#NISODProfiles – Patricia Adams
“My primary job responsibility as a community college instructor is teaching, something that affords me the wonderful opportunity to mentor my students and watch those brilliant moments when the lightbulb illuminates and they catch on.”
How long have you been teaching?
I have been an educator for 11 years.
What is your favorite part about being a community college educator?
The best part of teaching at a community college is the students. They come from diverse backgrounds and have so much to give to the educational experience, but they often don’t see their own talents. I teach six required and two extra courses each semester, which gives me the opportunity to get to know several hundred of our wonderful students each year. There is nothing more gratifying than supporting their development, both as students and future successful citizens. I love to watch their minds open to new information and experiences, and find connections between what we discuss and their own lives. They grow as students, but also as individuals, right before my eyes. My primary job responsibility as a community college instructor my is teaching, something that affords me the wonderful opportunity to mentor my students and watch those brilliant moments when the lightbulb illuminates and they catch on.
What is your best piece of advice for new or existing colleagues at community or technical colleges in your field?
If I could give one piece of advice to current or future community college instructors, I would say to be present…fully present. Take the time to connect with your students and make sure they know that you are there to support them. Check in with them frequently, make sure they can reliably get in touch with you, and remember who they are. I keep a reminder of this clipped to the side of my computer screen in my office to help me remember these things as I’m grading papers or dealing with the inevitable challenges that come along with teaching sometimes under-prepared students. That note keeps me aware, especially when working in my online courses, that the person on the other end of that paper needs my connection to be able to succeed in the classroom and grow beyond it. When I talk with my students, I always discuss things in terms of “our class” and “our work” to make sure they know we are in this together. I make it a point to smile on my way into the classroom, and to call on students by name. These are small things that forge big connections. I’d also say to always remember why you teach and, if you choose to teach at a community college, be sure that teaching is what you truly want to do. Our jobs are not based on research and publications, and they may never lead to excessive scholarly recognition, but that is not our role. Our job is to help our students to succeed, and we are in the unique position to do just that.
How do you connect with your students?
I connect with my students as often and as best as possible. Sometimes a simple smile as I start a face-to-face class is enough, and sometimes a short email to see what happened when a series of assignments goes missed makes all the difference. I teach face-to-face, hybrid, and online courses, so connections happen in different ways in different courses and with different students. One thing that I do in all of my classes, though, is send out a short message each Friday with a funny psychology meme and a wish for a good weekend. I also make it a point to introduce myself personally, even in my online courses (where I add a video or picture and bio). Connection does not require a lot of extra work or time, but the results are immeasurable. The key, I find, is to make any effort that ensures students know that I am there for them when they need me, no matter how that is accomplished.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?
I ran through so many names when trying to answer this question! I thought of famous psychologists, historical figures, and even my contemporaries. At the end of all that pondering, though, my answer is simple…my dad. My father passed in 2003, and not a day has gone by before or since that time that my father failed to influence my life. I grew up on a two-year college campus, splitting my time between my mother’s student store and my father’s classroom as my playgrounds. I watched as my dad taught students how to create newspapers from start to finish and saw students drop by his office with a smile to celebrate their successes with him. We hosted students at our home for dinner when there were eighteen inches of snow on the ground and the college cafeteria couldn’t open. My father spent hours patiently walking his students through complicated machinery and delicate computer programs, and I watched him talk with frustrated students who always left their discussions with their shoulders a little straighter. I watched as this man, who at a time had nearly crippling social anxiety, interact with state, national, and international press associations to get equipment, jobs, and training for his students. I watched a true example of the best kind of college teacher, and never predicted that I would one day be in his shoes. Just one short year after his passing, I took my first real step into the classroom as an adjunct instructor at the community college where I now work full time. I would love to have dinner with my father to share in his wisdom and learn from his experience. Over a bowl of his favorite vinegar-soaked spring onions and cucumbers, I would ask him, “What makes someone a good teacher?” and then I would share his words with the world.
Share a memorable teaching experience and explain why it was so impactful.
My favorite moment as a teacher occurred a couple of years ago. A colleague and I created a semester-long project that asked students to research and propose an idea to improve student retention and engagement at our college. We related the ideas to research methods and theories in our disciplines, and the students were required to present their work at a poster session that was open to the entire campus. We invited faculty, staff, administration, and students to the event. I still remember the moment the president of the college stepped through the door of the poster session. Our students, many of whom were either still in high school, first-generation college students, or students wholly unprepared for college, stiffened at the sight of the president and other administrators in their dressy suits. These important people had come to see them and to hear their ideas, causing fear and apprehension throughout the room. It was clear that our students felt very small—but then, it became a moment. In this moment, everything clicked for our students as they saw in themselves what we, as their teachers, saw in them. As they started to give their speeches to the crowd moving among their displays, our students’ shoulders straightened, their excitement came through, and their confidence began to shine. In that moment, as students discussed how they would impact the college they love, they knew beyond any doubt that they could make a mark on the world. It was a beautiful event, and I am fortunate enough to have had the privilege to see the same transformation in students each time we have run this project.
Every month, NISOD profiles faculty and staff from our member colleges who are doing extraordinary work on their campuses. #NISODProfiles offer a direct connection to your colleagues from across the world who exemplify NISOD’s mission of improving teaching, learning, and leadership.