exam, Annie looked me dead in the eye and mouthed the words “Thank you.” A week later, Annie emailed me, thanking me again. I look back and really wonder what it was she was thanking me for. I didn’t do much. In fact, some of my explanations may have been more detrimental than helpful (I like to think I’ve improved since then). Annie, on the other hand, did a lot. She constantly attended office hours. When we held review sessions for exams, she was usually one of the first students there. Over the course of the semester, her grade steadily rose and by the end, I wasn’t worried about her passing the final.

What I’ve come to realize is that teaching isn’t just about how well you present the material. Teaching is about providing students with the opportunity to own the material themselves, and being there for them every step of the way. I didn’t know it at the time, but the stakes were high in that moment when Annie was crying on a bench. By simply checking in and asking “Are you ok?” Annie began to see me as a teacher who would help. This opened the door for Annie to put in the work and get the help she needed. Today, I do my best to be available before any tears are shed.

Can We Talk about This?

Alicia Juskewycz
Sociology Prof

“Professor, have you heard of the idea of trauma porn?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I don’t mean to be offensive or anything, it’s just an idea I heard someone talking about and it seems like maybe it would relate to all the stuff we talk about in this class.”

“Sure; we have a lot of conversations about challenging topics. What have you heard about the idea?”

“Well…I think it’s, like, when people are entertained by people’s problems? And that makes people who have had challenging experiences feel like even though they are discussing those issues, they don’t really belong?”

“That’s right. When people use that phrase, they’re trying to get us to think more about how we engage with social inequalities. If we look at an issue mainly for entertainment or to feel sorry for people, it creates a situation where people who have had those experiences feel they don’t belong or make sense, according to normative expectations about our social experiences.”

“Yeah, so I started thinking about this when we watched the video about people’s experiences with domestic violence. I mean, I don’t think the video was trauma porn – it was very true to my experiences growing up in an abusive home, and the details were educational for the students who hadn’t thought much about it before. But I’ve always avoided talking about it. See, a lot of times people will seem like they care, but they are basically making it clear they can’t imagine the situation at all. But the other day, a bunch of us talked about personal experiences and it became more of a real conversation. And it made me think: after this long, how have I never had a discussion about something so important in my life where I didn’t just feel excluded and weird? And then that made me think differently about how I’ve approached some other conversations we’ve had about topics I haven’t given much thought to. How do we talk about the hard stuff in a way that takes it seriously yet doesn’t marginalize people who have had tough experiences?”

“Good question. I think jumping in with questions like this one with each other can go a long way. For example, your classmates probably will remember this conversation in the future. Thanks for bringing it up!”

Higher Learning and a Will to Overcome

Julie Miller
Community Health Services

I was pulled over at the side of the road one day adjusting my mirror when my phone rang. “Instructor Miller?” an unrecognizable voice bound with heavy congestion said. It sounded as though the person was trying to pull air through a tiny straw as she took a breath. “This is Lisa (fictitious name) I can’t be in class. I’m in the hospital. I just want you to know I am going to complete my assignment and be ready for a test next week.” I immediately felt a great deal of concern and expressed to her that she should focus on getting well. “I will” she replied, “but I am going to do this. I intend to finish.”

Lisa has been an outstanding student and has not only been under the stress of recovery from illness, but in addition has been dealing with personal difficulties. I remember the first days of class after I read her entry in the “getting to know you” type of form I had given everyone, I admired her from the start. I could sense she is very proud to be at LCC and to be working on education to advance her career. This is a new start for her in a sense.

My personal goal has been to help Lisa all I can, and in that way, help to reflect the general mission of the community college. I believe that Lisa is the type of person who will establish successful completion of her program and will strive as “an engaged global citizen.”

I feel that Lisa truly values what LCC offers: High quality education which will aid her in developing life skills to help her reach her goals. With that target in sight, I have seen her push through obstacles to accomplish things and all with a positive attitude and a “this won’t keep me down” mentality. As a teacher, what have I learned from her? What have I gained? Is adversity a barrier or has it served to make her light shine brightly? I will use the experience to encourage others to also see their potential in life as they pursue higher education.

Master Plan

Jennifer Sims
Assistant Professor, Dental Hygiene Program

When I began teaching, I told myself that I would work hard to ensure that my students would be successful. I came up with a “master plan”; one that I thought was foolproof.  Very early in my teaching career, I realized that while my “master plan” worked for some, it failed miserably for others.

“Jason” is one of the students that I am speaking of.  His hometown was in Northern Michigan, and he lived in an apartment off campus.  He rode the bus to and from school, often arriving at 7:00am for an 8:00am class.  He worked three jobs, and at age 19, was totally supporting himself.  He worked at MSU Food Services, and was thrilled to get this position because he was given one free meal per shift.  His second job was at a local fast food restaurant, where he was able to secure a scholarship totaling $2500 per semester. He amazed me with his work ethic, resourcefulness, and positive attitude.

The passion that he showed in the classroom and clinic was unbelievable.  He was not a student who excelled in written coursework, but if given the opportunity to do a hands-on activity, he was amazing.  He had a true talent for building relationships and educating his patients.  He was the first student to complete his service hour requirement, continuing to volunteer after his requirement was fulfilled.  He would ask great questions, and was always willing to listen to constructive criticism.  Before graduation, he made a commitment to continue his education and finish his Bachelor’s degree, and I knew he would be successful.  He had the desire and drive to succeed.

As educators, we need to remember that each student is coming to us with different triumphs and tribulations.  We need to make sure that we are sensitive to these differences, and furnish them with resources to ensure success. While “Jason” wasn’t a great writer or test taker, he was amazing in other areas, and is a fantastic Dental Hygienist with clinical skills that exceed most.  In our arsenal of teaching methodologies, we need to adapt our “master plan” to the students that come to us, allowing them to show us their strengths (and weaknesses) through various activities.  We need to realize that we learn as much from students as they learn from us, and that in teaching, there is no such thing as a “master plan” that will encompass all students.

 

One Day, One Student at a Time

Mary Stucko
Business Faculty

Josh took my Introduction to Business class last summer semester. He was 28 years old and this was his very first college class. This is a challenging course, as we take 16 weeks’ worth of material and jam it into 8 weeks.

Josh was a recovering drug addict. He decided during his 6 months in jail for selling drugs, that he didn’t want to continue living that lifestyle. When he finished his sentence, he went through rehab, and three months later he was sitting in my classroom. The classroom experience was overwhelming at first. His language was one best saved for the streets. Every other word was f@ck. Since no other students complained about his language, I let him continue. He was acclimating and I didn’t want him to think I was judging him. And that worked well. He was very open with everyone where he was in his recovery and they all supported him.

I connected Josh immediately with tutoring services and the Writing Center. They were fantastic with him as he learned to study and write college level papers. He continued to use their services the entire semester. I have assigned dates for all homework, but I did accept late papers from him at first since he was learning the system. As time went on, he gained confidence in his ability and he turned papers in on time. I will do this for all students who are struggling, but are showing an effort to try to improve.

We had class discussion every class. As time went on, Josh stopped using curse words as much and started talking in a more professional manner like his classmates. We also discuss life skills and professionalism in that class. Towards the end, Josh stated that his supervisors at work noticed a tremendous difference in how he related to his coworkers. Apparently, before he was more confrontational, but as his knowledge of business grew, his attitude towards those around him evolved as well. He was receiving a promotion by the end of the semester. He has also been hired for a second job working with other recovering addicts that required a great deal of responsibility. His confidence was growing stronger.
Josh was so happy to earn a 2.5 in that class. He worked very hard to get there. He also sent me a beautiful email after class ended thanking me for all the encouragement and never giving up on him. He stated what a huge impact it made in his life and that he will never forget how I helped him through.

This is why I love teaching. One day, one student at a time.

Finding Yourself

Joseph Esquibel
Biology

Many students go through personal journeys while in college. For most of these journeys, we are clueless about the twists and turns that are present on our student’s paths. It is eye-opening when they decide to share.

I met Alfonso during his first semester as an LCC student. He had just moved to the US and was living alone for the first time.

Many of the legs of his journey were heartwarming.

He was navigating how to cook for himself and keep his house stocked. Before this, he said he never thought how supplies got into his house, he remarked, “you just open the closet, they are just there”.

After a few missed assignments, I remarked that the US writes dates month/day/year and not day/month/year. His jaw fell to the floor and his mind moved at lightning speed, “so that’s why I missed” and before he could finish “…and so that’s why; …and that’s why!”

Many of the legs of his journey revolved figuring out sad truths about American culture.

One day he came into class shell-shocked. His tall, adult muscular frame had somehow been replaced with that of a child. He confided that he had witnessed a person get shot in the parking lot of his apartment. He stated “Nothing like this happens in my country”. The scene was on loop in his head and was preventing him from sleeping.

He mentioned he was surprised that his new friends used race as the defining lens that they viewed the world. He noted that his peers would treat him harshly if he introduced himself as an African versus as a Caribbean. “Why would people treat me differently based on where they think I’m from? It’s not like I am acting differently.”

At times, Alfonso seemed pushed to his breaking point. He was having difficulty adjusting to the rigor of American education. He mentioned that he was thinking of dropping out and moving back home.

It had been months since I had seen Alfonso and I feared the worst. But I spotted him on campus when I was leaving work one day. He mentioned that he had changed his major and was now thriving.

I find myself wondering how many of my students are on similar journeys that will play a central role in defining who they are. And we just don’t know it.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

Susan Jepsen, MSN RN CNE
Assistant Professor Nursing

Before settling at LCC I was a nurse educator in the medical device industry.  I traveled the world conducting product trainings and proctoring multidisciplinary health care professionals.  And it was fun!  I prided myself on my ability to read the customer audience and adjust my content delivery to meet their needs.  Successfully meeting learning outcomes was always achieved. I believed that 20 years of experience had me well positioned to be successful as an educator at LCC.

How wrong I was!  Actually, I was woefully unprepared for facilitating the education of community college nursing students. Never had I encountered such a wide range of diversity in a classroom of 32 students.  Rich and poor, safe and physically abused, sheltered and homeless, physically well and terminally ill, and of course multi-lingual and multi-cultural.  My previous methodology of adapting my delivery to my audience was immediately proven to be inadequate to meet the learning needs of such an un-homogeneous group of learners. My tried and true tactics were failing to engage the target audience because the target audience was not one size fits all!   I became paralyzed with my own sense of failure and questioned my decision to stop living out of a suitcase and get a real job that would help change people’s lives. What was I thinking?

I finally settled down and reflected on what was going right and what was going wrong in my LCC classroom.  I realized that the learning was not about me and how much fun I wanted to have. It was about the students and what they were trying to achieve; which was a living wage, safe housing, a healthy family and a lifestyle of their choosing.  I realized I could help with that!

I focused my efforts on providing the resources to allow the nursing students to help themselves.  I re-worked every assignment to be a better learning tool for multiple learning styles.  I fought for more instructors in the psychomotor labs as well as more optional lab time so that the students could learn what they needed to learn, not what I thought they needed to learn in my timeframe.  I stopped trying to decipher what one pedagogy would work for the group and made myself available to help the students figure out what worked for them.

And it’s fun for me again!  Not that fun is my top priority, but not surprisingly, when the students in the classroom are engaged and learning, it is very rewarding for me to know I am an advocate for their success.