This is Day 7 of the Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge. Well, technically, it's day 8, but I'm behind. In part I'm behind because this day's topic--Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why?-- is kind of a big one, and I want to do it justice. I'm not sure that I will, but I'm taking a stab at it.
(I think the "roll your sleeves up and do it anyway" thing is just part of a daily blogging challenge. It won't be perfect. It can't be.)
The topic is kind of overwhelming to me because I freakin' love my colleagues. I mean, I love them to death. Every person I have worked with inspires me in some way. Susan, precision and attention to detail. Steve, dedication to each student as an individual, belief in their ability to "get it." Henry, passion for the job and joy at being in the classroom. Jenn, a love of writing as art and how to bring that love to students. Andrew, humor and play in the classroom. Tracy, engagement and innovation online.
I could go on.
To get specific, there are a couple of folks who have had a pretty measurable impact on me. One, Eileen, was a mentor in a way the first couple of years teaching, as I transitioned to a full-time employee. She is now retired and teaches On Course around the country, but when she was still at the college, she regularly offered these workshops for us. From her I learned to understand why many students struggle and how to help them, no matter what their obstacles are. On Course emphasizes personal responsibility, awareness of the choices they make. On Course instructors engage students in learning who they are, what motivates them, what their goals are, what adjustments they may need to make to meet them and more.
Lest I sound like an OC advertisement, know that I haven't adopted all its strategies, and the ones I have, I have definitely modified and made my own, but Eileen's workshops and mentorship had a tremendous impact on how I teach basic writing. Coming straight from the university, these practical techniques were so needed.
(For more on On Course and some strategies you can visit this link. There is also a textbook on Amazon that I think is helpful for any instructor teaching basic skills classes and would be great at the high school level, too.)
My other colleague, Leslie, helped me continue my academic engagement. English instructors at the college level often joke that our degrees don't do much to prepare us to teach composition. (I can write you a damn good paper on Faulkner's Light in August, though!) I left my masters program not knowing what disability theory was. I hadn't read McIntosh's "White Privilege." Race or gender as a social construct? Eh, we probably touched on that at university, but it was subsumed beneath the professors' desire to get us to understand Derrida's concept of differance.
Leslie was the department chair when I started as a part-timer, and I am so grateful for her willingness to engage with me as I built my first college-level courses. She is one of the brightest people I have met, and she has figured out how to integrate her PhD-level insights into the college classroom so that the work we have our students do is meaningful and relevant for our ambitious students. So many of my best assignments have emerged from what I blatantly stole from her.
Yay, inspiring colleagues!