This morning I received the following message from a former Georgetown classmate. He asked some questions I get a lot about teaching at MC, questions I enjoy answering. Here is his message and below is my answer.
I hope you are doing well. I’m writing because recently I’ve been toying with the idea of a career change, and coming to teach at Montgomery College is definitely an option. I grew up in Montgomery County, so I’m quite familiar with the school’s success and mission. I can tell, just by seeing what you put on Facebook, that the job has been very rewarding for you. I’m wondering if you can elaborate a little bit — how are the students, what sort of classes do you get to teach, do you find enough free time to read and write, is the time off sufficient to unwind and recharge, etc.?
I’m always excited to know someone is interested in teaching and particularly in teaching at Montgomery College. I have long lauded the school’s successes and its collegial environment. Teaching at MC is indeed rewarding and I invite anyone who is interested in college teaching to visit our campuses and to talk to our professors and students, all of whom would share with you their own stories of trials and triumphs.
First of all, being situated in Montgomery County allows for some exciting opportunities like sharing our courses at MCPS schools and reaping the brain power of MCPS students who eventually attend MC. For example, our Women’s Studies courses are sometimes offered at area high schools to entire classrooms full of advanced high school students. Also, there are high school students that take college classes at our campuses, which makes for interesting challenges for both students and professors. In these instances, although MC professors are not asked to change anything in their course material, there are moments when the high school students (and their parents) pose questions or concerns, but these moments are few and far between. Overall, the mission of the College is in keeping with the attitude of the progressive surrounding community.
Now I’ll answer some of your specific topics: how are the students? The student body is diverse in race, age, and income. The very first class I taught at MC was a night class (EN 101) and it had one senior citizen, several adult learners, and a few teenagers who worked during the day. My evening creative writing classes are often filled with adult learners who have day-time obligations, while my day students are more the “traditional” age (18-24). Lately, I have been teaching more morning classes, which means I get a lot of students who have just come out of high school. I find them invested and interested in the material, as they are still in the mode of the student role (i.e. not yet balancing too many work obligations). Certainly, because we represent over 174 countries, there is racial and cultural diversity in the classroom, too.
What sort of classes do you get to teach? All full-time professors have to work at least 15 course hours a semester (we call these “esh”). To meet these hours, we either teach or do alternative projects. All full-time professors in the English department have a spoken agreement to teach at least two composition classes a semester and then any additional courses we offer. The two composition class minimum can be met in a few ways: teaching two developmental courses (which have 5 hours each) or teaching two or more EN 101 or EN 102 courses or a mix of these. Usually, in the fall semester I teach EN 101 because there is more demand for EN 101 teachers to meet the needs of the incoming freshman class; in the spring, I teach EN 102. I also teach Intro to Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Writing as well as Intro to Literature. These are electives but are often filled to capacity (25 students for creative writing and 30 students for lit). This summer I’ll have the exciting privilege to teach a Women’s Studies class! Also, some of the English department professors teach courses in the Reading department. Teaching is only one way to work our esh, though. Some of us hold positions like department chair, honors coordinator, or (in my case) an editorship. The esh for these projects can be considered release time from the classroom.
Do you find enough free time to read and write? No. There is never enough time to do much personal reading or writing. I have had to carve out some time for myself and have found that keeping a blog has given me one way to do some personal writing. Most of my reading and writing is work-related though. For the next year and a half, I’m the editor for the Potomac Review which means much of the fiction I read comes from the submissions we get. Also, even with a reduced teaching load (three classes this semester as opposed to five) I still have lots of grading to do. Summers are usually good for writing. Last summer, I dedicated weekday afternoons to writing and editing my fiction and then during the fall semester I focused on submitting my own work for publication. I’m happy to say three stories have been accepted, adding evidence to the adage ‘where there is a will, there is a way’! The one helpful thing about the administration is that they focus on teaching not on research or publishing. Any publishing I do is not required but it certainly adds to my overall professional development and contributions to my teaching and to my department.
Is the time off sufficient to unwind and recharge? Lately, I have been feeling like all I do at home is sleep and most of my time awake is spent at work. I teach a MWF schedule (with office hours on MW afternoons) but I’m on campus on Tuesdays and sometimes Thursdays for administrative tasks. After you teach for a few semesters, you will be invited to participate in governance roles. Currently, I sit on the Rockville campus’s faculty council, which meets on every other Tuesday afternoon for two hours. I also help plan the annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference, which takes a year to organise. And I am one of the Safe Zone organisers and trainers (a program that teaches faculty and staff to be accepting of GLBTQ students). I frequently volunteer to hold workshops or talks (recently I co-facilitated a poetry workshop for “Will Power,” our Shakespeare festival). And just last weekend I presented at the 4 Cs in Atlanta.
As you can see, a lot of my time is dedicated to MC-related projects, but I’m certainly not overwhelmed nor do I think I’m under appreciated. We are allowed one day off during the week (we are only required to be at work 4 out of 5 days but as you probably guessed I tend to read, write, or plan for work on that day too). Teaching at MC is a time-consuming but fulfilling experience. I feel very useful here. I know I am contributing to the College’s mission and to our students’ education in very meaningful ways. I hope I have answered your questions and look forward to having you visit MC-Rockville.