Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Teaching poverty at the community college

By Caprice Lawless

            We watch in great sadness as, one by one, gifted teachers leave our college without so much as a farewell from administration or from the departments in which they served. A few leave for what they know may be temporary, albeit better-paying jobs in other colleges and universities. Most leave education altogether, vowing never to return to the particular types of humiliation and contempt faced by those who dare teach in this state’s community colleges.

            Those of us who remain wonder what are we teaching and modeling by our teaching. Increasingly, students are becoming aware that many of them earn more in their espresso-pouring and other retail jobs than we do teaching them college courses. Some of our students, not surprisingly, have begun to connect the dots and question the purpose of their academic pursuits if their teachers live in poverty.

            Yet don’t we model poverty for our students? Wordlessly, we teach them how to expect not a bright future, but, in fact, a decidedly dim one. Each time we enter a classroom, we show them how to make do with used clothing, sack lunches and reconditioned electronics. When we go to work sick (and we all do, as we have no health insurance or sick leave), we show them how to get through a work day by keeping the decongestant and a box tissues handy. Of course they realize we are spreading illnesses to them. They see that this is what is in store for them, as well, once they get their college degrees. They are watching professionals who are deeply in debt for their own degrees work even while ill, and for peanuts.

            We unintentionally teach them to become wise to the ruse; that the sprinkling of words like “future,” “planning” and “integrity” in class schedules and college programs are there to serve only the careers of the invisible administrators, the ones never seen in hallways or cafeterias. They are learning that, similarly, they will never see their administrators either, and, should one appear, it is likely time to worry. We model for them not to expect too much, once you graduate, from anyone in leadership, for leadership is in a class of its own making and is self-serving.

 When they watch us load our files into our aging cars, they can see that college teachers have so little status they don’t even have a place to store their things in the schools their labor has helped build. When we run into our students in food banks, at subsidized clinics, and in used clothing stores, we are teaching them that even “making ends meet” is a quaint and meaningless phrase.

            A colleague of mine taught her classes for a week on a broken leg. Her students saw her in the hallway, crying in pain. Another adjunct taught for two weeks after he had been diagnosed with shingles. He was so weak he could not even carry his books. His students carried them for him. He could walk only part way down the long corridor before he had to stop and sit a while. What did his students learn during that episode about the value of three college degrees?

            Alas, when we teach them to recognize cries for justice in essays they study, do those cries fall on deaf ears? Are we are teaching them to be numb to human suffering? Posters in our hallways promise hope and opportunity, but we wonder whether the work life of their highly educated teachers offers a convincing counter argument.


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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gettin’ FLAC’d*

By Guest Blogger: Reva Lution

          So how many times have you been Flac’d by the newly installed FLAC payroll system? If you haven’t been Flac’d yet, consider yourself lucky. I have yet to meet a PT instructor who has escaped this humiliating and dehumanizing experience.  If you are one of the lucky ones who has yet to be subjected to it, “getting Flac’d” refers to the mysterious process whereby your contract with the Community College system goes in, but the payout from this work never seems to enter your bank account. Somewhere along the way, it gets “Flac’d” (lost) and you get Flac’d when you try to pay for something.  Woes betide the poor saps who were counting on actual money to pay their bills! 

          I am personally experiencing my 4th Flac’ing and I’m pretty fed up it with it. This last one in particular has been excessively egregious.  I was promised two payouts in December (supplemental to my regular instructional pay) for work I completed over the course of the semester. The first payout finally reached my account in mid-February. I am still waiting on the second. Yes, you read that right. I entered into a contract with the institution and I did my part – so where’s my money?

          The worst thing is no one seems to be able to figure it out. Inquiries usually result in indecipherable mumbling about “FLAC, new, glitches”. You would think I would have heard an apology or two considering the number of times I have been subjected to this process.  And you would be wrong. I have never heard one word from finance or HR about why these “glitches” keep happening or what anyone is doing to prevent me from gettin’ Flac’d the next time a new contract is generated. 

          If you have your own FLAC story to tell, please send it to us! It is important that we compile and document exploitative practices by our institutions. We do great work and create incredible value for our campuses. We deserve so much more yet we create this value for so little compensation. And now we’re being told to do this work for some possible compensation at some point in the far distant future (By the way you’re going to have to beg them multiple times before they respond to you.) 

          Let’s stop the Flac’ing! 

*Faculty Load and Compensation (FLAC)