Shortchanging teachers—and students—at community colleges

Monday, July 15, 2013

We watch in great sadness as, one by one, gifted teachers leave our college without so much as a farewell from the departments in which they served. A few leave for better-paying jobs elsewhere. Most leave education altogether, vowing never to return to the humiliation and contempt faced by those who dare teach in Colorado's community colleges.

Those of us who remain wonder what we model by our teaching. Increasingly, students are becoming aware they earn more now as baristas and sales clerks than we do teaching them college courses. Many have begun to connect the dots and question the purpose of higher education 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. We model for 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 neither health insurance nor sick leave), we show them how to get through a work day by keeping the decongestant and tissues handy. They watch professionals, deeply in debt for their advanced degrees, working even while ill, and for peanuts.

Unintentionally, we teach them the visions of "secure future" and "career success" found in course catalogs and schedules are there to serve unseen administrators, whose careers profit from hyperbole. Our situation teaches them not to expect too much either, once they graduate, from anyone in leadership, for leadership is in a class of its own making and is self-serving.

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