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A Trustee in the Classroom

A member of the board comes away enriched and enthused from an intensive summer language program at TC
Studying at Teachers’ College is a valuable and challenging experience, but for me that turned out to be true on a number of levels. When I enrolled in the Summer Intensive TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Language) Certificate Program, I was not new to TC’s classrooms, but I hadn’t been a student in one for more than 35 years. I had, however, been walking the halls and attending meetings there for the past five years—as a trustee. TC board service is a wonderful opportunity to work with bright, dedicated people, all committed to assuring that students who want to educate and care for the young (and sometimes older) people of our country (and sometimes other countries) can get the best education possible.
Board service is rewarding, but being a retired educator and educational administrator, I can’t help but look at each one of the College’s catalogues longingly. (You can take the educator out of education, but you can’t take the love of education out of the educator.) So last spring when TC’s college catalogue arrived, I gave it a thorough onceover and found a program that really excited me. It was a seven-week, intensive TESOL certificate program that ran from 10:00a.m. to 4:00p.m., sometimes 5:00p.m., five and occasionally six days a week. Could I do this? I sure hoped so.
I called the College President’s office. I talked to her assistant who said, “But Dawn, you have a terminal degree!” My response: “But Scott, I’m not terminal.” He said he’d look into it. There are some concerns with having a trustee, someone who votes on professors’ continuing contracts and possible tenure, in the classroom.
The following day I received a call with the verdict. Since it was a certificate program and I was not seeking a degree, I would not be putting faculty in an uncomfortable position. It would be fine.
Enrolled and ready to go, I met the other 43 students in the program. The male/female ratio was—not surprisingly—6 to 37. Women still are the large majority of our classroom teachers. The rest of the vital statistics were far more interesting. Students came from a variety of countries—Japan, China, Korea, Turkey, Pakistan, Cuba, The Philippines, and England—and a number of U.S. states. The age range ran from just out of college to just got my senior citizen metro pass.
Yes, there was variety, but there were two things that everyone had in common: the desire to work with people—people who want to learn the English language—and the total commitment to work very, very hard in this very full-time program. It was intense, but we all came away with a wealth of knowledge and a desire to get to work—or to pursue a further degree.
I left the program and have since been teaching English on a ship. I work mornings with crew members from The Philippines and Thailand and late afternoons with the ship’s Montenegrin doctor and their Bulgarian somelier. I love what I am doing! A bonus is that, during my travels, I have been able to visit with two friends I made in the TESOL certificate program, one in Seoul and one in Beijing.
But what did I come away with as a TC trustee? For one thing I now have a renewed understanding of the TC student experience. A number of the students in the TESOL program are regular TC students working toward advanced degrees in related fields. Some, although just spending seven weeks of their summer at the college, were experiencing dorm living and sharing that experience. Plus, since all of the students had college degrees from some institution, there were some comparisons drawn between our school and their former ones. And, I heard lots more—from suggestions on how to improve the program to the occasional complaint about a professor’s style, the cafeteria lines, the college‘s internet services and other issues.
But the overwhelming number of comments was positive. Most students couldn’t believe they could come away with so much in such a short period of time. In fact, the most frequent comment was not that the work load was too great but that the program should run longer. We all wanted more!
I also learned a great deal about what it must be like to be a professor at our institution and how supportive our staff is—both to the faculty and to the students. I knew that we trustees were treated very well; but it was nice to see that students and faculty received that same sort of support. What a nice place to work! Well, in most instances.
I did hear a couple of complaints from those working at TC. My favorite was from a professor who just wanted a black board and decent chalk. The chalk boards had just about all been replaced by white boards; and, consequently, he found himself in the last chalk boarded room—one with permanent music lines drawn on one third of the board. Although a bit frustrated by the lines, he went right to work, generally ending each class with chalk dust on his face, vest, and hands (the latter his eraser of choice). He had an amazing commitment to both his craft and to chalk boards.
I also spent a great deal of time in that physical plant—in those lovely, venerable old buildings with some beautiful old rooms with high ceilings and stain glass windows, some beautifully renovated ones, and some decrepit, old ones with large cracks in the walls. I learned that air conditioning older buildings is quite a challenge. More often than not, I found myself in over air-conditioned rooms, kept cold so that other rooms were at least comfortable. Somehow I never had a class in one of those “at least comfortable” rooms.
So what have I done with all of the information I have come away with? For one thing, I have asked to change my Board committee assignments to join those that work more directly with student and faculty issues. When we discuss the campus on goings, I feel more knowledgeable than I did before. I have also shared my experience with the board. Finally, I think I now question experiences at TC on a deeper, more empathetic level. For example, I wonder what the College should do for faculty, staff, and students who may have idiosyncratic requests that are not impossible to fulfill and may make that person a happier, more accomplished member of the TC team.
One thing I won’t do is get involved with the Building and Grounds Committee. I’ll leave that to trustees with greater technical knowledge. I’ll just continue to wear a sweater at Board meetings.  

Published Thursday, Mar. 25, 2010


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