From the Profession column of the December 2011 issue of Perspectives on History

A Day in the Life of a Community College Professor

Natalie Kimbrough, December 2011

It's Wednesday morning, I get to the office at 8:20 am ready for final preparations for my 10:05 am class. Before that I have office hours starting at 9:00 a.m., and many e-mails from students and colleagues to follow up on. As I enter my office, the message light on the phone is blinking. New information on some of the events on campus has come through. While I'm listening to the messages, I catch, out of the corner of my eyes, a student walking towards my office door. I wave him in. I know there's a problem he needs to discuss with me, even though office hours haven't begun.

My student begins to share why he has not turned in some of his written assignments, something I know many professors in Higher Ed face daily. Here the issue is very disheartening; his father has been captured and is being held for ransom in his home country in Africa. Understandably my student is a little preoccupied with this issue as his family does not have the money asked and they can only hope the government of the country would step in to help. The student and I discuss ways for him to complete the course as this issue was not likely to be resolved any time soon. We agree on a plan and the student is relieved—for now.

What a way to start the day!

Now I get to my e-mail while also remembering that I need to grade written assignments. The first e-mail is about the Student Association that I have been asked to be the academic adviser for. This group is amazing but they are having meetings every week on Thursday evenings, which means I am there, too after teaching the full day. Since the student leader is doing this for the first time there are many questions and I need to try and help out as much as possible with the room reservations, equipments needs, and so on. As the adviser I am responsible for the association's budget. It is small for the first two semesters but if the group is organizing many events for all students, staff, faculty, and community members in which they share their purpose and give back to the community, we may be able to request more funds next year. For now a lot of getting used to the new rules.

On to the next one-mail. The library is asking for me to review some newly acquired materials. I am honored to do this and it does count towards my service requirement, but I'm not sure when to fit that in with the five classes I am teaching as my regular load and the added class of African American History Part II, which was a late start this semester and keeps me on campus Mondays and Wednesday 2:30–5:35 pm. I respond that I will come downstairs today during my breaks between classes to pick up the materials; it's likely I'll have to view them at home this weekend.

Now it is time to go to my first class today. On the way to the classroom I run into a couple of students from another class; they bombard me with questions about an upcoming test. I try to remember what questions I added to that test; sometimes the six classes seem to merge into each other a little.

Class is always interesting . . . . Who will show up and who will be prepared? Most of the students are very capable but, as in many classrooms, there are also some who are not sure why they are here and some who even try to persuade their peers not to engage. Yet, some are always well prepared, as they understand their reasons for being here, even if the class is a required one. Today we're talking about their collaborative projects and they will do most of the reporting! This is always fun but also means that I'll have to make up the topics that were meant to be discussed in today's class in the next class.

After 55 minutes, more questions from the students, while my colleague and the next class are trying to get into the room. At least all the technology the students had needed worked during this class. So I'm now on my way back to the office with students asking me follow up questions. Back at the office, our administrative assistant needs me to give her my book orders for next semester. I contact the textbook representatives one last time and luckily get an immediate response that I can pass on.

The break is almost over as a message comes across the e-mail that our distance education platform is down—not good when trying to teach an online class. Oh well, we're upgrading to a new system anyhow that we all need to learn in time for the summer session. That can count towards our professional development requirement, while I'm also completing Quality Matters Reviews for some other colleges in the area. I have still not had time to grade the written assignments.

The day continues with a mix of administrative work, teaching and student support. No time to grade the assignments; I will have to take them home and work on them tonight as I promised the students at most a one-week turnaround time. Yes, one week and I'm the only one grading them as we don't have student assistants who can help. Still, I keep assigning at least three written papers (though only of about five pages each) for each of my classes, not counting the quizzes or the collaborative work. That reminds me—I have to hand out the Pedagogy Project our department is working with this semester in my afternoon class. I rush to make copies for all students in the class. The Pedagogy Project is another way of measuring our students' success and motivation. It's a nice tool that the department has created but it does take time away from teaching the subject matter in the classroom and since I work closely with our coordinator on tabulating these I already know what I'll be doing once the semester is over. Yet, the positive aspect is that the students are honest in their feedback and we can take the information and respond to them right away in the next class. This means the students feel more engaged—even if they do not agree—because they do receive attention and explanations for certain aspects of the class that they comment on. This is a good tool.

Just when I think I can quickly grab a power bar and yogurt, I receive a call about an event that a committee I'm a member of is planning. I am asked to follow up on the report I wrote with a little more research on two issues so that we can include this information in the actual report. We may also make a presentation on this at an upcoming college event, which we have four of every year.

The Distance Education platform is back up and running says the message that just came in so I briefly check out the class site. Many students had been trying to take the online quiz when the platform went down, so I need to reset and redo the quiz really quickly for them. I have about 30 minutes to do so before my afternoon class. That is do-able.

Next thing I know, two students from the afternoon class come in to walk to the class with me. I complete the quiz for my online class and the students share some of their troubles with me (financial issues, home issues, and job loss) while we're walking over to class. I don't know how I can help them but I provide the best support and some references as best as I can. Then we're focusing on African American History. Great class. More written assignments coming in. All for me to take home as this is an intensive seven-week class and the turnaround time needs to be quicker so that students can improve on their next assignments.

It is 5:45 p.m. I am walking back over to my office. No mail; the administrative colleague is happy with all the textbook information I provided. A colleague has a few quick questions about the online component for one of the books and I share all my knowledge with her. Then it's time go home. Almost 6:30 p.m. now and I still have to grade those papers for tomorrow.

Nevertheless, while packing up, my head is spinning with ideas for activities for tomorrow's classes that will help the students engage with history and review materials while arguing important historical facts. I keep thinking about those ideas on my way home. I unpack the written assignments and begin to grade. This will be a long night. But I'll do it again (and again) because it's what the students deserve.

Natalie Kimbrough teaches history in the Community College of Baltimore County, Dundalk Campus.